Laredo Morning Times
March 26, 2009
By Miguel Timoshenkov
NUEVO LAREDO - Officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol agreed Tuesday to temporarily delay aerial spraying of herbicide on carrizo along the Rio Grande until there can be a deeper international discussion of the crossborder impact of such a project.
"We saw the willingness of the U.S. authorities to suspend the use of the herbicide for now," said José de Jesús Luévano Grano, a Mexico representative on the International Boundary and Water Commission, speaking on behalf of the group of agencies that met Tuesday.
"We support their use of mechanical means to uproot the carrizo."
Luévano said Mexican officials are aware that the carrizo, a non-native cane that clogs the riverbanks, consumes great quantities of water and that its eradication could help preserve the vital fluid in times of drought.
But they don't believe using the herbicide containing imazaypr is the safe way to do that.
A new date for starting the aerial spraying has not been determined, but U.S. authorities confirmed that it has been delayed as a result of Tuesday's meeting.
"We don't have a definitive start date," said Roque Sarinana, a spokesman for Border Patrol.
"It's still undergoing negotiations."
Last week, the Laredo City Council granted Border Patrol an easement for carrizo eradication along 1.1 miles of land along the Rio Grande.
The agency plans to try several methods, including the herbicide, to determine which would be the best way to get rid of the plant.
Tuesday, officials from numerous government agencies at local, state and federal levels, on both sides of the Rio Grande met for more than an a hour to discuss the situation and then had a news conference to announce the U.S. agencies' decision to delay implementation of the spraying.
Mexican and U.S. officials will exchange a series of studies within a week.
Once that is done, another meeting will be set up for a strictly technical discussion of the facts and to determine the next course of action.
Environmental officials and experts on both sides of the border will be reviewing the studies because, while U.S. officials believe use of imazapyr does not pose a health hazard, Mexican officials believe it could cause irreversible damage.
At the news conference, Luévano said Mexican officials told Border Patrol that when their agency is going to do something that affects both sides of the river, they should ask the opinion of Mexican environmental authorities.
"The American authorities thought that by conducting their own environmental study, it would suffice as a study of the environment on the Mexican side and that we would be in agreement," Luévano said, but that is not the case.
Luévano said the Mexico-U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission has followed official procedure since the controversy over use of the herbicide began.
He asserted the commission favors eradication of the carrizo, but supports other non-herbicide means of accomplishing that goal.
Carlos Montiel Saheb, director of the city's waterworks system, said his concern over the application of the herbicide has been relieved, at least temporarily, but that there needs to be a clear understanding of the rights of both nations when something is going to affect both sides of the river.
Both sides need to be consulted, he said. In this case, Mexican authorities should have been involved in the discussion.
"Now we will present our case and give a precise explanation of the risks to public health, particularly how it (herbicide) can affect vision as well as cancer-related concerns," Montiel said.
Luévano was clear in stating that the temporary delay didn't mean that the United States was canceling the project, and noted that negotiations are continuing.
It's up to the U.S. side of the International Boundary and Water Commission to provide a detailed study on the use of imazapyr to ensure that it poses no negative effects to the Mexican side of the river, according to a news release from the Nuevo Laredo city government.