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Rio Grande Valley lawmakers call for the State Department to enforce water treaty with Mexico

Workers harvest sugar cane at a plantation in Grecia, Costa Rica.
Juan Carlos Ulate
Workers harvest sugar cane at a plantation in Grecia, Costa Rica.

Lawmakers across the Rio Grande Valley have urged the U.S. State Department to enforce the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico amid ongoing water supply issues.

Last month, the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc. (RGVSG, Inc.) announced it had completed its final harvest and milling season after more than 50 years in operation.

It was the last remaining sugar operation in the state.

The mill said the closure came following ongoing water supply issues and numerous failed attempts to negotiate timely water releases from Mexico.

"For over 30 years, farmers in South Texas have been battling with Mexico's failure to comply with provision of the 1944 Water Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico that governs water sharing," the mill said.

South Texas lawmakers are now calling for the State Department to act.

"Agriculture in South Texas depends on a reliable water irrigation supply," said Rio Grande Valley Congressman Vicente Gonzalez in a statement. "Because the U.S. State Department has failed to hold Mexico accountable for severe delays in delivering water as required by the 1944 Treaty, producers and employees of the mill will lose their livelihoods."

Republican Congresswoman Monica De La Cruz announced she introduced bipartisan legislation last week aimed at addressing Mexico's compliance issues with the treaty.

"The legislation mandates the Secretary of State to leverage the full spectrum of U.S. diplomatic tools ... to enforce Mexico's compliance with the existing treaty," De La Cruz said in a statement. "Despite the crucial nature of this matter, the Secretary of State has so far failed to prioritize engagement on this critical issue."

South Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar co-led the legislation.

Under the treaty, Mexico is obliged to deliver an average of 350,000 acres-feet of water annually every five years.

Mexico has failed to provide the nearly 775,000 acres-feet of water still owed under the current cycle, which began in October 2020.

RGVSG, Inc. produced more than 1.5 million tons of sugar cane per year across three counties. It employed over 500 full-time and seasonal employees annually.

Sean Brashear, president and CEO of RGVSG, Inc., praised the proposed legislation.

"The heartbreaking consequences of this failure is real, and if actions are not taken, we won't be the last," he said. "We thank Reps. De La Cruz and Cuellar for leading this effort and urge all Members of Congress to support this legislation."

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