TR-481 Impacts of Institutions on Water Conservation Incentives in the Texas Rio Grande Valley

Authors: P. Harrington, R. Lacewell

The Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley is a large agricultural region with limited water resources. With rapid expansion in population and industrial growth, there is an increasing competition for water, particularly in times of drought or due to under deliveries of water by Mexico. This competition is further aggravated by expected global climate change and outlook for reduced rainfall and higher temperatures. To address the issue of limited water supply, a major initiative is to accelerate conservation by cities, irrigation districts, and industry and on farms. Progress has been significant for cities and irrigation districts but less so on farms.

After years of court cases and state decisions, the majority of Rio Grande surface water rights in the region are held by irrigation districts. Therefore, there is little incentive for farmers to make investments in equipment or management to conserve water since any savings reverts to the irrigation districts. This paper is a review of the evolution of irrigation in South Texas, the process for establishing water rights and the implications for on-farm water conservation. A set of on-farm water conservation alternatives is presented with insight on water savings and economic implications followed by potential strategies to provide incentives to farmers to implement water conservation on-farm and how the region as a whole benefits.