Farmers, governor remain defiant as time runs out for Mexico to settle water debt with US

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Corral says it's time to "close ranks" in defense of autonomy; Camargo farmers report threats from federal officials

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Tension remains high in the border state of Chihuahua, where farmers and local authorities won’t let Mexico tap into one of their dams to pay off a large water debt to the United States.

“We remain open to dialogue. We want negotiation and an agreement. […] But we restate our clear stance on this issue: Chihuahua cannot and will not allow one more liter of water drawn from La Boquilla dam,” Gov. Javier Corral said Thursday.

The statement comes a month after Chihuahua farmers wrested control of the state’s largest dam from the National Guard and less than three weeks before Mexico must deliver 318,498 acre-feet of water to the United States under a 1944 treaty.

That’s almost a year’s worth of water, which is meant to go into the Rio Grande and eventually find its way to South Texas farmers and water districts.

But Corral and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are at odds over how much water Chihuahua has already contributed to the water debt. Corral said Chihuahua has handed over more water than any other state in Mexico. The president says that’s not the case and accuses Corral, who is from a different political party, of rousing the farmers for political gain.

Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral speaks to the Chihuahua Legislature about the ongoing water conflict with the Mexican federal government. (courtesy State of Chihuahua)

The conflict has already led to National Guard troops wounding a farmer and killing his wife in an incident that the Lopez Obrador administration described as “an accident.” The farmers responded by taking over highway toll booths and blocking a stretch of railroad in the southern part of the state.

Last week, observers reported a troop buildup in southeastern Chihuahua, and on Wednesday farmers alleged receiving threats from federal officials.

“They want to solve this with their weapons, with the army. The National Guard will be watching to see who is drawing water from the river,” said Arturo Zubia Fernandez, the mayor of Camargo, a city near the Conchos River, which is Mexican tributary to the Rio Grande.

This screenshot taken from Facebook Live shows Camargo Mayor Arturo Zubia (left) and an unidentified farmer talk about alleged threats being made by federal officials against those who hinder the delivery of water from Chihuahua dams to the United States.

Zubia said federal officials are also threatening to take away the water rights of farmers who stand in their way. “They want to see us on our knees,” Zubia said. “They don’t understand that with the water that’s left on La Boquilla we will only be able to plant 30% of our usual crops next spring.”

In a visit to Juarez last week, Lopez Obrador said Mexico could be hit by tariffs from the Trump administration if it doesn’t pay its water debt by Oct. 24. He also expressed fears that the U.S. could demand a renegotiation of the treaty, which he says currently benefits Mexico more than the United States.

Under the treaty, Mexico must deliver 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the U.S. over a five-year period. The U.S., on the other hand, delivers 7.5 million acre-feet to Mexico over a similar time span.

Corral alleges that if the federal government’s numbers don’t match the amount of water Chihuahua has turned over it’s because of mismanagement. Independent observers last week told Border Report corruption has been endemic at Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua), with officials allowing non-licensed parties to draw water in exchange for bribes.

However, the president on Friday said he intends to make good on the water debt to the United States. Meantime, the governor of Chihuahua is calling on the locals to “close ranks.”

“We are working together, united. We want to form a common front and we call on all to close ranks in defense of the autonomy, the sovereignty, the dignity of the people of Chihuahua,” Corral said during a Thursday session of the Chihuahua Legislature, broadcast on Facebook Live.

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