On Sept. 27, officials from the United States and Mexico finalized Minute No. 323, an addition to the treaty that outlines how the two nations share water from the Colorado River.
Jack Schmidt, a professor of watershed sciences at Utah State University, has spent decades studying the Colorado River.
“The most important aspect of this agreement is the decision that Mexico will share in the pain of drought,” Schmidt said. “This agreement is a recognition that we’re sort of in this together. Albeit recognizing that the United States uses 90 percent of the water and Mexico uses 10 percent of the water.”
The agreement will allow Mexico to store water in U.S. reservoirs. It also requires an investigation into ways to lower the salinity of the river, improving the quality of the water that reaches Mexico. Additionally, the U.S. has agreed to invest up to $31.5 million to make Mexico’s water delivery and farming systems more efficient.
Schmidt said another key aspect of the agreement is the decision to give some water to restoring the Colorado River Delta in Mexico. The previously biodiverse landscape has been dried out by water shortages and the building of major dams and along the Colorado River. The delta is an especially important place for many species of migratory birds.
“There is a provision in this agreement that allows water to be routed to benefit those little oases of natural environment. That’s a really good thing, and that has been a motivator to some environmental groups and to some private foundations to try to encourage that part of the agreement.”
The Walton Family Foundation has pledged $20 million to Colorado River sustainability efforts, including delta restoration. Ted Kowalski is the head of the foundation’s Colorado River initiative.
“The Walton Family Foundation supports work in the Colorado River Basin generally to improve the sustainability of the Colorado River for the benefit of the Southwestern United States and Mexico,” he said.
He said restoration efforts will be meaningful for both the delta itself and the communities that surround it.
“If you can establish pockets of habitat, of various native plants that used to be there and you can bring them to mature growth, that can provide habitats for birds. It creates jobs and healthy communities within Mexico,” Kowalski said. “It really shows how you can connect communities and rivers such that these rivers can be there for the benefit of people and nature.”
The foundation plans to spend the promised $20 million on river restoration and protection efforts over the next two years.