How much water does Mexico owe the United States?
Because Mexico has problems covering its water debt to the United States, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he could personally appeal to his counterpart Donald Trump to reach an agreement, or invite United Nations experts to audit the payments made.
Mexico has fallen behind on the amount of water it must send north of its border from its dams under a 1944 treaty, and time is running out to make up for the shortfall before the Oct. 24 deadline. But agricultural producers in the state of Chihuahua want to conserve water for their own crops.
The water treaty has become a sensitive political issue in northern Mexico, where violent protests and conspiracy theories are mounting.
Lopez Obrador has advocated for repayment of the debt, noting that, according to the treaty, Mexico receives four times more water from the Colorado River than it contributes to the Rio Bravo area. He claims that Mexico has enough water in its dams to supply local farmers and cover its debt, which has accumulated over the years.
"We ask people to help us and to have confidence in us," said Lopez Obrador. "If there is a problem of lack of water, if there are signs that we are going to lack water, I will go to Chihuahua and immediately speak with the president of the United States and seek, as I have done in other cases, to make our situation understood".
Considering the conspiracy theories that have emerged in Chihuahua that the United States may have overcharged for water, or paid with infrastructure improvements instead of water, Lopez Obrador said he would be willing to have external experts conduct a review.
"Now, if the accounts are badly done and if we agree that the UN should intervene to verify if what is being done is correct, of course, we are in a position to accept it, but we do not want them to be delaying tactics, chicanery, so that we delay the fulfillment of the commitment, because we have to comply with the terms, in time and in quantity," the president emphasized.
The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, the bilateral body that oversees compliance with the treaty, "has not received any proposal from our Mexican counterpart to come to the United Nations to audit the delivery of water".
Under the 1944 treaty, Mexico owes the United States nearly 426 million cubic meters of water this year, which must be paid by October 24. Payments are made by releasing water from dams on the Mexican side of the border. Mexico has fallen significantly behind in its payments of previous years and must now catch up.
In mid-July, the head of the U.S. Water Commission, Jayne Harkins, said that "they need to increase their water releases to the United States immediately," adding that "Mexico has not implemented the previously promised releases, and continuing to delay increases the risk that Mexico will not meet its delivery obligations".
This is a complicated issue for Lopez Obrador, who has said he fears the U.S. government will retaliate and impose tariffs on Mexican products or close the borders. "Imagine that by not complying with the commitment they will close the border," said the Mexican president.
There is also some risk in the series of protests that the issue has triggered.
In late July, protesters in the state of Chihuahua set fire to several government vehicles, blocked railroad tracks, and set fire to a government office and toll booths in protest of the release of water from local dams into the United States. López Obrador has said that the protests are organized by the opposition to satisfy personal motives.
The expansion of irrigated crops has meant that Mexico has used 71 percent of the Rio Conchos-which flows north-when the treaty says it should only use 62 percent of the water, leaving the rest to flow into the Rio Bravo.
In the past, Mexico has delayed payments in the hope that the tropical storms that periodically enter the Gulf of Mexico will create an unforeseen surplus of water. But even though Hanna made landfall in Texas last July, the storm rains didn't go far enough to fill Chihuahua's dams.