EAGLE PASS, Texas (Border Report) – A water treaty between the United States and Mexico could be in jeopardy because of a string of border buoys the State of Texas has put up in this border town to deter illegal immigration.

That was the testimony earlier this week by a State Department official in federal court in Austin in a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department against Gov. Greg Abbott to get the buoys removed from the Rio Grande.

“Mexico has sensitivities about sovereignty and doesn’t want to be seen as a lesser partner to the United States,” Hillary Quam, the State Department’s coordinator for border affairs between U.S. and Mexico, testified Tuesday.

Quam said Mexico has raised concerns “at the highest diplomatic levels” with U.S. officials about removing the 1,000-foot-long string of buoys.

Construction crews work to relocate a string of border buoys closer to the U.S. side in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Aug. 21, 2023. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

She testified that that Mexico could withhold water it owes to the United States, as part of the 1944 treaty if the buoys are not removed.

Mexico owes 1.75 million acre-feet of water to deliver to the United States for this five-year cycle, which began in 2020. And as of Aug. 12, the country has only paid 359,907 acre feet of water, according to data from the International Boundary and Water Commission, the binational agency that oversees the Rio Grande and the water treaty.

(IBWC Graphic)

Abbott says the four-foot spherical buoys were put in the international river to deter illegal immigration as part of the state’s Operation Lone Star border security initiative.

A migrant walks parallel to a string of buoys put in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Aug. 21, 2023. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

And he admitted on Monday during a tour of the area with four other visiting Republican governors that the State of Texas relocated the string of buoys closer to the U.S. shore after an IBWC survey found a majority of the buoys were on Mexico’s side of the river.

An IBWC official from Mexico told Border Report that construction to move the buoys began Thursday afternoon and continued into Monday afternoon.

A Mexican official with IBWC, known as Comision Internacional de Limites y Aguas (CILA,) watches construction Aug. 21, 2023, to relocate a string of buoys closer to the U.S. side of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass. Right: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about the border buoys on Aug. 21, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photos)

“The buoys had drifted toward the Mexico side. And so out of an abundance of caution Texas went back and moved the buoys to a location where it is clear they are on the United States side, not on the Mexican side,” Abbott said Monday in response to a question from Border Report. “I do want to add this: If you look at the treaty between the United States and Mexico, that treaty specifically references buoys as a device that can be allowed in these waters between the United States and Mexico and so it is highly recognized that buoys were acceptable and not a deterrent to navigable waters.”

A judge in Austin has not yet ruled on the case.

U.S. Rep. Monica De La Cruz, a Republican who represents South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, says the Biden administration must force Mexico to deliver the water it owes the United States.

“The Mexican government has a responsibility to uphold its end of this treaty,” De La Cruz said in a statement this week. “American farmers and ranchers are suffering because of Mexico’s failure to deliver the promised water. I urge the Biden Administration to take action and hold Mexico accountable.”

Earlier this month De la Cruz sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to force Mexico to send more water from its tributaries.

“The United States must stand up for the water we’re owed,” De La Cruz said. “We cannot allow Mexico to continue to violate this treaty and harm our farmers and ranchers.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.