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U.S.-Mexico Water Wars: Treaty Tensions Escalate Amid Historic Droughts

Tensions are escalating between the United States and Mexico over a water treaty as both countries experience severe droughts and rising temperatures. 

The conflict, rooted in an 80-year-old treaty, requires the U.S. and Mexico to share water from the Colorado River and the Rio Grande. But Mexico has struggled to deliver water to the U.S., raising concerns among Texas farmers and citizens. 

Water shortages in Texas have forced the closure of a sugarcane processing plant and prompted one border town to consider halting new construction.

Some Texas leaders and lawmakers have asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cut off U.S. aid to Mexico until it delivers water. Texas State Rep. Monica De La Cruz has pushed for punitive measures against Mexico and has received support from Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

Under the 1944 treaty, Mexico is required to send 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the U.S. every five years from the Rio Grande, while the U.S. must deliver 1.5 million acre-feet annually from the Colorado River. According to the Washington Post, Mexico has fallen short of its obligations by hundreds of thousands of acre-feet in almost every period since 1997, but the treaty does not require Mexico to make regular deliveries and does not have a penalty for not meeting the targets.

However, the lack of water has had a profound impact on the United States. The drought has resulted in historically low levels in the Falcon and Amistad reservoirs. Amistad was at less than 26% of capacity, and Falcon was at just 9.9%.

Texas farmers are also suffering. “Farmers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas are either out of water or running out of water fast,” Brian Jones, a farmer and board member of the Texas Farm Bureau, told CNN.

Mexico, however, is experiencing its most severe drought since 2011, affecting nearly 90 percent of the country. Mexican officials have said the water shortage is also killing their crops and has threatened the quality of life of citizens in major urban areas, including Mexico City, the largest city in North America.

Tensions have also risen in Mexico. In 2020, farmers protested after the Mexican government decided to release water from a dam in one of the states hardest hit by the drought to send to the U.S. The protest turned deadly after a woman was shot by the National Guard.

As both countries suffer, scholars have pointed out that the treaty was not made to take into account climate change and an unstable climate.

“The water delivery system has stayed the same, but the water crisis has worsened,” Vianey Rueda, a researcher at the University of Michigan told CNN. “You have treaties that were meant for a stable climate, but now are trying to be enforced in a climate that is not stable.”

Efforts to amend the treaty through the “minute” process have stalled, though discussions are expected to resume following Mexico’s recent elections.

Rueda said both countries should recognize the shared impact of climate change to foster more cooperative solutions.

“Then you start eliminating that zero-sum game, you start saying we’re both losing essentially”, Rueda said. “Nobody’s actually winning.”

RA Staff
RA Staff
Written by RA News staff.


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