AudioDarling: Buoys and razor wire on Rio Grande gives Mexico an excuse not to pay the US its water debt

Former McAllen mayor is interviewed about how the Rio Grande Valley continues to grow if water availability becomes more problematic.

EDINBURG, Texas – Former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling says placing razor wire and buoys on the Rio Grande gives Mexico a good excuse not to repay its water debt to the United States.

Darling is recognized as an expert on water issues and is a member of Region M Water Planning Group, a state appointed board. He is concerned about the long-term viability of the Rio Grande Valley’s growth trajectory should the region not come up with a plan to access more water.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has had razor wire and buoys placed in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass to deter migrants from crossing the river. The U.S. Justice Department argued in federal court that Abbott did not have the authority to do this and a federal judge ordered the barriers be removed from the river. Abbott took the case to an appeals court and won. The case may end up going to the US Supreme Court.

In an in-depth interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, Darling responded to a question about a recent news story which quoted a U.S. State Department official as saying in federal court that Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to place buoys and razor wire in the middle of the Rio Grande could be used as an excuse by Mexico not to pay its water debt to the U.S.

“It doesn’t help, does it?” Darling responded. “It certainly doesn’t help what we are trying to do. It gives them (Mexico) another excuse not to release (the water). You know, they (the buoys) float across into Mexico and the governor did get them moved back but they’re going to float back into Mexico again. It’s the river and you are messing with the river. W’ve got aquatic weed flowing down and had all kinds of different things. You don’t want to mess with that river.”

Later in the interview, Darling returned to the issue of Abbott placing buoys and razor wire in the Rio Grande. Darling said he had met recently with U.S. Rep. Monica De La Cruz and told her it is not as easy as telling Mexico to release the water.

“It is more complicated than it appears at first glance. Just saying, hey, Mexico turn over the water… you made a good point. If the publicity is bad in Mexico, and this guy (Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador) is a politician and he wants to release water from Mexico to the United States, he’s not going to do it (because of public opinion). The guy in Texas wouldn’t do that. You’re giving them all the grief… a good relationship with Mexico is important at the state level, just as much as the federal level.”

According to a 1944 international water treaty, Mexico has to deliver an average of 350,000 acre feet of water per year to the U.S. over a five year cycle. “They haven’t given anything in this cycle,” Darling said.

At the start of the interview, Darling spoke about the low levels of water in Amistad and Falcon Dams.

“This last rain (we had) didn’t make any significant interest. So we’re losing… our water supply is going down about seven tenths of one percent a week. We’re at 23 point something. It means we’ve got four weeks, five weeks, before it goes 20 percent. The reason 20 percent is significant is because that’s when Ag (water) is cut off.”

Darling said the Valley has only gone below 20 percent capacity in the Amistad and Falcon dams once in the history of the reservoir systems. He said that was in 1999. At that point, Darling said, Valley cities are supposed to take “some drastic action” such as not issuing any new building permits.

Far more seriously, Darling said, is how you get cities their water once Ag water is cut off. With Ag water cut off, the efficiency rate of getting water to the cities is only 62 percent, Darling explained. 

“Well, that means you’re losing 38 percent of your water right there. But then a lot of (irrigation) districts charge 15 percent or whatever to get the water from the river to their plants. Without Ag pushing the water, It’s going to be more. So, let’s figure it’s about 20 percent. But now you’re below around 40 percent of your water availability.”

In his interview with the Guardian, Darling also spoke about water availability for the fast-growing Valley in the long term. The Guardian sought the interview because water was not covered as an issue in the recent economic summit hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.

Here is an audio recording of the interview with Mayor Darling:

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