U.S.-Mexico Water Sharing: Background and Recent Developments *

By Carter, Nicole T.; Seelke, Clare Ribando et al. | Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

U.S.-Mexico Water Sharing: Background and Recent Developments *


Carter, Nicole T., Seelke, Clare Ribando, Shedd, Daniel T., Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico


U.S.-MEXICO WATER SHARING

How to share water has long been a complex issue for the U.S.-Mexico border region and in the broader U.S.-Mexico relationship.1 The two countries share a nearly 2,000-mile border. Multiple rivers cross the border or form the border at various points. The principal shared river basins are:

* the Colorado River, which is predominantly in the United States, and crosses the Mexican border on its way to the Gulf of California (Figure 1), and

* the Rio Grande, with major tributaries in the United States and Mexico and whose riverbed is the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas (Figure 2).

In the 19th century, numerous questions arose regarding the boundaries between the two countries and water sharing of international rivers. Early agreements, starting in 1848, sought to clarify the location of the border.2 Later in the century, the two countries entered into the Convention of March 1, 1889, establishing the International Boundary Commission (IBC) to apply border agreements.3 Starting in 1906, agreements to distribute water binationally began to emerge; a 1906 convention on the sharing of Rio Grande for irrigation purposes distributed water in the vicinity of El Paso, Texas.4 In 1944, the two countries entered into a treaty on "Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande" (hereinafter Treaty or 1944 Water Treaty).5 The Treaty reconfigured the IBC into the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which provides binational support and facilitates resolution of issues arising during application of U.S.-Mexico treaties on water quantity, sanitation, water quality, flood control, and boundary demarcation.

This report is a primer on U.S. and Mexican water-sharing topics. It focuses on surface water quantity sharing and recent developments, including drought conditions. Due to Mexico's recent below-target deliveries of Rio Grande water to the United States, particular attention is given to the status, underlying causes, and responses to the Rio Grande water delivery shortfalls. This report describes:

* legal obligations and processes under the 1944 Water Treaty;

* drought conditions from 2010 to 2013;

* water sharing and developments in the Colorado River Basin;

* water sharing in the Rio Grande Basin and Mexico's water delivery shortfalls; and

* stakeholder, diplomatic, and legislative responses to the rate of Mexico's Rio Grande water deliveries.

1944 WATER TREATY

Responsibilities, Execution, and Treaty Minutes

The 1944 Water Treaty establishes water allocations for the United States and Mexico and creates the current governance framework for the IBWC to resolve disputes arising from its execution.6 The IBWC is an international body consisting of U.S. and Mexican Sections, which are overseen by the State Department and the Mexico Ministry of Foreign Relations, respectively.7 Any disputes that arise under the 1944 Water Treaty are settled through the Treaty's "minute" process. The IBWC is authorized to develop rules and to issue decisions regarding the execution of the Treaty in the form of minutes,8 which become legally enforceable and essentially amend the Treaty. A proposed minute is forwarded within three days to the government of each country for approval.9 If the government of either country fails to announce its approval or disapproval within 30 days, the minute is considered approved.10 If either government disapproves, the matter is removed from IBWC control and the two governments negotiate the issue.11 If an agreement is reached between the governments, the IBWC must then take any further actions "as may be necessary to carry out such agreement."12 For the United States, the executive branch has the authority to approve or disapprove of the proposed minutes arising from the Treaty;13 the President only has the ability to make such agreements pursuant to a treaty if the agreement is in the purview of the treaty. …

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