Aug 022012

The rainy season is now well underway in most of Mexico, but large swathes of the north are still experiencing severe drought conditions. For example, the state of Zacatecas was recently officially declared a drought disaster zone. It is still too early to estimate the total economic impact of the drought, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that the drought has already caused agricultural damages in Mexico of $1.2 billion dollars, in addition to the $8 billion dollars of losses for Texas.

The drought has raised many issues connected to trans-border water agreements and flows, with renewed calls for them to be formally reviewed and updated. Two examples should suffice to show the seriousness of the situation.

1. Under the terms of a 1906 bilateral treaty, Mexico is entitled to 74 million cubic meters from the Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs in New Mexico. However, according to Adolfo Mata, foreign affairs officer for the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), the USA will only be able to deliver a maximum of 18.5 million cubic meters this year.

2. Meanwhile, south of the border, the governor of the state of Chihuahua has stated that his state is unable to meet its obligation to deliver water to the USA under the terms of a 1944 International Water Treaty between the two countries. He said that, “No one can give what they do not have. Chihuahua cannot meet this treaty, not for a lack of will, but because it has not rained,” adding that Chihuahua was the only desert in the world that was expected to export water. According to the governor, the treaty requires that about 80% of the rainfall that Chihuahua receives is exported.

On a more positive note, researchers at the Ibero-American University have announced the development of a hydrogel capable of absorbing 200 times its own weight of water before gradually releasing it. The hydrogel could be a useful additional to the range of drought mitigation measures available for farmers. Climate change scientists predict that northern Mexico will suffer from more frequent and more severe droughts in coming decades.

The hydrogel, which is expected to cost 800 pesos (60 dollars) a kilo when it comes on the market, is a mix of natural gelatine and polyacrylic_acid  Hydrogel can only be used in orchards or other areas where the soil remains undisturbed by regular plowing, so it will not help farmers growing corn or beans, for example. The hydrogel has been tested in citrus orchards in San Luis Potosí, and succeeded in halving the required frequency of irrigation from twice a week to once a week, saving water and reducing energy costs. Each citrus tree required a kilo of hydrogel each year.

Previous posts related to the drought:

  2 Responses to “Update on the severe drought in northern Mexico”

  1. “Climate change scientists predict that northern Mexico will suffer from more frequent and more severe droughts in coming decades.”

    If you have any references regarding this statement I’d be grateful to know their source.Documents, urls and people would all be welcome.

    Thank you,
    Steven Leighton

  2. Hi Stephen, Thanks for your query. We've referred to this a couple of times in the past eg Environmental degradation and migration in Mexico
    and Expected impact on Mexico of global climate change. I hope these references will serve for now, This is a topic that we will no doubt return to again in more detail at some point in the future. Regards, Tony

    PS Slightly older is:
    Conde, C. and Gay, C. 1999 Impacts of Climate Change and Climate Variability in Mexico. Acclimations, September-
    October, 1999. [20 August 2009]

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