WESLACO, February 21 - In spite of severe drought plaguing both sides of the Rio Grande, all indications show that Mexico plans on keeping much of the water that is coming out of the Conchos basin, according to officials from the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority.
A report produced by the Mexican state of Chihuahua explains how its governor, Cesar Horacio Duarte Jaquez, has proposed a water plan that will call for the construction of 15 new dams in the Conchos River basin, nine of which will be located on rivers, and the Conchos itself, that furnish over 80 percent of the water that comes into the Rio Grande south of El Paso.
“Mexico has already built two dams, and there are currently two more under construction,” said RGRWA Executive Director Joe Barrera. “TCEQ is currently plotting those dams and where they are, what the size of those dams and how they may affect flows into the Rio Grande.”
The 15 dams would be the San Ignacio Dam, in the municipality of Matamoros, the Norgachi Dam, in Guachochi, the Rocheachi Dam, in Guachochi, the Maguarichi Dam, in Maguarichi, the Piedras Azules Dam, in Allende, the La Boca Dam, in Balleza, the Bellavista Dam, in Chihuahua, the Majalca Dam, in Chihuahua, the Los Sauces Dam, in Chihuahua, the La Coyota Dam, in Guerrero, the Cahuirare Dam, in the municipalities of Bocoyna and Urique, the La Lobera Dam, in Belisario Dominguez, the El Peguis Chico Dam, in Ojinaga, the San Carlos Dam, in Manuel Benavides, and the Turauchi Dam, in the municipalities of Guadalupe and Calvo.
Barrera recently urged the Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group (Region M) to pass a resolution highlighting the need for Mexico to repay its water debt. Barrera said Region M Chairman Glenn Jarvis is working on the resolution, which will be sent to the State Department.
“There is going to be a resolution, and it’s going to ask Mexico to set aside water. In Mexico’s water allocation, they allocate water just like on this side, but that they actually include in their allocation, a set-aside amount of water to meet its Treaty obligations,” Barrera said.
“One of the issues has always been, and people don’t realize this, is that two-thirds of the water that comes down the Conchos and hits the Rio Grande belongs to Mexico. They are not only hurting Texas, but they are hurting their own people in Tamaulipas and others downstream who need water just like we do. Their farmers are also being starved for water. Two-thirds of the water that hits the Rio Grande on the Conchos belongs to Mexico.”
At issue, Barrera said, is Mexico’s failure to uphold its water allocation under a 1944 international treaty that requires the country to deliver 350,000 acre feet, roughly 113 billion gallons, over a five year period to the U.S. Mexico is currently 468,000 acre feet in debt, according to Barrera.
“The way the water debt works is, if either dam gets filled with water, then the obligation goes away and a new cycle starts,” he said. “A cycle is five years. Mexico is supposed to deliver to the U.S. 350,000 acre feet on average in a five year period. If I remember, they are not supposed to go into a second debt cycle, but they do.”
The debt last cycle began in Oct. 2010. “They delivered some water in the first year, but they have not delivered much. If you’re that much behind, then you didn’t deliver something in that first year. In October will be the third year of the cycle,” Barrera said.
Compounding the thorny issue of water politics on both sides of the Rio Grande, are rivers in Mexico that are currently above their capacity, while facilities on the U.S. side, including Amistad and Falcon remain dangerously low.
Barrera said there are indications that the “cochillo” in the Conchos, is currently at 128 to 130 percent of capacity, while others are at 50, 40 or 30 percent. By contrast, Amistad and Falcon remain at about 39 percent capacity, Barrera said.