Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Subcommittee on Water and Power
Committee on Resources
Washington, DC, July 27, 2000
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss with you today the diplomatic efforts of the United States Government to obtain Mexican water deliveries on the Lower Rio Grande pursuant to the 1944 treaty between the United States and Mexico on Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande.
Under this treaty, Mexico has an obligation to deliver to the United States an average annual amount of 350,000 acre-feet of water in consecutive 5-year cycles from certain Mexican tributaries to the lower Rio Grande. In situations of extraordinary drought or serious accident to the hydraulic systems on the measured Mexican tributaries, any deficiencies in water deliveries existing at the end of a 5-year cycle are to be made up in the following 5-year cycle. The U.S. and Mexican Governments have entrusted the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) with the implementation of the treaty and the settlement of any disputes that arise under it. The IBWC is the appropriate forum for developing specific plans for water delivery schedules due to its technical expertise in the area of water management.
Mexico has an outstanding deficit of over one million acre-feet of water from the past 5-year cycle, which ended in 1997. Mexico has claimed that it was unable to provide more water due to conditions of extraordinary drought. By the terms of the treaty, Mexico has until October of 2002 to make up this deficit. In addition, current cycle water deliveries are also below the annual average amount due the United States. The U.S. Section of the IBWC initiated consultations with the Mexican Section before the end of 1997 to address the shortfall of water that occurred in that accounting cycle. Since that time, the U.S. Section of the IBWC has been working steadily to get more water for the Texas irrigators. We have been encouraged to see that Mexico is close to meeting its treaty obligation for the current year.
Since U.S. IBWC Commissioner John Bernal brought this issue to my attention earlier this year, the Department of State has monitored this situation closely. We have been actively engaged on the diplomatic front in support of the IBWC's efforts. We have taken every opportunity to urge Mexico to meet its treaty commitments and to provide sufficient water releases to ensure that U.S. water users along the Rio Grande have enough water to meet their needs. We have raised this issue both in Washington and in Mexico City with various levels of the Mexican Government.
We had been hopeful that the February 8 technical meeting between the U.S. and Mexican Sections of the IBWC would result in significant progress toward resolution of this issue. When that meeting ended at an impasse, we acted promptly to raise this issue to the diplomatic level.
Our embassy in Mexico City delivered a diplomatic note in March of this year expressing the United States Government's concern over the outstanding deficit from the 1992-97 accounting cycle. At this time, we also alerted the Mexican Government to the low volumes of water that have been made available to date for the 1997-02 cycle. We also urged Mexico to take the steps necessary to ensure delivery to the United States of the waters to which it is entitled. The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Jeffrey Davidow, has followed up this written demarche in several discussions with Mexican Foreign Ministry officials. We have also raised this issue in discussions with the Mexican Ambassador to the United States.
In addition, Ambassador Peter Romero, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, underscored with Mexican Under Secretary for North America and Europe Juan Rebolledo the need for positive action by the Mexican Government with respect to payment of the water debt and increased water deliveries.
In all of these fora, we stressed that any plan that Mexico was developing must be coupled with a commitment to the development of mid- and long-term solutions to water deliveries under the treaty. We urged Mexico to work within the IBWC to develop a comprehensive solution to this problem.
Additionally, the Legal Adviser of the Department of State discussed the 1944 water treaty and the need for Mexico to comply with its treaty obligations in a conversation with his Mexican counterpart in April of this year.
The issue was also a topic of discussion in an April meeting between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Mexican Foreign Secretary Rosario Green, at which time Secretary Green told Secretary Albright that Mexico would make payment on its water debt.
The Department of State ensured that this matter was on the agenda for the 17th session of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission Meeting that was convened in Washington on May 18. Once again, we stressed the high importance of this issue to the United States Government. We urged Mexico to make more water available on the lower Rio Grande in order to make a good faith repayment on the debt and to avoid a deficit in the current cycle.
On June 9, Mexican President Zedillo visited President Clinton at the White House. During their working lunch, President Clinton raised the water deficit issue and stressed to President Zedillo the importance of this matter to the United States, and in particular to south Texas. He urged Mexico to work toward a satisfactory resolution of the problem. President Zedillo said that the underlying problem was the drought but told President Clinton that Mexico was in the process of developing a long-range plan to settle the debt.
We feel that our diplomatic efforts have been successful in raising awareness of this issue to the highest levels of the U.S. and Mexican Governments. And, we believe that progress has been made in obtaining additional water releases for the lower Rio Grande water users. This past spring, Mexico transferred to the United States water from storage ahead of the schedule that had been developed under IBWC auspices. As of today, Mexico is close to meeting its treaty commitment for water deliveries for this year. We expect Mexico to provide additional water this year to represent a good faith repayment on the past cycle debt.
Ambassador Davidow and senior embassy officials have already alerted transition advisors to President-elect Fox regarding the water deficit issue. We intend to follow up these initial contacts to ensure that the new Mexican administration is made aware of U.S. concerns about this matter.
We will continue our diplomatic efforts, in concert with those of the IBWC, not only to ensure repayment of the debt from the last cycle, but also to ensure that specific plans are in place so that future water deliveries will be made in compliance with the treaty terms and in such a manner as to provide for optimum usage.
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