It Turns Out Jim Darling Heads The Regional Water Planning Group — And That’s Bringing Hope To Some People

Pablo De La Rosa
4 min readAug 2, 2022

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Who’s In Charge Of The Water Crisis On The Border?

People on the Texas-Mexico border are on alert this week as the international water reservoirs that our communities depend on are becoming urgently depleted.

Both McAllen and Brownsville have declared restrictions on water usage over the past few days. But local media are beginning to report that getting water from the ground can mitigate the problem of depending on the “surface water” reservoirs — Amistad and Falcon — that are fed by the Rio Grande River.

However, in talking with various experts over the past few days, I’ve learned that our ability to extract and purify water from the ground in our region is not currently developed enough to meet 100% demand should those reservoirs completely stop providing water.

It is true that there is a tremendous amount of water beneath our feet. And there are already two organizations that provide water to the public from groundwater — the North Alamo Water Supply Corporation and the Brownsville Public Utility Board.

But expanding groundwater infrastructure to meet the challenges of both a growing population and the accelerating effects of climate change will require a considerable investment.

Here’s a map of just one of the aquifers in South Texas, The Gulf Coast Aquifer:

The Gulf Coast Aquifer

So who’s in charge of the situation? The long answer is a handful of regulatory groups locally, regionally, and at the state level. I’ll be publishing an article on Texas Public Radio in the coming days that hopefully will untangle that network a bit, answer some questions about groundwater locally, and also try to explain what could really happen if the shortage continues to become more severe.

For now, I’ll tell you about the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) Region M Planning Group. Here’s region M:

TWDB’s Regional Water Planning Area M

The regionally-based Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group (RGRWP) works in collaboration with TWDB.

From their website:

The Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group (Rio Grande RWPG) is one of 16 local bodies (in Texas) established under Senate Bill 1 to coordinate long-range water supply planning by bringing together stakeholders representing a variety of interests. The Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Area (also known as “Region M”) includes Maverick, Webb, Zapata, Jim Hogg, Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy, and Cameron counties.

This group is particularly interesting because it brings together practically every kind of stakeholder across the region to help plan our water infrastructure now and into the future.

Another interesting tidbit on this is that ex-McAllen Mayor Jim Darling stepped up to chair the group just last year. To the few people I have mentioned this to, this news brought relief to their anxieties about the future of water in the region.

A local business manager who wanted to be quoted anonymously said, “I think many groups hold him in high regard, not sure if that quite amounts to ‘universally beloved.’ But it is hard to find someone too critical of him, and that’s a rarity in political circles here. The man even navigated MAGA while arguing the wall was itself unnecessary — by praising some of its benefits, without alienating too many. I think i would say he’s highly regarded.”

Since leaving the city of Mcallen, Darling has shown interest in water infrastructure.

Earlier this year, he famously purchased a square meter of land within the boundaries of Hidalgo County so he could run for the Water Improvement District №3’s board of directors (it didn’t work). And apart from chairing RGRWP, Darling is also on the board of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority.

As a final note and maybe also a look into Darling’s leadership style — in researching more about Darling, I also came across the below video from 2019. I have to say it left me pretty stunned at how much the rhetoric in our political language on the border has changed so quickly.

It will be interesting to see the work of RGRWP in planning our water infrastructure across the region under Darling’s leadership.

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Pablo De La Rosa

Pablo De La Rosa reports statewide with Texas Public Radio and nationally with NPR from the Texas-Mexico border, from where he originates.