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AMISTAD DAM AND RESERVOIR
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 1960
House Of Representatives,
The Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs met pursuant to call in room 1310, House Office Building, at 10:30 a.m., Hon. Armistead I. Selden, Jr. (chairman of the subcommittee), presiding.
Also present were Hon. O. C. Fisher, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas and Hon. Joe M. Kilgore, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas.
Mr. Selden. The subcommittee will come to order, please.
Today we are beginning a series of hearings on the Amistad Dam project, with specific reference to H.R. 8080 introduced by the distinguished gentleman from Texas, Mr. Fisher.
This bill (H.R. 8080), will authorize the conclusion of an agreement with Mexico for the joint construction of an international storage dam. The dam as now planned will include features for hydroelectric power.
Without objection, the bill (H.R. 8080), will appear in the record at this point.
(H.R. 8080 is as follows:)
[H.R. 8080, 86th Cong., 1st seas.]
A BILL To authorize the conclusion of an agreement for the joint construction by the United States and Mexico of a major international storage dam on the Rio Grande in accordance with the provisions of the treaty of February 3, 1944, with Mexico, and for other purposes
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Secretary of State, acting through the United States Commissioner, International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico, is hereby authorized to conclude with the appropriate official or officials of the Government of Mexico an agreement for the joint construction, operation, and maintenance by the United States and Mexico, in accordance with the provisions of the treaty of February 3, 1944, with Mexico, of a major international storage dam on the Rio Grande at the site and having substantially the characteristics described in minute numbered 207 adopted June 19, 1958, by the said Commission, and in the "Rio Grande International Storage Dams Project—Report on Proposed Dam and Reservoir" prepared by the United States Section of the said Commission and dated September 1958.
Sec. 2. If agreement is concluded pursuant to section 1 of this Act for the construction of a major international storage dam the Secretary of State, acting through the United States Commissioner, International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico, is authorized to conclude with the appropriate official or officials of Mexico an agreement in accordance with article 7 of the Treaty of February 3, 1944, for the construction, operation, and maintenance, on a self-liquidating basis for the United States share, of facilities for generating hydroelectric energy at said dam.
If such an agreement is concluded, the United States portion of the power potential may be developed by the lease of the power privilege, if it should be found to be in the interest of the United States to do so: Provided, That if such development is undertaken preference shall be given to a public body or cooperative as the lessee: Provided further, That if such power privilege is leased, a report shall be made, including the terms of a proposed agreement, if any, that may be reached, together with the recommendations of the Commissioner, International Boundary and Water Commission, which agreement, if any, shall not become effective until approved by the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives.
Sec. 3. If a dam is constructed pursuant to section 1 of this Act its operation for conservation and release of United States waters shall be integrated with other United States water conservation activities on the Rio Grande below Fort Quitman, Texas, in such manner that the amount of water allocated to the United States and now available for use by existing lawful users of the United States below Falcon Dam shall not be impaired or diminished. The release of United States water for the production of hydroelectric energy shall be such as not to interfere with United States vested rights, to the use of water for municipal, domestic, irrigation, and industrial purposes or with storage of water for these purposes.
Sec 4. The cost of the project allocated to power and conservation of water shall be the difference between the entire cost of the project and the cost of the project if constructed for flood control alone. Any construction cost allocated to the conservation of water shall be reduced by whatever amount can be reasonably expected to be returned from net commercial revenues over a period of fifty years which are not needed to amortize the power allocation with interest.
Sec. 5. Where under section 4 of this Act, interest is required to be charged, the rate thereof shall be equal to the average rate (as certified by the Secretary of the Treasury) paid by the United States on its marketable long-term loans outstanding at the time the first appropriation for construction of the works authorized by sections 1 and 2 of this Act is made.
Sec 6. There is hereby authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State for the use of the United States Section, International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico, such sums as may be necessary to defray such costs as may accrue to the United States arising out of the agreement herein authorized.
Mr. Selden. We are very glad to have a distinguished group of Texans here this morning. I need not tell you there is no delegation in Congress more highly regarded than the Texas delegation. The leadership of both the Senate and the House rests in the hands of Texans, and the other members of the Texas delegation also have the esteem of their colleagues. We are always very pleased to welcome their constituents here in Washington.
This bill, H.R. 8080, was introduced by the Honorable O. C. Fisher of Texas, who is with us today and who will make a statement in connection with this bill.
We will hear Mr. Fisher first this morning. We will then hear Colonel Hewitt, Commissioner of the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico.
The subcommittee will recess at 12:30 and will reconvene at 2:30.
Mr. Fisher, you may proceed.
STATEMENT OF HON. 0. C. FISHER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF TEXAS
Mr. Fisher. Mr. Chairman, we very much appreciate this opportunity to appear before your subcommittee in support of H.R. 8080. This bill, as you have just stated, would grant the necessary authority for additional negotiations with the Republic of Mexico that would enable our Government to conclude agreements with Mexico for the construction of a dam on the Rio Grande, the chosen site, after several years of authorizing and other certification to choose the most feasible site—the chosen site has been located about 12 miles above the city of Del Rio, which happens to be in the district I represent.
The detailed justification for the project will be developed by the State Department and the International Boundary and Water Commissioner, Col. L. H. Hewitt, whose office and headquarters are at El Paso. I am sure you will find Colonel Hewitt anxious and able to answer any questions that may occur to you in regard to the details, covering the history of negotiations, the many economic and engineering factors that are involved, and all phases of the project as contained in his very elaborate report, a copy of which you have before you. Colonel Hewitt has an enviable record as an engineer, having served with distinction for many years with the Corps of Engineers and at one time as a division engineer. In recent years, following his retirement, he has represented the United States in his present capacity. This he has done with a rather remarkable display of diplomatic skill, technical ability and engineering know-how, and it is not an easy job for anyone.
Mr. Chairman, this project is urgent. It is long overdue. I seriousty doubt that this Congress has had before it in recent years a flood control project more highly justified than this. The benefit-cost ratio is 1.96:1—almost 2 to 1, and if you include fish and wildlife in that computation it would run more than 2 to 1 for the 50-year life of the dam and reservoir, and 2.48:1 for the 100-year period.
Perhaps a comparison or two will serve to emphasize the significance of this unusually high justification ratio, particularly since this committee is not accustomed to holding hearings on projects of this kind, most of that going to other committees. In the case of the Colorado River storage project including the Glen Canyon and Echo Park Dams, approved by Congress a few years ago, the benefit-cost ratio was 1.64:1. In the case of the Whitney Dam and Reservoir, approved by Congress, the ratio was 1.1: 1. The ratio was 1.26: 1 for the Burns Creek Dam, the Palisades project, in Idaho. In fact, it is difficult to find a major project that has been approved by the Congress where there has been such a high ratio of benefits as against costs as in this case now before the committee.
The reasons why the benefit-cost ratio in this instance is so unusually high will become apparent as testimony is developed in support of it.
As you know, this is the second dam proposed in pursuance of a treaty between this country and the Republic of Mexico, dated February 3, 1944. The first, Falcon, located 290 miles downstream from the Amistad site, was completed in 1953.
The Falcon Dam has served a wonderful purpose. It has, according to engineering reports, more than paid for itself by flood prevention already, to say nothing of the water conservation features of it and the electric power that is generated there. In addition, I know you can assume with almost absolute certainty, that had Falcon not been in existence, a considerable number of lives would have been lost in the river reaches below that dam since it was built.
But it has been found from experience that Falcon is wholly incapable of coping with the job of adequately controlling the turbulent and unruly waters of the Kio Grande. It simply does not have the capacity to do a job that must be done. Moreover, there is a vast area above Falcon and below the Amistad site that is vulnerable and completely helpless in the face of devastating floods that have a way of recurring with gruesome regularity. 1 spoke of lives saved because of Falcon. The number is, of course, speculative. But that is not true above Falcon, between the Amistad site and Falcon—that 290mile stretch of the river. Since Falcon was built, in just two major floods, a large number of lives were lost, and although Mexico has never publicized the exact number of Mexicans who perished, everybody in the border area knows it must have been in excess of 100— more likely around 200. And that was after Falcon was built.
I have mentioned the two floods. I was referring to those that occurred in 1954 and 1958. At the risk of duplicating testimony that will be given by others in more detail, I should like to at least refer to those tragic events. These are documented and I think they are very pertinent as examples of what we have to do in order to cope with these raging floodwaters that result from flash floods up and down the Rio Grande. I just want to spotlight two or three instances of what we mean when we speak of the rampaging Rio Grande. And the two most recent instances took place in 1954 and 1958.
In the case of the 1954 flood, according to official reports, the direct damage—counting the loss of floodwater into the Gulf—mounted to $25.3 million, using 1958 cost figures. That is the damage from one flood, using 1958 cost figures—as it would be as of 1958. This is all contained in the report, a copy of which you have before you.
That was on the U.S. side. I am informed that on the Mexican side the loss was even more. I am sure that is time because it is more vulnerable, more adobe houses, whole villages wiped out up and down that border area.
And then only 14 years later, in 1958, a mammoth flood occurred. The total damages, measured in dollars and cents, is almost unbelievable. Suffice it to say that had Amistad been built before 1958, the waters saved and the flood damages prevented would have amounted in dollars to just about the entire estimated cost of the U.S. share of constructing the project that we are now seeking.
I have said the floods keep recurring. The report discloses there have been no less than 18 of them of record during the past 58 years, of which 16 originated above the proposed Amistad site. And they will occur again. Is it any wonder that the million people who live along the Rio Grande, in both countries, from Fort Quitman to the Gulf, whose lives and economy are so closely tied to the river, can so often be heard to say: "When will the Rio Grande go on another rampage?" They know it will happen. It is just a matter of when. And they know lives will be lost. It is just a matter of how many.
"While the Rio Grande through the centuries has gone hand in hand with progress along its borders, it has for decades been a word associated with fear, dread, and trembling. The Mexicans since the days of Cortez and before, have referred to it as "El Rio Bravo del Norte," which translated means "the wild or vicious river to the north." After all, aside from the Mississippi-Missouri complex, the Rio Grande is the longest river in America.
Originally called Diablo, which in Spanish means "devil," recently it was agreed to call the new project Amistad, meaning "friendship." Thus, even though Diablo more accurately describes the river proper, Amistad very correctly describes the relationship of the people who face each other across that stream, and who mix and mingle in a spirit of friendship, peace, and cooperation.
I have spoken chiefly of the flood-control feature of Amistad. And, indeed, flood control alone is ample justification for the prompt advancement of this bill and the building of the dam. There appears to be very little demand for any additional supply of water for irrigation. The irrigators are not asking for more water. They are not, they say, in the market for more irrigation water at this time. Their supply problem is now being met at Falcon and projects along the river. And I understand no additional acreage will be cultivated. All the water is already appropriated, under commitment in the State of Texas along the Rio Grande. The conservation storage contemplated for Amistad will not be substantial, although adequate for its purpose.
But the question may be asked: Why the $12 million allocated for conservation storage if irrigators do not want it?
There is a valid and satisfactory answer to that question, and I believe Colonel Hewitt is the proper person to explain to you. Briefly, conservation is required in the treaty between the two countries. That is a part of the agreement, that it would contain conservation storage. And the conservation storage will bolster the power potential that will be created. And, after all, the cost allocated to conservation storage represents a relatively small portion of the total cost of the project— about 8 or 9 percent, so it is a relatively unimportant factor insofar as the overall picture is concerned, so let's not worry too much about that feature of it. Yet it is something that often crops up in the consideration of the project.
I am sure Colonel Hewitt will explain to you that estimated income from the hydraulic power feature alone will more than repay the Government for the cost allocated to conservation storage, as amortized over the 50-year life of the project. In other words, even with no use of the conservation storage for irrigation, in any event the Government will be repaid for all the cost of the conservation feature from the sale of the falling water or from the sale of electric energy if the construction of a generating plant by the Government should be justified as sound and economically feasible.
Moreover, the construction of Amistad will help prolong the life of Falcon by reducing the siltation at Falcon. Indeed, the Commissioner's report states: "The siltation rate at Falcon would be reduced by 60 percent" with Amistad.
And the evaporation rate at Amistad will be much less than at Falcon. That will add to the permanency and stability of the supply to that extent. The reason for the reduced evaporation is that Amistad would have 36 to 56 percent less surface area than that at Falcon for corresponding quantities of water, since the Amistad site is located in a relatively narrow canyon section of the river. The channel will be much deeper than at Falcon. That accounts for the reduced evapora