McALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling has come up with a novel way of overcoming the South Texas drought – purchase a large reservoir in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Darling is recognized as an expert on water issues. He is president of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority (RGRWA) and a member of the Region M Water Planning Group.

“It may sound sacrilegious but I say maybe we should look into buying a reservoir in Mexico, or building one there, where the watershed is, and acquiring water rights,” Darling told the Guardian, in an exclusive interview.

“I am not familiar with Mexican law but let’s look at everything from a regional standpoint. Right now, we all collectively pray for a benevolent hurricane every four or five years. That is our water plan.”

A report produced by the Mexican state of Chihuahua explains how its governor, Cesar Horacio Duarte Jaquez, has proposed a water plan that calls for the construction of 15 new dams in the Conchos River basin, nine of which will be located on rivers that furnish over 80 percent of the water that comes into the Rio Grande south of El Paso.

According to RGRWA Executive Director Joe Barrera, the federal government in Mexico has already built two dams in Chihuahua and there are currently two more under construction. He said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is currently studying those dams and how they may affect flows into the Rio Grande. The RGRWA is working on a petition drive to get the Obama Administration to put more pressure on Mexico to repay its water debt. Under a 1944 treaty, Mexico has to provide 350,000 acre-feet of water to the U.S. in the Rio Grande every five years.

Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.
Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.

Darling said he had offered his suggestion about purchasing a reservoir in Chihuahua to Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas. The two mayors met recently in McAllen to discuss water projects, immigration reform, trade with Mexico and transportation.

“If you take a look at the watershed for the Rio Grande River, most of the water is in northern Mexico, Chihuahua. We are dependent on that because that is where the rain hits the ground,” Darling said. “Buy a share of their reservoir or something. Between us, Mexico and the Valley there are three million people. So, you have a lot of ability there as a region to generate the kind of money you need to do a project like that. I am just trying to throw everything out. Why wouldn’t it work?”

Overcoming the drought through the purchase of a reservoir and water rights in Mexico is not the only novel idea Darling has for water delivery. He also suggests consolidating the number of irrigation districts in the Rio Grande Valley and getting the larger ones that are left to start distributing water east and west, rather than the traditional northwards seven miles from the Rio Grande.

“It is a vision I have had for a long time. If you take a look at it, there are approximately 18 water districts in the Valley, anywhere between 110 and 118 years old. They are pretty inefficient, having done all their major improvements. They all run north and south,” Darling said.

“The farmers are now generally north of the cities and you have to get the water through the cities through inefficient water delivery systems. (Hidalgo County Water Improvement) District No. 3 is a great example. It has relatively little farmland north of the city. When the state widened the expressway they spent $1.5 million for a pump and operation to get the water under the expressway to irrigate less than 300 acres. It did not make a lot of sense to me at the time.”

Darling said he has a more sensible answer. “I think there are circumstances like that, inefficiencies, where, instead of having 19 districts running north and south, you get the major ones that are most efficient and use those to go east and west. That is a vision, not a mandate,” he said.

Asked how many water districts should be eliminated, Darling said probably half. “I think the irrigators know it makes sense but who is going to give it up? We have 23 school districts in Hidalgo County. It would be much more efficient not to have 23 but who is going to give it up and lose their identity?”

Asked if it would require legislation at the state Capitol to consolidate the Valley’s irrigation districts, Darling said “no.” He said he thinks such consolidation could be done through inter-local agreements. “I always prefer not to have Austin involved in our local things, here. I think there is enough authority within the district statutes for them to do that here, if they wanted to.” Darling pointed out that United Irrigation District is so called because it came about through the uniting of two old water districts.

Darling said his meeting with Mayor Salinas went well. “I was happy to meet Mayor Salinas. He is a great guy. He has his finger on the pulse on what is needed in local government.” Darling said he has friends in Laredo and visits the city quite a bit. “I appreciate the challenge he (Salinas) has and the opportunities he is taking advantage of. We have a water issue we would like him to help with. They have good issues, because of the growth and the oil boom. It is good to have that problem. To meet the economic demands and the housing demand. It was good to hear how they are trying to solve those.”

As far as immigration is concerned, Darling said he and Salinas are in agreement.

“All of us believe the border should be strengthened and immigration laws should be obeyed. But we do not think this should be at the cost of commerce and the ability of friends and loved ones and business partners that should be able to go freely across the border and have nothing to do with illegal actions,” Darling said.

“We have to get the rest of Texas to understand, yes we are a border but you just cannot shut it down. Let’s go after the criminal element that comes across, rather than a kid who has grown up here and is going to college. They need to address that in the immigration bill. We need to make sure the criminals do not come back when they are deported. We had a nice discussion on immigration.”

Salinas agreed. “Although we are competitors on an economic level, we can always find common ground to work together on matters that promote the welfare of all our citizens, who as border residents share many of the same concerns,” Salinas said. “It was a good and productive conversation between both of us and I look forward to working with Mayor Darling.”