Town where sugar mill closed due to water shortage gets federal relief


Lawmakers want to withhold funds to Mexico until water payments made

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The border farming town of Santa Rosa is getting some much-needed federal funds to help with a water shortage plaguing Texas’ entire Rio Grande Valley.

Over $9.5 million from the U.S. Department of Interior’s WaterSMART Drought Resiliency Project grants has been awarded to Santa Rosa, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, announced Thursday.

“This funding will go a long way in addressing the current water supply challenges in Santa Rosa,” Gonzalez said.

Santa Rosa was hard hit when its sugar mill — the only one in the state and one of only three in the country — shut down in February because of a lack of water required to grow the thirsty plants.

Over 500 jobs were lost and the shutdown triggered a real awareness in the Rio Grande Valley of a threatening water shortage as excessive heat, drought and a lack of water payments from Mexico continue.

Under a 1944 water treaty, Mexico is supposed to pay the United States 1.2 million acre-feet of water over a five-year cycle. The current cycle ends in October 2025, yet Mexico hasn’t even paid 400,000 acre-feet of water to the Rio Grande, as of June 1, according to the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission.

The money will help Santa Rosa to build new water infrastructure, including ground and elevated storage tanks, a raw-water reservoir, and to connect with neighboring water suppliers in case of emergency.

In October 2023, the city’s water supply ran dry after an irrigation canal faltered, leading the city to declare a state of emergency and leaving farmers without water for their crops.

“These improvements will provide water security to our residents and a vital buffer against future water supply emergencies,” Gonzalez said.

A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers have called on stricter consequences to Mexico for not paying the water it owes.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is among lawmakers who in May sent senior congressional leaders a letter requesting that the United States withhold funds to Mexico until they make water payments.

Gonzalez and Republican U.S. Reps. Monica De La Cruz, of McAllen, and Tony Gonzales, of San Antonio, along with Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn also were part of the letter.

On Wednesday, De La Cruz announced that they had secured language in an Appropriations bill that would withhold U.S. funds from Mexico for failing to comply with the treaty. The measure passed a House committee on Tuesday but still must pass the full House and Senate.

The bill says that U.S. funds to Mexico would not be available “until the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the United States and Mexico have entered into an agreement to balance the deficit of water deliveries to the United States by Mexico.”

Cuellar says the bill would exempt holding back funds that help Mexico fight fentanyl at the border.

“With the exceptions, limitations that it doesn’t affect funding that helps Mexico fight fentanyl, and other drugs coming to the United States,” Cuellar told Border Report.

But he urged that given the water shortage, communities up and down the border must seriously conserve water and have a backup water plan in case the Rio Grande dries up.

“We just can’t depend on the Rio Grande as the only source of water, I think everybody should start looking at secondary sources of water just in case. And especially since we have large growth, not only in ag in the Valley, but also growth in population up and down the border,” Cuellar said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at

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