The Mexican Embassy to the Department of State



The Mexican Section of the International Water Commission between Mexico and the United States Sent, under date of the 10th of the current month of January, a report, made by an Engineer in the said Mexican Section as a result of a study trip which he made to the irrigation works, dams, etc., of the Rio Grande and its tributaries in the States of New Mexico and Texas, in the United States, and in that of Tamaulipas, in Mexico.

The said report speaks of the great importance of the works carried out and in operation, in American territory, in order to take advantage of the waters of the Rio Grande and, particularly, the works in Willacy County, where four 48-inch pumps have been installed with a total discharge of 17 cubic meters per second. The irrigation system of Willacy County is planned to irrigate 30,000 hectares in its first stage and 50,000 in its final stage.

Much is said in the Brownsville press about projects now being studied by various United States authorities, the object of which is [Page 1033] to take flood waters from the Rio Grande at Zapata, Texas, by means of a gravity canal in order to store them in a reservoir which it is intended to build in the Arroyo de los Olmos, east of Rio Grande City, and about 160 kilometers upstream from Brownsville. For some time this plan has been persistently discussed and it seems that now the American farmers of the lower Rio Grande have succeeded in making an impression on the Federal and State authorities, who have ordered a careful study the result of which will be a report which, according to the press of the locality, will be submitted to the Congress of the United States during the present month of February.

It is well known by American officials that scarcity of water occurs, year after year, with more or less acute characteristics, but always serious, in the Matamoros–Brownsville region, brought about in great part by immoderate American uses thereof, to such a degree that, in some cases, there has been no water for the most indispensable uses.

One such scarcity occurred in April 1938, when Engineer Gustavo P. Serrano, Chief of the International Water Commission between Mexico and the United States, was in the city of Washington; he took advantage of this circumstance to take up directly with Mr. Duggan, of the Department of State, the matter of the immoderate use of the waters of the Rio Grande on the American side.

On that occasion Engineer Serrano pointed out, on a general map, the location of the Lower Rio Grande, showing that while on the American side 96 percent of the total discharge of the river is taken, on the Mexican side practically nothing is utilized; on the other hand, in spite of the acute difficulty caused by scarcity of water, irrigation projects were continually being developed, such as that of Willacy County to irrigate 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) which may later be extended to double the amount. Engineer Serrano added that he did not see how such uses could be authorized in the United States unless it were to create a priority of use which might later be alleged in preference to other diversions, insisting that Mexico did not recognize this doctrine of priorities on an international question.

The Government of Mexico wishes to call the Department of State’s attention, once more, to the situation which the immoderate use of the waters of the Rio Grande by authorities and citizens of the United States is creating in the Matamoros–Brownsville region.

If the United States plans to remedy this situation through the diversion of flood waters of the Rio Grande at Zapata, Texas, mentioned in the report by the Mexican Section of the International Water Commission, it could perhaps achieve it through the investment of very great amounts of money, but the solution would not be definitive in view of the fact that, since three-fourths of the volume of the Rio Grande comes from Mexican tributaries, if Mexico should in the future, as must sooner or later happen, utilize those waters, there [Page 1034] would be danger that, in the end, the works completed by the United States would be useless.

In these circumstances, arrangement with Mexico is desirable which, while taking into consideration the present and future United States developments, would likewise consider the few existing developments and the very great potential ones in Mexico to utilize the proportion of water from the Rio Grande which must justly be hers.

It is certain that, at a much lower cost than that of the project talked of, works of an international character could be carried out which would settle the problem in a much more satisfactory way, from the technical, as well as from the economic and international, point of view.

In view of the good disposition which the Government of your country apparently has now, and the equally good disposition which Mexico has always had to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the distribution of the international waters, it is to be hoped that, in view of the facts pointed out in the present memorandum, projects similar to that of the diversion of water at Zapata will be abandoned, in order to study more easily realized and less costly projects through the conclusion of a treaty with Mexico which might at the same time settle this concrete case and all other cases now existing or which may in the future exist.