LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — Water is something on the top of everyone’s minds here in this South Texas border city.

A study commissioned by the City of Laredo in 2022 estimated it will run out of water by 2044 and that has its 250,000 residents scared.

“We have to realize that we need to protect our water source. These are things that are not only specific to us, it’s all over the nation. But more so to us, because we’re one of the hottest places in the planet. So we have to look at that very cautiously,” Laredo Mayor Victor Treviño recently told Border Report.

All of the city’s water comes from the Rio Grande, but prolonged drought, regional growth and a lack of water payments by Mexico — as part of a 1944 international treaty — are threatening this international river’s ability to sustain this border city in upcoming decades.

Laredo Mayor Dr. Victor Trevino. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“Our water source from the Rio Grande is going to run out in about 20 years,” Dr. Treviño, a physician, said during an interview in his Laredo medical clinic. “All of this will put a challenge in the amount of water supply that we have from the river.”

Like other South Texas border cities, climate and Mexico’s water debt threaten its future. In Laredo, the average daily temperature is 105 degrees, he said.

About 100 miles east in the Rio Grande Valley, Hidalgo County has issued a disaster declaration due to a lack of water.

Several cities, like McAllen and Edinburg, have implemented mandatory watering restrictions, and farmers worry whether they will get water to irrigate their fields during the long hot summer months.

The state’s only sugar mill shut down in February because there wasn’t enough for growers to produce the thirsty sugar cane.

“It’s unfortunate, right, that we were in a situation like this, you know, where treaty obligations are unable to be met,” said Martin Castro, watershed science director for the Laredo-based nonprofit Rio Grande International Study Center, which studies the Rio Grande.

Castro tracks daily water levels at the two area reservoirs — Falcon and Amistad — which have been for months at historic low levels.

This week, levels at Falcon Reservoir, in Zapata County, fell to single digits for the first time and were at 9.4% on Thursday, according to the Texas Water Development Board. A year ago, it was 21% full.

Amistad Reservoir, outside Del Rio, supplies water to Laredo, and was much higher on Thursday — at 27.9% — but still down from 35% a year ago, according to the Texas Water Development Board.

“We’re hoping that if Mexico can’t meet those treaty obligations, and deliver that water, that we get some significant weather event that can replenish our supplies here in the basin,” Castro said at his office at Laredo College.

Martin Castro is the watershed science director for the Rio Grande International Study Center. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Mexico is technically not in debt until the current 5-year cycle ends in October 2025. But it has barely paid the United States a year’s worth of water. Most experts doubt it’s possible that Mexico has enough time, or water, to pay what it owes before the deadline.

Over 275 miles separate Amistad Dam from Falcon Dam and Laredo is located on a curvy part of the Rio Grande in between.

“Here in Laredo, where we’re located, we essentially serve almost as a pass-through to get that water from Amistad south, downstream to the Falcon reservoirs,” Castro said.

Castro says officials are studying various methods to bring water to Laredo — either from the Gulf of Mexico via desalination projects, underground aquifers, or reclamation projects.

But those projects are costly and take time, and his nonprofit is diligently working with local leaders to help advise them and steer them to make sound decisions now, for the future health of residents.

Treviño took office at the end of 2022 and says he has been dealing with this issue his entire term.

He’s a descendant of the city’s first mayor, Tomas Sanchez, who was a captain in the Spanish army when Spain founded the city on May 15, 1755.

Laredo has been under seven governments since its inception nearly 269 years ago. That includes: France, 1685-1690; Spain, 1519-1685, 1690-1821; Mexico, 1821-1836; Republic of the Rio Grande, January 1840 to fall 1840; Republic of Texas, 1836-1845; Confederacy, 1861-1865 and the United States 1845-1861 and 1865 to present day.

When the city was first founded it was called San Augustine de Laredo and included what is now Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

Treviño says the sister cities have always been close, in part, because they are 150 miles from any other major cities.

The Rio Grande supplies all the water for the 250,000 residents of Laredo, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

He says he has had many meetings with leaders south of the border to discuss climate, water and immigration issues.

He says he believes working with Nuevo Laredo will be key to conservation and finding water solutions in the future.

“We have a good binational collaboration, especially with our sister city. We collaborate on a lot of things on border security and a water and immigration,” he said. “We have to fend for each other because Laredo was one city before.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at