Here’s the release from Secretary Salazar’s office:
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Mexican Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada today announced the successful completion of an agreement, known as ‘Minute 318,’ to adjust water deliveries on the Colorado River to areas damaged by a devastating earthquake on April 4, 2010.
Following their meeting in Mexico City, the Secretaries also announced a commitment by the two governments to initiate, in January 2011, high-priority discussions on a comprehensive long-term agreement between the U.S. and Mexico on the management of the Colorado River.
“Through this water agreement, the U.S., Mexico, and the seven Colorado River Basin states are bringing resources together for our mutual benefit and for the benefit of our neighbors whose irrigation systems and livelihoods have been damaged by the Easter Sunday earthquake,” said Salazar, who is in Mexico City to discuss water, conservation, and natural resource issues with President Calderon and Mexican government officials. “Minute 318 is a remarkable achievement from a humanitarian perspective, but it also lays important groundwork for a much-needed comprehensive water agreement with Mexico on how we manage the Colorado River.”
“Water users and stakeholders up and down the Colorado River have a strong interest in a comprehensive water agreement that would enhance reliability, certainty, and efficiency of water deliveries,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor, who coordinated with the seven Colorado River Basin States and the International Boundary and to reach the Minute 318 agreement. “The good faith negotiations that resulted in Minute 318 will help pave the way toward the comprehensive agreement for Colorado River management that is so needed on both sides of the border.”
Secretary Salazar and Secretary Elvira commended the work by the U.S. and Mexican Commissioners of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), Edward Drusina and Roberto Salmon, who led their respective nation’s negotiation teams for Minute 318.
Under Minute 318, Mexico will be able to temporarily defer delivery of a portion of its annual Colorado River water allotment while repairs are made to the irrigation system in the Mexicali Valley of Baja California as a result of an April 4, 2010 earthquake. This agreement is founded on the 1944 Water Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico.
Under the 1944 Water Treaty between the United States and Mexico, Mexico is allotted a guaranteed quantity of Colorado River Water each year. Absent surplus or extraordinary drought conditions, Mexico’s annual allotment is 1.5 million acre-feet (maf).
Minute 318 allows Mexico to defer delivery of up to 260,000 acre-feet of its annual allotment through December 31, 2013. Beginning in 2014, Mexico could begin recovery of the amounts of Colorado River water deferred during the three-year period, subject to the progress of reconstruction of the Mexican irrigation system and the status of Colorado River reservoirs.
In their meeting today, Secretaries Salazar and Elvira, Commissioner of Reclamation Connor, Director General of the Mexican National Water Commission Jose Luis Luege Tamargo, and IBWC Commissioners Drusina and Salmon discussed the need for a comprehensive agreement on Colorado River water management issues, particularly in light of ongoing drought conditions and the prospect of continuing declines in reservoir levels.
Secretaries Salazar and Elvira identified the negotiations on a comprehensive agreement as a top priority for 2011. The leaders said they would direct their representatives to begin negotiations of the comprehensive water agreement in January, 2011.
Commissioner Connor noted that a comprehensive agreement is of particular importance in light of ongoing, historic drought in the Colorado River Basin:
- Since 2000, Colorado River basin reservoirs have dropped from nearly full to approximately 55% of total storage.
- Lake Mead currently stands at 39% of capacity, lower than it has been since it was filling in the 1930s.
- The last 11 years have been the driest in a century of recorded history, and among the driest 1% of periods in over 1,000 years.
- Current projections show that if current drought conditions persist, the Lower Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada) may be subject to the first-ever domestic shortage declaration on the Colorado River as early as 2012; the likelihood of shortage conditions by 2014 is approximately 35%.
To read Secretary Salazar’s statement, click here.
Here’s a release from the Environmental Defense Fund:
A bi-national pact announced today to allow Mexico to store a portion of its annual allocation from the Colorado River—up to 260,000 acre-feet over three years—in the largest U.S. reservoir—Lake Mead—sets the stage for progress on environmental issues in ongoing talks between the two countries, according to Environmental Defense Fund.
“As Lake Mead water levels continue to drop, a bi-national agreement to store water there that Mexico can’t use—until it repairs the damage from last April’s earthquake to its irrigation systems—is the logical solution for both countries,” said Jennifer Pitt, director of EDF’s Colorado River Project. “Secretary Salazar’s announcement today proves that diplomacy deployed to create additional flexibility on the Colorado River has great potential. It can improve water supply reliability for water users in our country and Mexico, and protect our invaluable environmental resources.”
The water level of Lake Mead—located on the Colorado River about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas—has been dropping steadily for the last decade due to drought and now is nearing the elevation—presently at 1082 feet above sea level or 39% of capacity—that will trigger shortages in Arizona and Nevada.
This U.S.-Mexico accord, known as Minute 318, follows two previous deals between the two countries:
1. Under the terms of Minute 317, the United States and Mexico are exploring how to improve Colorado River management, including: water supply management in dry times, bi-national conservation and desalination projects, and the delivery of water for environmental flows in the Colorado River delta.
2. Under the terms of Minute 316, the United States and Mexico agreed to dedicate water to the largest wetland in the Colorado River delta—the Cienega de Santa Clara—during pilot operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant in Arizona. The treated water is intended for inclusion in water deliveries to Mexico, and preserving the like amount of water in Lake Mead.
“For the first time in decades, the United States and Mexico are working productively towards mutually beneficial changes on the Colorado River,” Pitt concluded. “Given dire predictions of drought in this region, today’s agreement is a critical step in building the mutual trust and confidence we need to craft additional agreements that deliver a more sustainable water supply for our communities and for the environment.”
More Colorado River basin coverage here.