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Record Rainfall Hits Drought Stricken Northern Mexico - 2002-11-05

After experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades for the past few years, the lower Rio Grande Valley, on the border between Mexico and the United States, is now being soaked with record rainfall. But the long-awaited rain is unlikely to have much impact on the dispute over water that has developed between the two nations this year.

There is water everywhere in this part of northern Mexico. Fields are flooded, fast-moving currents have cut some roads and thousands of people have taken refuge in special shelters. The rain is expected to continue for at least another couple of days, but forecasters believe it will diminish by the end of the week.

That would be good news for people on both sides of the border, after three weeks of almost continuous rain. The downpours did little for valley farmers because they came too late in the season. Lake and reservoir levels are up only modestly because much of the rain has run off downstream into the Gulf of Mexico.

This turn in the weather picture here along the border comes at a time when American officials are threatening to cut the flow of water into the Rio Grande river, in retaliation for Mexico's failure to meet its obligations under a 1944 water-sharing treaty.

Officials from the U.S. Interior Department say they are considering the possibility of limiting the flow of water from the Colorado River, which enters northwestern Mexico and flows into the Sea of Cortez. Also under consideration is blocking water from the upper Rio Grande from reaching Juarez, just across the river from El Paso, Texas.

Mexico admits to falling behind, over the past ten years, in its treaty obligation to release water from the Rio Conchos and other rivers that flow into the Rio Grande. Mexican officials have cited a prolonged drought in the northern border states as their reason for diverting water for domestic use. But farmers on the American side of the border - especially in the Brownsville,Texas area - say the lack of water for irrigation has cost them millions of dollars in lost production.

At the same time, some two thousand Mexican farmers in the state of Tamaulipas are threatening to block the international bridge connecting Matamoros and Brownsville, this Wednesday, to protest their lack of irrigation water. Last week, a meeting between the farmers and officials in Mexico City failed to produce a plan to provide them with more water. Although it may not do their farm land much good, the protesters are likely to get a lot of water on Wednesday. More rain is in the forecast.