Double disaster deepens in the Juárez Valley

Frontera NorteSur

If the violence that’s killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands of others isn’t enough, residents of the rural Juárez Valley on the Mexico-U.S. border now confront an additional problem: extreme water shortages. Dependent on Rio Grande irrigation water guaranteed by a 1906 agreement with the United States, farmers in the valley will receive the proverbial drop in the bucket this year thanks to the drought clobbering the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico.

Jose de Jesus Luevano, member of the Mexican Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, told the Ciudad Juárez daily Norte that a U.S. water delivery which is expected to be only a small fraction of the 60,000 acre-feet of Rio Grande water reserved for Mexico under the 1906 Convention will make growing crops in the beleaguered valley very difficult this year.

The water is distributed annually by the Las Cruces-based Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID), which apportions its supplies to growers in the U.S. and Mexico after it passes through Elephant Butte Reservoir, a large artificial lake located about 100 miles north of the Juarez Valley in New Mexico.

According to the EBID’s website,  only 4,631 acre-feet of water was estimated to be available for Mexico as of Feb. 1 of this year. The amount of water in Elephant Butte Reservoir is ultimately determined by the winter snowpack far upstream in New Mexico and Colorado.

The 1906 Convention gives the U.S. authority to deliver less water to Mexico in times of extreme drought. The agreement reads:

“In case, however, of extraordinary drought or serious accident to the irrigation system in the United States, the amount delivered to the Mexican Canal shall be diminished in the same proportion as the water delivered to lands under said irrigation system in the United States.”

Mexico’s predicament prompted two members of the Chihuahua State Legislature’s environment commission to declare they will press the Mexican Congress this week to analyze the 1906 agreement for possible revisions, and to extend more support to the farmers slammed by the drought.

“It’s important to look at this (situation) and allocate compensation to improve the conditions of farmers who live in uncertainty because of the drought,” Chihuahua state lawmaker Rene Franco, was quoted in Norte. “It is important to create mechanisms to avoid the climate change that affects us,” Franco added.

Historically, the Juarez Valley nourished tight-knit rural communities that produced cotton and other crops in one of the most important agricultural centers of northern Mexico. But the diminished water supply is another big blow to the cultural heritage of the region, which has suffered from narco-related violence that’s amounted to a scorched earth campaign during the past few years.

The violence followed decades of decline in the farm economy, pollution of farmlands, urbanization and the emergence of smuggling as an alternative, underground economy.

The valley is not alone in facing a multi-faceted crisis. Drought, other forms of extreme weather and criminal violence are steadily gnawing away at the fabric of rural society across northern Mexico.

In a recent column, former Mexican congressman and rural activist Victor Quintana argued that a “convergence of different crises has generated a crisis of human security in Chihuahua.” Quintana contended that foreseeable troubles, including those related to climate change, have not been adequately addressed by the government. The result, he wrote, was a fractured State and a “suffering population in ruin.”

Sources: Norte, February 28 and March 3, 2012. Articles by Beatriz Corral. La Jornada,  December 23, 2011. Article by Victor Quintana. 

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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