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Mexico Starts Repayment of Water Debt to the US - 2002-06-15

Mexico has begun releasing reserve water into the Rio Grande river, what could be a first step towards resolving a protracted dispute with the United States over the resource. The governor of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua says 15 million cubic meters of water are now flowing into the Rio Grande. The release constitutes a down payment on the 200 million cubic meters Mexico owes under the terms of a water treaty with the United States. Governor Patricio Martinez says he was able to authorize the release from the Conchos River that runs through his state thanks to recent rains after a long drought.

Governor Martinez says the release confirms what he has always insisted: once the rains begin the water will flow.

Under the 1944 treaty, the United States and Mexico dammed the Rio Grande, creating a reservoir that thousands of farmers on both sides of the river depend on for irrigation. Both nations are expected to maintain the reservoir, but Mexico's water contributions have fallen off over the last ten years. The total amount of water Mexico owes exceeds New York City's yearly consumption of the resource.

The water debt issue reached the executive level earlier this year, when President Bush and his Mexican counterpart, Vicente Fox, discussed the matter at an economic summit in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. Until this week, Mexican officials had insisted they simply did not have the water to contribute. South Texas farmers, meanwhile, mounted protests, even attempting to block a key bridge between the two countries to show their displeasure.

Earlier this week, Mexico's national government signed an agreement with border states for modernizing water systems with an eye towards conserving the commodity. It is hoped that conservation, and more rain, will allow the water debt to be repaid in full.