Water, the Shifting Frontier with the United States

Mexico and the United States share a 3,185 kilometer-long border, which, in part, acts as a natural border with the Rio Grande and Colorado rivers.

As a result, the governments of both countries agreed to sign the Distribution of International Waters Treaty between the United States of Mexico and the United States of America on Feb. 3, 1944 (Treaty of Waters, 1944), through which the distribution of water from the Rio Grande and Colorado rivers was established. The implementation of the treaty, and “the regulation and exercise of rights and fulfillment of obligations that the two governments acquire thereunder” is made by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).

Although it has undergone some modifications, this treaty has been the basic framework on which the distribution of available water between the two countries has been developed.

The result of this treaty is that Mexico is allocated 1,850 million cubic meters of the Colorado River, and the United States is allocated 431.7 million cubic meters of the Rio Grande through annual volumes contributed by tributaries (rivers and streams) from Mexico.

Due to the treaty, the two governments are required to meet a five-year, fixed transfer cycle. However, these deliveries will depend on the prevailing year-to-year weather conditions. Thus, during wetter years the transfer will be higher, but if the weather is dry, the transfer will be less.

The International Boundary and Water Commission is a body made up of two sections: a Mexican section under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, representing the interests of Mexico before the international body, and an American section, representing the interests of the United States, and it is dependent on the State Department to implement international boundary and water treaties between the two nations.

One of the points included in this treaty causing the most controversy is that, if there is an extraordinary drought, water delivery to our country is diminished by the same proportion as deliveries to users in the United States. Due to low levels of rainfall in recent years, many problems of transfer between the two nations have resulted.

Among the rights and obligations that the IBWC handles are: water distribution of the Rio Grande and Colorado River between the two countries; the regulation and conservation of the waters of the Rio Grande for use by the two countries through the joint construction, operation and maintenance of international dams, reservoirs and hydro stations; flood protection of binational land through dikes and channelization projects; solutions to the environmental border clean-up and other water quality problems in the region; preservation of the Rio Grande and Colorado rivers as common international borders and the demarcation of the land border.

Moreover, in our country we have the National Water Commission (CONAGUA), which is an administrative body within the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, created in 1989, whose responsibility is to manage, regulate, control and protect national waters in the country.

CONAGUA’s mission is to manage and preserve national waters with society’s help in order to achieve sustainable use of resources.

In reality, however, despite its powers, CONAGUA is not involved in the distribution established by the Treaty on Utilization of Waters between Mexico and the United States, leaving it exclusively to the CILA [another Mexican water monitoring organization] — a situation explained by the origin dates of each agency. However, this presents administrative conflict in terms of a comprehensive and updated forecast on a resource that is becoming scarcer every year, not only in terms of a decreasing amount of rainfall, but also due to a growing population on both sides of the border.

Reconciling domestic water management with international commitments requires an update that must not be postponed; a task that begins with the adaptation of the laws framework, which must start during the legislative period we are entering, while still respecting the treaty signed in 1944.

This is not a trivial matter, especially when Mexico must deliver 431 million cubic meters of scarce rainfall from desert regions in the north, without CONAGUA’s legal participation in this process, but with the obligation to regulate everything hydraulic in the same areas, something that will lead to a series of restrictions that are harmful and frustrating for the residents and farmers in the border states.

In a few years, a collapse due to a lack of water at the border may surprise both countries, something which also requires a provision that should start with legislation and investments in bilateral efficiencies that do not support further postponement.

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About Stephen Routledge 179 Articles
Stephen is a Business Leader. He has over twenty years experience in leading various major organisational change initiatives. Stephen has been translating for more than ten years for various organisations and individuals, with a particular interest in science and technology, poetry and literature, and current affairs.

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