Farmers slowly dig up their losses and face the unsettling reality that their parched dams, once a reliable water supply for irrigation, will not be replenished. These hardworking, multi-generational Texas farmers are no strangers to the ebbs and flows of the seasons. But when a crop that the Rio Grande Valley has depended on for more than two centuries is on the verge of decimation, this falls outside the scope of the normal ebb and flow cycle—crisis is a more fitting word.

In South Texas, where there was once more than 34,000 acres of sugarcane, cropland is quickly withering to barrenness. When people think of water scarcity, it is perceived to only exist in emerging economies. What the data indicates in South Texas, along with the rest of the western United States, completely negates that idea. Water is not a developing world problem. In fact, it is one of the most pressing issues facing Texas. In addition to aging infrastructure and harsh drought patterns, a primary reason to blame for this dwindling water supply is due to the failure of Mexico to meet the water delivery requirements as established in the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty.

The treaty requires Mexico to provide 1,750,000 acre-feet (AF) of water through a five-year cycle, with an average annual commitment of 350,000 AF. In exchange, the United States provides Mexico 1.5 million AF from the Colorado River. To put this in perspective, just one acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons of water. This is enough to fill half of an Olympic-sized swimming pool or cover a football field with a foot of water. The U.S. consistently meets it obligation while Mexico has fallen behind since 2020.

According to the International Boundary & Water Commission, which oversee treaties between the United States and Mexico, Mexico is behind on its water deliveries by more than 700,000 AF, and trends suggest that Mexico will not be able to meet the five-year requirement again in 2025. For most communities in South Texas, the Rio Grande River is their main water source. The first industry to suffer from inadequate water deliveries is agriculture. Sam Sparks, an operator out of south Texas, stated in an interview that, “if Mexico had delivered water like it was supposed to, I would not be standing here today, I would be growing sugarcane.” In addition to upending the livelihoods of countless farmers in the valley, the economic impact of Mexico violating its agreement totals $495.8 million in direct revenue loss in 2024 alone.

After 51 years of operation, the Lone Star Sugar Mill closed, resulting in nearly 500 workers losing their jobs. This was the only sugar mill in Texas and one of only three nationally, suggesting national implications with the closure of this mill.

Congressman Tony Gonzalez said in a statement, “Because the U.S. State Department has failed to hold Mexico accountable—producers and employees of the mill will lose their livelihoods. I expect the effects of this closure and the looming water crisis to be felt by growers across our region and implore USDA and the State Department to take immediate action.” Agriculture is not the only industry being impacted, developers in the area are facing a mortarium, which is a temporary suspension of building homes due to the emergency.

With summer approaching, Texas’ communities are experiencing a water crisis that continues to worsen. Farmers are lobbying and demanding the administration to apply pressure on Mexico to uphold its end of the agreement and release water. In response, Governor Abbott recently renewed and amended the drought disaster declaration in April 2024. Bexar, El Paso, Travis, Hidalgo, Presidio along with 33 other counties are listed as under threat of imminent disaster due exceptional drought conditions.

The road ahead to restore the precious water agreement between U.S. and Mexico is long and arduous. Luckily, we are at the very least assured that there are attainable solutions for Texans. To our betterment, policy, infrastructure, and societal factors have more to do with water scarcity than the amount of naturally occurring water itself. For Texans, or any region facing water challenges, with the collaboration of industry, policymakers, and communities, water can return and bring new life to agricultural operations currently under siege.