Colorado River Basin: ‘We [the U.S. and Mexico] have chosen cooperation over discord’ — Ken Salazar #CORiver

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior (Blake Androff/Rose Davis):

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today joined U.S. and Mexico delegations in San Diego, California, at an official signing ceremony of Minute 319 to the 1944 Treaty with Mexico – an historic binational agreement to guide future management of the Colorado River through 2017. The agreement was developed and facilitated by the U.S. and Mexico Sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).

“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of local communities from the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park to the mouth at the Sea of Cortez, supplying water for millions of Americans, irrigating our farms, and helping to power our cities and towns,” said Salazar. “The Department of the Interior recognizes the many challenges facing the Colorado River, and this binational agreement demonstrates our shared commitment to cooperation and partnership to protect and promote its future.”

As part of the ongoing dialogue on Colorado River issues, delegations from the United States and Mexico have been working over the past three years to reach an agreement on a set of cooperative measures for management for the next five years. Salazar joined principals to the agreement from the seven Colorado River Basin states, representatives from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. IBWC Commissioner Edward Drusina, Mexico IBWC Commissioner Roberto F. Salmon, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor to commemorate the effort.

“After years of discussions, Minute 319 demonstrates our common commitment and the potential opportunities for future cooperation between the United States and Mexico on water conservation, system operations, environmental restoration, and new water sources projects,” said Commissioner Connor. “Today’s action builds on our past collaborative efforts and is a true testament to the power of patience and persistence.”

The five-year agreement approved by both governments provides for a series of joint cooperative actions between the United States and Mexico. Elements of the agreement include:

- Implementing efforts to enhance water infrastructure and promote sharing, storing, and conserving water as needed during both shortages and surpluses;
– Establishing proactive basin operations by applying water delivery reductions when Lake Mead resorvoir conditions are low in order to deter more severe reductions in the future;
– Extending humanitarian measures from a 2010 agreement, Minute 318, to allow Mexico to defer delivery of a portion of its Colorado River allotment while it continues to make repairs to earthquake-damaged infrastructure;
– Establishing a program of Intentionally Created Mexican Allocation (ICMA) whereby Mexico could temporarily reduce its order of Colorado River water, allowing that water to be delivered to Mexico in the future; and
– Promoting the ecological health of the Colorado River Delta.

Signed by all parties today, Minute 319 becomes effective immediately. Many of the projects and programs outlined in the agreement will be implemented through the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado Region. The Lower Colorado Region manages the final 688 miles of the Colorado River on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior.

Here’s a link to video of the signing ceremony.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Arkansas River basin water providers who depend on imports from the Colorado River will benefit from an agreement signed Tuesday between the United States and Mexico. For the Arkansas River basin, the agreement brings another level of certainty for diversions from the Colorado River, said Alan Hamel, the basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which participates in compact negotiations.

“It’s timely to have this international agreement and it has positive impacts for Southern “There was always some doubt that deliveries to Mexico could affect diversions.”

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Springs Utilities and Twin Lakes all manage projects, which bring water into the Arkansas River basin each year. Pueblo West owns Twin Lakes water rights.

The five­year agreement — five years in the making — allows Mexico to store water in Lake Mead and curtail its allocation during drought years, along the lines of a 2007 plan outlined by the seven states in the Colorado River Compact. Mexico would also be able to sell water to water providers in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Environmental and business groups hailed the plan because it will help restore ecosystems in the Colorado River delta and boost Lake Mead levels.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the agreement the most important international accord on the Colorado River since a 1944 treaty.

“We have chosen cooperation and consensus over discord,” he said.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact details how the river will be shared by Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, but only addresses conditions where there is ample water to meet all needs.

The 2007 agreement, a response to prolonged drought, details how shortfalls in allocations would be shared by all states by regulating the levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead through 2026.

From the Associated Press (Elliot Spagat) via The Denver Post:

The far-reaching agreement gives Mexico badly needed water storage capacity in Lake Mead, which stretches across Nevada and Arizona. Mexico will forfeit some of its share of the river during shortages, bringing itself in line with western U.S. states that already have agreed how much they will surrender when waters recede. Mexico also will capture some surpluses when waters rise. Also under the plan, water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada will buy water from Mexico, which will use some of the money to upgrade its canals and other infrastructure.

The agreement, coming in the final days of the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, is a major amendment to a 1944 treaty considered sacred by many south of the border. The treaty grants Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet of river water each year — enough to supply about 3 million homes — making it the lifeblood of Tijuana and other cities in northwest Mexico.

The pact represents a major departure from years of hard feelings in Mexico about how the U.S. manages the 1,450-mile river, which runs from the Rocky Mountains to Mexico. In 2001, U.S. states established rules on how to divide surpluses but set aside nothing for Mexico. Several years later, the U.S. government lined a border canal in California with concrete to prevent water from seeping through the dirt into Mexican farms…

California’s largely agricultural Imperial Irrigation District, the largest single recipient of Colorado River water, refused to sign the agreement because it felt it should have been allowed to buy some of the water from Mexico. U.S. officials said they hoped to address those concerns…

Colorado Water Conservation Board director Jennifer Gimble, called the agreement “monumental” and said it’s important to Colorado for furthering the state’s ability to work collaboratively with the entire river basin – including Mexico – “to use our water resources in an equitable and appropriate manner pursuant to the Law of the River.”

“It is important because the agreement recognizes the finite resources of the Colorado River but it is monumental because it allows both countries, along with the states and other entities in both countries to work together and use infrastructure to allow the finite resources to be shared during surplus conditions and reduced in times of shortages,” Gimbel said.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

…even though the deal is getting good reviews, it’s important to remember that the Colorado River is not healthy. Massive diversions and storage projects have choked off native flows that helped maintain riparian habitat. Those same projects have pushed four native fish species to the brink of extinction…

The agreement has implications all the way upstream to the Colorado River headwaters in Summit County. Colorado water managers said the agreement shows that both countries recognized that managing growing demands for the river’s water requires creativity and flexibility…

The agreement, known in treaty parlance as “Minute 319,” also includes a water conservation demonstration project, salinity management language, potential opportunities for Mexico to release its storage for environmental flows in Mexico and the opportunity for Mexico to store some of its treaty allocation for delivery in subsequent years…

Recreation on the river is estimated to generate $26 billion in economic output annually and supports a quarter million American jobs in the Colorado River basin. The economic value it provides for Arizona is immense, where the direct spending tied to river recreation equals $3.79 billion every year. Additionally, 53,508 Arizona jobs are directly dependent on Colorado River recreation.

“This landmark measure shows that we do not have to choose between using the Colorado River’s water and maintaining the life of the river itself,’” said Molly Mugglestone, Project Coordinator for business coalition Protect the Flows. “We must continue to implement this smart approach to river policy to protect the Colorado River recreation industry that generates $26 billion in economic output annually and supports a quarter million American jobs. We now encourage Secretary Salazar to focus on how we can designate healthy river flows in other strained stretches of the Colorado River system throughout the Southwest U.S.”

From the Huffington Post (Peter Gleick/Michael Cohen):

The river, which flows through some of the most arid regions of the continent, has never been very large. Now it is so over-tapped that it usually dries up completely some 80 river miles north of its mouth atop the Gulf of California. The river’s once-lush delta — memorably described in Aldo Leopold’s eloquent “Green Lagoons” — has been tamed and tilled and converted to irrigated agriculture, or else lies desiccated and barren, deprived of the water and sediment the river once carried in abundance…

After more than 15 years of research and advocacy to get water back in the river, this remarkable achievement is a huge step forward for the embattled Colorado River delta. It is incredibly satisfying to think that the dedicated efforts of so many people, over so many years, have led to this historic moment. It is a long overdue end to the incredibly destructive 20th Century notion that not a drop should be left instream and it is a major step to more sustainable management of the Colorado River — the lifeblood of the Southwest.

From the BBC:

The US and Mexico signed a treaty in 1944 governing the allocation of resources from the Colorado River, which supplies seven US and two Mexican states. But in the ensuing decades, population growth, increased industry and farming, as well as droughts have put pressure on the river.

The latest accord, which runs until 2017, is a major amendment of the original treaty. This stipulated that the US must send a set amount to Mexico, enough to supply some three million homes, no matter how low the river level. But now, Mexico will forgo some of its share during drought, a practice already followed by the states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

In return, Mexico, which has little storage capacity, is allowed to store water in times of surplus in Lake Mead, a vast reservoir by the Hoover Dam on the Arizona-Nevada border. Mexico will also get $10m to repair irrigation channels damaged during a 2010 earthquake. There will also be funding to restore the Colorado River delta, which has largely dried up.

More coverage from National Geographic (Jennifer Pitt):

…on November 20, 2012, Mexico and the United States turned a new page in their relationship to the Colorado River, joining together to restore flows to the Colorado River Delta. Leaving behind unilateralism, the two countries united to sign the most important bilateral Colorado River agreement since the 1944 Treaty. The term of the agreement is short – five years– but the framework it sets and the tools it provides are exactly the kind of innovations that will be needed for both the river and the communities who use it to weather the impacts of climate change.

Moreover, there is every expectation that if that agreement works as hoped, the commitments will be renewed. The agreement signed today provides water for the delta, as well as a system to share water surpluses in times of plenty and shortages in drought. It allows Mexico to store water in Lake Mead, benefitting Mexico and the U.S. states dependent on this vital reservoir, and it commits the two countries to cooperative investments in water conservation, with benefits accruing both to water users and the environment…

There are many heroes in this story, most of them dedicated bureaucrats working for myriad agencies in both countries whose names will never be recorded in the history books, but whose patience, persistence, and belief that there is a better way resulted not only in increased certainty for water users on both sides of the border, but also in the prospect of a Colorado River that runs all the way to the sea. Working together, Mexico, the United States, and the river’s many users can restore the Colorado River Delta.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

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