The Rio Grande Valley’s reservoirs are low and water delivery systems are inefficient, say growers, who hope recent legislation will help South Texas realize its agricultural potential.
“The biggest need and the most bang for our buck is in improving our infrastructure,” said Ray Prewett, president of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.
Prewett cited projects like lining canals and providing pipelines where feasible to improve a water delivery system designed in the early 1900s.
The water problem
Rio Grande Valley farmers are also dependent on two international reservoirs and can only obtain water for irrigation after municipal water needs are met.
A 1944 water treaty signed with Mexico has meant that valley growers rely on enforcement of an international treaty to get water. Mexico has maintained a persistent water deficit.
“It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what we need,” said Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association in Mission, with regard to the water payments.
“By no means are we anywhere near an ideal situation.”
Trent Bishop, vice president of sales for Lone Star Citrus Growers, Mission, said September and October rains have increased holding capacity, but not enough to stave off a flood of fear.
“Water is something that in our industry could keep you awake at night,” he said. “We are truly concerned.”
Dennis Holbrook, president of South Tex Organics, Mission, said he hopes projects in the pipeline will eliminate water loss through evaporation from reservoirs.
He added that growers are eager to take advantage of new technologies, such as drip irrigation. Despite the challenges, South Tex Organics is installing drip irrigation systems on its new vegetable land.
In 2012, Texas voters passed Proposition 6, a constitutional amendment that would make available $2 billion in low-interest loans for safe water conservation projects in the state.
Prewett said farmers are not directly eligible for loans, but municipalities, river authorities and irrigation water districts in the Rio Grande Valley can propose projects for funding.
The low-interest loans are part of a revolving program that is estimated to effectively provide $30 billion worth of low-interest loans for water conservation projects.
“We are excited about that. We do think it will make a difference,” he said.
Prewett and other growers said they do not expect to see any impact from the loans until 2016.