Minute 319 Sets Pathway for Long-term Mexico-US Water Projects

Last November, CILA Commissioner Roberto Salmon and IBWC Commissioner Edward Drusina signed Minute 319 of the 1944 US-Mexico Treaty.   Reflecting over a decade of consultations, Minute 319 addresses interim international joint cooperative measures that improve water management in the Colorado River Basin (for copy of minute and press release, go to Water Strategist Community at www.waterchat.com and search site for “Minute 319”).  In this post, I discuss how the minute’s sections on international projects and water exchanges related to the 2010 Earthquake in the Mexicali Valley, Intentionally Created Mexican Allocation (“ICMA”) and water for the environment pilot program set the pathway for long-term Mexico-US cooperation in bi-national water projects.

International Water Projects

The Commissioners recognized that bi-national projects in water conservation and generation of new water sources can address growing water demands and potential shortages in the Colorado River Basin.  They agreed that “projects benefitting both nations including but not limited to those set forth below” should be pursued concurrently with development and execution of a Minute to extend the substantive provisions of Sections III.1-6 of Minute 319 through 2026 (Minute 319 is in force through December 31, 2017).

The specific binational opportunities identified “at this time” are:

  1. Environmental Restoration Project at the Miguel Aleman Site
  2. Water Conservation Projects
    1. Alamo Canal Regulatory Reservoir Conservation Pilot Project
    2. Payment for Taking Agricultural Land out of Production (fallowing)
    3. Modernization and Technical Improvements to Irrigation District 014 (Mexicali Valley)
  3. Project Associated with System Operations
    1. Conveyance of Mexican Water through All-American Canal involving connection of Mexico’s Colorado River-Tijuana Aqueduct at Pump Station 0
  4. New Water Sources
    1. Binational Desalination Plant in Rosarito, Baja California
    2. Beneficial Use of the New River
    3. Binational Desalination Plant near the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez)

The Environmental Restoration Project will begin implementation this year.  The other projects need agreements of the two countries through the Commission and included in a specific follow on Minute anticipated in the 2013-2017 time frame.

Water Exchanges and Other Provisions

Minute 319 supports cross-border water exchanges in many ways.  Minute 319 extends the ability of Mexico to defer water deliveries under the 1944 Treaty due to infrastructure damage in the Mexicali Valley from a 2010 earthquake preventing Mexico from fully using its Colorado River water.  Mexico stores the deferred water at Lake Mead in a Mexico account.

In addition, Mexico may also defer delivery of water reflecting the yield of water conservation projects or new water sources.  The water placed in the ICMA is available for later delivery to Mexico or assignment to United States interests.  For example, a funding agreement between Mexico and the United States, Central Arizona Project, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Southern Nevada Water Authority involves the assignment of almost 100,000 AF of Mexico’s stored water in exchange for $10 million.  US interests will take the assigned water in Lake Mead by deliveries scheduled through the year 2036.

The water for the environment pilot program will supply base flow (52,696 AF) and pulse flows (105,392 AF) for the Colorado River limitrophe and delta through 2017.  In consideration for a $21 million contribution from the United States for infrastructure and environmental projects in Mexico, Mexico shall provide the United States 124,000 AF of water from ICMA, water deferred due to the Mexicali Valley Earthquake, or “any other source for use in the United States.”


Over a decade in the making, Minute 319 sets the pathway for long-term Mexico-US projects to improve management of water resources.   In response to a 2010 Mexicali Earthquake, Mexico deferred deliveries from its 1.5 million AF annual entitlement into a storage account in Lake Mead.  ICMA now allows Mexico to defer additional annual deliveries based on water conservation and development of new water sources.  Mexico may take the stored water later (subject to operating restrictions) and receive Colorado River water in excess of its 1.5 million AF annual entitlement (annual deliveries can’t exceed 1.7 million AF).  Alternatively, Mexico may assign water in its account to US water users.

While Minute 319 does mention specific projects, the reach is much broader.  International projects (water conservation, system operations, new water sources) do mention specific proposals.  However, the Minute is clear that it is not limited to these projects.  Like the mentioned projects, any project should concurrently pursue development and agreements with execution of follow-on Minutes, including the one contemplated to extend the substantive provisions found in Minute 319 to 2026.

Project opportunities in Mexico can go ahead now with a clearer understanding of how they work within the context of the 1944 Treaty.  The elements of exchange mechanisms are in place.  While specific projects will need recognition in follow-on minutes, the principles are now clear.  The impact of Minute 319 will depend on the initiative taken by bi-national interests in developing projects and necessary agreements to improve the management of water resources and infrastructure in the Colorado River Basin.

There is much more to Minute 319 than the above.  Minute 319 warrants study by any interest in the Colorado River Basin.  The other subjects addressed include:

  • Distribution of surplus Colorado River flows to Mexico
  • Allocation of Colorado River water shortages between the United States and Mexico
  • Rules of ICMA, including evaporative losses, water assessments reserved for environmental purposes in Mexico, delivery restrictions based on reservoir levels, and allocation between the United States and Mexico of stored water losses during flood control releases
  • Salinity: assure that changes in water deliveries between Mexico and the United States keep up the salinity differential between Imperial Dam and the Northerly International Boundary as found in Minute 242.
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About Rodney T. Smith

Rodney T. Smith, Ph.D., President of Stratecon Inc.—an economics and strategic planning consulting firm—advises public and private sector water users on the acquisition, sale and leasing of water rights and water supplies in the western U.S. He is routinely involved in economic valuation of water rights, water investments, and negotiation of water acquisition and transportation agreements and has served as an expert witness in the economic valuation of groundwater resources, disputes over the economic interpretation of water contracts, economics of water conservation and water use practices, and the socio-economic impacts of land fallowing. For more information, see www.stratwater.com.