Drought triggers Emergency Water Sharing Measures between Mexico and the United States

12 Jan 2023 by The Water Diplomat

For the first time since the signing of the 1944 treaty sharing the use of the Colorado River between Mexico and the United States, the International Boundary and Water Commission (CILA) between the two countries has had to extend the drastic measures adopted in August 2022. Agreements signed in 1972 and 2008 allow the city of Tijuana in Mexico to purchase emergency water deliveries from California, and on August 1st, the state public utilities commission ordered 4 million mᶟ of   Colorado river water. According to experts, this is the worst drought on record in 114 years of climate data for the region. Experts acknowledged that the situation was still deteriorating. At the beginning of December, the river's various water storage systems were only 28% full (34% in August, which also caused problems with electricity production for users in the region). The first measures adopted during the year to reduce water use between the two countries should very quickly no longer be sufficient, and "lead to unacceptable levels of exploitation, jeopardising water deliveries to users in the lower Colorado River basin, including in Mexico", even going so far as to speak of the risk of "system collapse". The authorities are calling for "extraordinary measures to protect the system as early as 2023". The Mexican side has already asked the authorities of Baja California and Sonora to take all necessary measures to ensure the vital needs of the population and to sustain the minimum supply for crop irrigation. On the American side, the authorities announced on 9 December 2022, drastic measures to reduce water consumption were extended to all the water agencies in Southern California, affecting nearly 19 million people (including the metropolises of Los Angeles and San Diego, this region depends for 50% of its needs on water from the Colorado). For once, which was not originally the case, all stakeholders in the state of the Colorado River were invited to participate in the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas from November 29 to December 2, 2022, including representatives from Mexico and the Indian tribes along the river, to discuss the future of the river. In mid-December a US$5 billion project was discussed with the Arizona state authorities to build one of the largest seawater desalination plants on the Mexican coast and transport the water several hundred kilometres to the US.