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Some progress in the fight for Texas water

By Jessica Domel

A funding bill that withholds more than $7 million from Mexico until it delivers the water it owes the United States, and South Texas, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The House, on June 28, approved the $51-million Fiscal Year 2025 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs bill in a 212 to 200 vote.

A day before the vote, U.S. Congresswoman Monica De La Cruz of Texas spoke on the House floor about the importance of the provision in the legislation.

“I rise to sound the alarm once again on the water shortage that is plaguing South Texas and our farmers and ranchers that is due to Mexico’s lack of water deliveries despite a binding agreement in the 1944 Water Treaty,” De La Cruz said. “This legislation includes language to withhold all foreign aid to Mexico until the Mexican government delivers our water. I was proud to help secure the language in the appropriations bill, and I hope it sends a loud message to the Mexican government that we demand our water, and we demand it now.”

The bill withholds funding from Mexico until the U.S. Secretary of State certifies the U.S. and Mexico have come to an agreement to balance the deficit of water owed to the United States by Mexico through the 1944 Water Treaty.

Under the terms of the water agreement, Mexico is allocated certain water from the United States via the Colorado River and Rio Grande and is, in turn, required to deliver around 350,000-acre-feet of water back to the United States via the Rio Grande each year.

That water is vital to the farmers, ranchers and businesses in the Rio Grande Valley.

For years, Mexico has fallen behind on delivering the water—leading to the closure of the state’s only remaining sugar mill because farmers cannot grow sugarcane without water.

Four years into the current five-year water payment cycle, officials estimate Mexico has delivered only about a year’s worth of water—putting the Texas citrus industry and others at risk.

“This emergency has already killed the sugar industry in the Rio Grande Valley, and I will not stand by as it destroys our citrus industry,” De La Cruz told Congress.

De La Cruz, other members of the Texas delegation and groups like Texas Farm Bureau have worked for months now to get Congress or the Secretary of State to take action to make Mexico delivers the water it owes.

“With legislation passed that withholds funding from our southern neighbors, they will now see how serious we are about receiving our guaranteed payments,” De La Cruz said. “The longer they hold out, the worse the situation is for farmers and ranchers who need that water to produce food that feeds America. The sugar industry in Texas is no longer in existence, and the next casualty will be the citrus industry. This bill holds Mexico accountable, and I hope it will push its leaders to do the right thing.”

U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, who is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of Texas supported the language in the appropriations bill, but both voted against it.

“I was pleased to secure language in the FY25 SFOPS appropriations bill that ensures Mexico complies with the delivery terms set in the 1944 Water Treaty,” Cuellar said. “As a member of Congress, it is my job to ensure communities on the border have an adequate, reliable water supply. While I didn’t vote for this bill, I will continue to work across the aisle with my colleagues to ensure this legislation becomes bipartisan and secure immediate water deliveries from Mexico.”

Gonzalez told The Monitor the amount withheld from Mexico could amount to $7.6 million. U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas told the news outlet the dollar amount could be higher.

Cuellar said the funding does not include assistance for countering the flow of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs into the United States.

The bill does include more than $250 million for the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which is responsible for applying the boundary and water issues between the U.S. and Mexico.

Cuellar said the 13% funding increase for IBWC will help ensure the commission can hire and retain qualified staff and would be used for construction projects to maintain critical infrastructure.

De La Cruz and 23 other Texans in the House voted in favor of the funding bill. Twelve Texans voted against the legislation.

The voting fell, for the most part, along party lines.

The appropriations bill now heads over to the Senate for its consideration.

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