SAN ANTONIO (Border Report) — A two-day binational conference began on Wednesday with leaders from the United States and Mexico earmarking future projects to spur economic development on the border, and trying to solve a water crisis that is plaguing both countries.
About 200 people attended the NADBank Summit 2023 hosted by the North American Development Bank — a bank that is owned by both the U.S. and Mexico. It finances green projects for economic development in communities on both sides of the Southwest border.
Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Esteban Moctezuma gave the opening keynote address and said both countries must collaborate as a region to promote industry and more jobs.
“Trade and integration supports millions of jobs and supports social development on both sides of the border, but trade has not only an economic impact but a social and cultural effect, also,” he said.
But he said trade and development cannot occur if border communities do not have enough water to meet industry and residential needs. And he stressed that both countries must work together to solve this water crisis that has been worsening with the past two years of drought.
“Water management will become a central pillar for our bilateral collaboration to ensure that the border’s potential may provide opportunities for all,” Moctezuma said.
It was a common theme heard throughout Day 1 of this two-day conference, which brought mayors of U.S. and Mexican cities, as well as investors, capitalists and federal and state officials.
U.S. International Boundary and Water Commissioner Maria-Elena Giner spoke on a panel with her Mexican counterpart, Comisionada Adriana Resendez Maldonado.
Giner told the conference that Mexico currently owes the United States nearly 600,000 acre-feet of water from its tributaries that feed into the Rio Grande. That’s nearly two year’s worth of water allotments that Mexico is supposed to pay the United States.
The water allotments are owed in five-year installments, and so Mexico has time to make it up, according to the 1944 International Water Treaty. But as both countries are in the third year of this current cycle, she said it’s causing concern, especially among South Texas farmers, industries and community leaders.
“Irrigators are starting to get very nervous again. Not only because of the impact to the irrigation industry in South Texas, which is a $1.2 billion industry, but also because they won’t have the push water that is necessary to get water to the community,” Giner said.
Resendez said Mexico is working to quickly repay the back-owed water and has implemented conservation efforts. They also are working with the U.S. side, and investors and looking into technologies that could increase water production in the future.
“We are committed as a commission for our people and for our border to solve these issues,” she said in Spanish.
Giner said during the 2022 drought, the two dams in South Texas –Amistad and Falcon — reached record lows. Amistad was at 25% capacity, and Falcon at 9%. But welcomed rains in August replenished reservoirs and tributaries and allowed the country to make a significant water payment.
But she said: “Right now in Year 3, we still have only received about 39% of the water delivery.”
NADBank is financing several water-related projects along the border, including an $81 million renovation of a sewage plant located on the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which has had broken pipes and spewed pollution for years in an area across from Zacate Creek, in Laredo, Texas.
About $8 million in federal, state and local funds have been appropriated to renovate Zacate Creek and officials tell Border Report that fixing the plant on the other side of the river is important to drawing more visitors to enjoy the trails and birding facilities that will be put in on the U.S. side.
Patricia Hernandez, director general of Mexico’s Asociacion Nacional de Entidades de Agua y Saneamiento (ANEAS) said currently there are more than 400 water-related projects totaling $650 million that need to be completed to meet the country’s water needs along the border.
Brooke Paup, chairwoman of the Texas Water Development Board, said her board will be traveling to the South Texas border town of Harlingen on Sept. 14 to see first-hand the water needs of the region.
Her state agency provides state funds for infrastructure lending throughout the state of Texas.
They will be hosting a board meeting at Harlingen City Hall in the morning, she said “because we know that South Texas is the home of our food and our fiber and the water needs are very intense down in the area.”
“We are looking at every tool in the toolbox when it comes to water management strategies,” she said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.