Watermaster: River condition ‘not good’

Valley Morning Star

WESLACO (Rio Grande Valley)—8/22/02 -  Under ideal conditions, Mexico should release 350,000 acre-feet of water annually into the Rio Grande, but that has not happened for four years.

That is how Carlos Rubinstein, Rio Grande watermaster, summarized the dilemma for agricultural and urban water use.

"We need to be pointing where we are going to be by the year 2050," he said Thursday. "The current condition of the Rio Grande is not good."

He said the river is not naturally reaching the Gulf of Mexico and although a solution is being sought to improve the river’s flow, the same problem will happen again unless there is a change in the weather.

A trench was dug last year to allow the river to flow into the gulf, but the sand went back into the trench, cutting its flow again.

Rubinstein said the United States and Mexico are working on a project to dig another trench, but that is not going to solve the problem.

He said that some sections of the river have been overgrown with hydrilla, resulting in water loss to rural and urban areas — losses that are irreplaceable.

Since 1992, estimates are that more than 103,000 acres of irrigation land have been lost in Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

Rubinstein, the keynote speaker at a conference co-sponsored by a group called Minority Agricultural Producers, said the total volume of water at both Amistad and Falcon reservoirs reached an all-time low this year.

In 1992, the total volume was 6 million acre-feet, compared to less than 1 million acre-feet this year.

Before 1997, an average of 1.3 million acre-feet of water was released from the reservoirs annually for agricultural usage, compared to 770,000 acre-feet annually in the following years.

Rubinstein said the problem caused by the drought and the water deficit Mexico owes the United States are issues for agriculture and urban water users.

Pedro Vasquez, a farmer from Rio Hondo, said the lack of water has forced him to change his operations.

"I used to plant more cotton and less sorghum," he said. "Today, it’s the other way around."

He said his sorghum crop was "so-so."

Arnoldo Cantu, who organized the minority producers’ group, said he wants to bring awareness to the plight of small farmers.

"We are providing a voice to those, who for this or that reason, do not speak up," he said.

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