CORONADO, Calif. (AP) – The United States and Mexico on Tuesday signed a pact for new rules on sharing water from the Colorado River, capping a five-year effort on how to spread the pain of drought and reap the benefits of wet years.
The far-reaching agreement gives Mexico badly needed water storage capacity in Lake Mead, which stretches across Nevada and Arizona.
Mexico will forfeit some of its share of the river during shortages, bringing itself in line with western U.S. states that already have agreed how much they will surrender when waters recede. Mexico also will capture some surpluses when waters rise.
Also under the plan, water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada will buy water from Mexico, which will use some of the money to upgrade its canals and other infrastructure.
The agreement, coming in the final days of the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, is a major amendment to a 1944 treaty considered sacred by many south of the border. The treaty grants Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet of river water each year _ enough to supply about 3 million homes _ making it the lifeblood of Tijuana and other cities in northwest Mexico.
The pact represents a major departure from years of hard feelings in Mexico about how the U.S. manages the 1,450-mile river, which runs from the Rocky Mountains to Mexico. In 2001, U.S. states established rules on how to divide surpluses but set aside nothing for Mexico. Several years later, the U.S. government lined a border canal in California with concrete to prevent water from seeping through the dirt into Mexican farms.
“We have chosen collaboration over conflict, we have chosen cooperation and consensus over discord,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who called the new pact the most important international accord on the Colorado River since the 1944 treaty.
Mexico will begin to surrender some of its Colorado River allotment when Lake Mead drops to 1,075 feet above sea level and begin to reap surpluses when it rises to 1,145 feet. Mexico will be allowed to store up to 250,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir and draw on nearly all of those reserves whenever needed.
The agreement expires in five years and is being billed as a trial run, potentially making it more palatable in Mexico.
“These are big political steps for Mexico to take,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which will buy some of Mexico’s water. “Chances are we won’t have a surplus and we won’t have a shortage but, if we do, we’ll have the guidelines in place on how we’re going to handle it.”
In 2007, facing an eight-year drought, California, Arizona and Nevada agreed on how much each state should sacrifice during shortages on the river. That same year, the U.S. and Mexico promised to work on ways to jointly address shortages.
The negotiations gained a sense of urgency for Mexico in 2010 after a magnitude-7.2 earthquake damaged canals and other infrastructure, forcing it to store water temporarily in Lake Mead.
“No matter how sacred the treaty is, and it is, the evidence is overwhelming that you have to adjust it,” said Carlos de la Parra, who advised the Mexican government on the agreement.
Los Angeles-based Metropolitan and two other agencies _ the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District _ will buy water from Mexico as part of $21 million in payments from the U.S. to Mexico that also call for wetland preservation and other environmental measures south of the border.
California’s largely agricultural Imperial Irrigation District, the largest single recipient of Colorado River water, refused to sign the agreement because it felt it should have been allowed to buy some of the water from Mexico. U.S. officials said they hoped to address those concerns.
“This is such a historic arrangement that I think, at the end of the day, it’s going to be difficult for Imperial not to sign on,” Salazar said.
The river is also a major source of water for Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Associated Press writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- The best places to celebrate Fall in Phoenix
- Infamous athletes who did the most time for their crimes
- 2016 baseball highlights, bloopers and blunders
- See how CFOs really feel about business in the Valley
- The best television shows on the internet
- A preseason guide to avoid holiday weight gain
- The 5 worst things you could do for your roof
- 6 coolest things brewing in Arizona
- The virus that keeps head and neck cancers on the rise
- State Fair ‘Kid Reporter’ has all the angles covered
- 4 important things to know about timeshare maintenance fees
- Signs of delayed car crash injuries
- The truth about sports concussions
- The Alzheimer's epidemic: Facts you need to know
- The season is here, keep your Fantasy Football team strong all season
- 8 TV shows you can't miss this fall
- Football is here: 6 tips to make this your best season ever
- Gameday recipes and beers to match
- 6 reasons the Cardinals are driven to win the Super Bowl
- The Pac-12 football season nears kickoff
- Tips to get ready for a pain-free golf season
- Protect your family with these 7 home security features
- How to train like an Olympic swimmer
- 2016 Olympics: A guide to must-see TV events
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier