U.S., Mexico on Verge of New Colorado River Water Pact

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By Tripp Baltz

An agreement amending the longstanding treaty between the U.S. and Mexico on management of the Colorado River will continue the practice of water shortage sharing, but also fund new conservation and environmental programs, and aim to reduce the risk of ruinous drought.

The two nations are tentatively scheduled to execute the agreement—Minute 323, an amendment to a 1944 water treaty—on Sept. 26 in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez. Minute 323 will govern water flows in the Colorado River and other water management issues by extending an existing binational agreement, Minute 319, which was set to expire at the end of 2017.

The deal shows how both countries consider water important enough to set it apart from tensions that have flared during President Donald Trump’s administration over immigration and building a border wall, Stephen Mumme, professor of political science at Colorado State University, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 22.

Both sides were interested in continuing Minute 319, which describes the operation of the river system as a partnership between the two countries. The newly negotiated Minute 323 specifically defines reservoir management strategies so Mexico shares in river shortages and surpluses through 2026.

Conservation Funding

In return, Minute 323 will authorize $31.5 million in U.S. funding—slightly more than half of it from the Bureau of Reclamation—for pilot water programs in Mexico that would generate some 229,100 acre-feet of conservation. About 70,000 acre-feet of the conserved amount is designated for environmental purposes in Mexico, about 50,000 acre-feet will benefit the Colorado River system, and 27,275 acre-feet each will be assigned to four U.S. partner agencies.

The average U.S. household uses about one-half an acre foot of water per year.

The agreement also will allow Mexico to continue to store water in Lake Mead, the storage reservoir for the three Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, according to the Imperial Irrigation District, one of the four domestic water districts involved in the negotiations.

It also will provide for a potentially larger drought response partnership with water users through the Colorado River basin states drought contingency plan and Mexico’s binational water scarcity contingency plan, the district said.

Conservation, Environmental Programs

Additional components of the deal include binational cooperative conservation projects, environmental programs, salinity management efforts and the opportunity for additional conservation and desalination projects in Mexico, the district said.

The two national governments are expected to make the signed agreement public Sept. 27. Until then an embargo by the State Department precludes the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission from providing additional details, Lori Kuczmanski, spokeswoman for the section, told Bloomberg BNA.

She said the commission, the agency that applies the boundary and water treaties of the U.S. and Mexico and settles disputes that arise in their application, was working to get all domestic approvals signed. “We’re very, very close,” she said.

U.S. Partner Agencies

In addition to the Imperial Irrigation District, the three other partnering U.S. water agencies are the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. The IID Board approved its domestic agreements to Minute 323 Sept. 12.

The Colorado River Board of California adopted a resolution Sept. 13 affirming the primary elements of Minute 323 and acknowledging the need for continued board participation in its implementation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

For More Information

The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission is at https://www.ibwc.gov/home.html

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