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Drought crisis spurs US-Mexico cooperation

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TeaThat week, Arizona, California and Nevada reached a successful agreement to reduce water consumption from the drought-stricken Colorado River. Assuming all river basin states and the federal government approve the deal, the next steps will involve negotiations with Mexico, given the substantial impacts the deal could have on the country.

Spanning 1,450 miles and ending in Mexico, the river provides drinking water and a drive for more than 40 million people in the US and Mexico. $1.4 trillion America’s economy. The river is subject to a handful of treaties, some of which address the Colorado River dispute, a long-running feud between the US and Mexico over water rights.

But in recent years, the countries’ relations, at least when it comes to the river, have entered a new era of agreement and mutual advancement, as both countries face unprecedented drought and the need to improve water systems. Are.

“On earlier occasions, I have seen that two countries had a bilateral water management agreement, where the gains from one country would be equal to the losses from the other country,” said Carlos de la Parra, director of Restoramos El Colorado, an environmental nonprofit. Let’s lead, time will tell. “They have moved to a regional approach, realizing that it is the same river, it is the same basin and investment on one side of the border will benefit both sides of the border.”

Read more: The Colorado River Drought Is A Cautionary Climate Tale

A century ago, the river was a rich wetland, navigable by large boats. Today, with generally less snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains feeding the river and rising temperatures associated with climate change contributing to evaporation, drought conditions prevail. skyrocketing in the last 20 years. Increased water use in the face of rapid growth in urban centers in the region has also added to the stress.

cross border talks

In the US, seven states depend on the Colorado River basin as a major water source. Divided into two regions, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming make up the upper basin. California, Arizona, and Nevada compromise the lower basin. The water diverted to Mexico is mainly for the Mexicali Valley and the cities of Mexicali, Tecate, and Tijuana.

Under a 1944 treaty established between the US and Mexican governments, Mexico was allocated a guaranteed annual amount of water. However, there were flaws in the agreement. It did not mention water quality, and when the river’s salinity increased dramatically in the 1960s, water directed to Mexico was too salty for human consumption or agriculture. After farmer protests and threats by the Mexican government to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice, the US agreed to an updated treaty in 1973 that ensured uniform water quality.

As recently as 2017, both governments revisited the negotiating table to strike minute 323, a nine-year deal that sets standards for how water should be allocated during surpluses and reduced during droughts. It also committed both countries to pledge resources and money for environmental restoration.

John Shepard, senior advisor for the Sonoran Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for Colorado River restoration, notes that a new deal may be on the horizon. “If the lower basins have agreed to reductions as they are being expressed in this agreement, Mexico will likely agree to a proportionate share of the reductions.”

The details behind the Lower Basin proposal are unclear, but Sheppard believes the plan could certainly affect Mexico’s water supply, for better or worse. As water travels down the river and through dams to Mexico, the volume and salinity can change depending on the habits of basin states, so more analysis and cross-border discussions are needed, he says.

For example, “If there is a deduction relating to certain agricultural districts in Arizona that provide a return flow [water traveling downstream]so they could potentially affect the Cienega de Santa Clara [wetlands in Mexico],” He says.

an opportunity for sustainability

Keeping the river and its ecosystem healthy has been a source of logic over the past few years. The prevailing view in the US has been that Mexico is responsible for protecting and restoring the delta because it lies primarily in Mexico, from where it flows into the Gulf of California. Mexico has argued that the US should take responsibility because the country’s management and control of the river has led to poor water quality and destruction of habitats.

Now, experts on both sides of the border are working to find a more cooperative way forward.

“There is a saying that, ‘Crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’ In many ways, I’m coming that way,” de la Parra says. “Many people like me are hard at work, thinking about how we can capitalize on the crisis and shift the irrigation district and other water uses to a more productive, more sustainable model.”

Read more: How to Save the Colorado River and the American West

Communities dependent on the Colorado River in both the US and Mexico face a similar challenge: nearly 80% Part of their water consumption goes to agriculture, and half of the basin’s water is used to grow feed for livestock. Reducing dependence on the river largely depends on changing the agricultural industry.

De la Parra says, “For an irrigation district that has always been dependent on supplies from the United States, now that the shortage is coming, they are finding it difficult to learn how to manage an agricultural industry that is more Be modern and flexible.” The researchers suggest shifting to less water-intensive crops and upgrading sustainable agricultural practices.

need money

Under the US Lower Basin deal announced this week, by agreeing to water cuts, districts across the region will be eligible for federal grants reaching nearly $1.2 billion. The grants are part of the Inflation Reduction Act, which last year committed billions of dollars to climate resilience and water infrastructure upgrades.

De la Parra points out that even if Mexico cuts its consumption of water from the river, affected communities will also need some sort of compensation plan. ,[Cuts] Additional investments are going to come along, either from the Mexican federal government, state government, private entities, or the US through an agreement with Mexico,” he says.

But de la Parra is optimistic about the river’s future. A decade ago, he says, it would have been unfathomable to see this scope of international investment, shared water infrastructure, and the two countries working jointly to restore the delta.

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