A Success Story in US-Mexico Relations

An analysis of the world’s strategic outlook shows water to be a central issue in global security. In the coming decades, water will become a major source of instability in international relations. Human behavior and excessive use of water systems are largely behind this situation. It is predictable that water — or more precisely, the lack of water — will trigger conflicts in various regions of the world, not just between countries but within them as well.

We don’t have to look very far for clear signs. California is currently experiencing its worst long-term drought in almost a century. As if that is not enough, there is additional alarming news that will affect our country (Mexico). Recent studies show that, since 2004, nearly 65 cubic kilometers of water have disappeared from the Colorado River watershed, which is the source of water for the 30 million people and 4 million acres of cultivated land on both sides of the border. This amount of lost water is equivalent to twice the volume of Lake Mead, which for all intents and purposes is the water source for the western and southwestern U.S. Rainfall, down for the third consecutive year, is partially responsible for these losses, but over 75 percent of the losses result from the accelerated extraction from the underground aquifers in the watershed.

For this reason, I think it is important to share one of the recent and noteworthy (though not very visible) success stories in our relationship with the U.S. — one that is directly related to the Colorado River. This accomplishment is being recognized and studied abroad as a model for resolving international disputes over water. I spoke about it yesterday with former governor and U.S. senator from Idaho, Dirk Kempthorne. We talked about what has been achieved — first with Kempthorne, secretary of the interior under George W. Bush, and later with Ken Salazar under the Obama administration. Not only were Mexico and the U.S. able to turn the page on one of the most contentious, longstanding and festering issues on the bilateral agenda — the dispute over the All American Canal, which conveys water from the Colorado River to the Mexican side of the border — we were also able to lay the foundation of a new paradigm for the long-term, integrated management of aquifer resources between our neighboring countries. In 2008, we were searching for a way to address the roots of a challenging problem — the lack of water in the Colorado River — and developed a memorandum of understanding with Kempthorne, therein initiating a purposeful, forward-looking dialogue. In 2009, we took up the discussion with Secretary Salazar. In the wake of the 2010 Mexicali earthquake and following complex negotiations, Minute 319 was signed in 2012. The minute provided a win-win framework of cooperation through which Mexico stores water from the Colorado River in Lake Mead. It established timelines and verifiable and transparent mechanisms to deliver water. For the first time in our relationship with the U.S., water resources are channeled to preserve the flora and fauna of the Mexican delta of the Colorado River. The current Mexican government crystallized this process in March with the liberation of an extraordinary flow of water through the Mexicali dam to launch the restoration of the delta.

This milestone, celebrated by high-level organizations and conservation and biodiversity foundations, showed that Mexico and the U.S. do indeed possess a unique and effective bilateral toolkit to resolve disputes. And the outcome is noteworthy, not only because it engaged the states along the Colorado River watershed for the first time, but also because it engaged civil society organizations from both sides of the border including Pronatura Noroeste, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, the Autonomous University of Baja California, the Environmental Defense Fund, The Sonoran Institute and The Nature Conservancy as substantive contributors during consultations and in the design, negotiation and instrumentation of the agreement.

At the end of the day, this success story is tangible proof that when Mexico and the U.S. set a goal they can cease to be accomplices in failure and become partners in shared success.

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