United States, Mexico Unveil Conservation Plan for Colorado River

The United States and Mexico unveiled their new joint framework for the conservation of the Colorado River on September 27. Representatives from both countries announced the deal at a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico where they elaborated upon its potential for drought management, infrastructure improvement, and environmental restoration.

Under the agreement, the United States has pledged $31.5 million to the development of Mexican water infrastructure and conservation projects. In return, most of the water saved from infrastructure improvements will stay in the United States, with some going to Mexico and environmental projects such as release flows in the Colorado River Delta.

The agreement updates a 1944 treaty between the two countries and is an extension of an accord signed in 2012. It is slated to last six years and marks another milestone in North American water management.

Over 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland rely on water from the Colorado River, which flows 1,400 miles from the Colorado Rockies to northern Baja California and Sonora in Mexico, where it trickles to an unnatural halt before reaching the Sea of Cortez.

Mexican representative Roberto Salmon said the deal goes far to secure water-security for the entire region. “This agreement provides certainty for water operations in both countries,” he stated.  Edward Drusina, Salmon’s U.S. counterpart, agreed but highlighted the uncertainties inherent to environmental conservation, saying, “it is not necessarily the complete fix to the system because we don’t know what lies around the corner.”

According to the water-conservation NGO American Rivers, the Colorado River’s output could face reductions of up to 30 percent in the next ten years due to climate change. As urban areas like Los Angeles and Las Vegas continue to grow and water continues to vanish, the region’s water shortages may worsen.

Aside from human use, the agreement also creates a fund of $18 million collected from both governments and an assortment of outside donations for environmental projects in the delta. One component of these projects is continued restorative flows in dry regions of the delta.

Osvel Hinojosa, water and wetlands program director for Pro Natura Noroeste, a Mexican conservationist organization, says that previous flows have restored roughly 1,100 acres of native trees and greenery in the delta. Jennifer Pitt of the Audubon Society stated, “we will see a resurgence of the Colorado in its delta, the ribbon of green that is re-emerging in the Sonoran Desert.”

Water in the American west is an unlikely place to find solidarity and clarity, but here it has cut the tension between two countries.