The Colorado River is over-allocated, such that in any given year, states only receive a fraction of the quantity of water they were originally promised in 1922 (they also promised nothing to Mexico, but have subsequently revised that part). I’ve been pretty skeptical that any major treaty would be able to modify that treaty, since so many people are fighting over the water. But a new pact is set to avoid any international standoffs in the Colorado River basin, between the US and Mexico, and my favorite water manager, Pat Mulroy of SNWA is behind things again.
Las Vegas is in a tight spot, in that it gets its water supply from pipes in Lake Mead, and the lake levels have been declining to levels that threaten to go below the intake pipes (their straws would be sucking air, rather than water, at that point). Uh-oh for Las Vegas. So the city is motivated for all downstream Colorado River compact states (Nevada, Arizona, and California), and now Mexico, too, to store as much water as possible in Lake Mead. (Note to Cadiz, Inc: You’re fighting an uphill battle — Nevada will practically pay California to store water behind Lake Mead…)
Under the agreement, negotiated by UN-style earpieces for translated dialogue, Lake Mead will store Mexico’s excess water in wet years, and allow withdrawals of that “bank” in dry years. Mexico will also be able to store much of its water supply there temporarily for the next 5 years, while improvements are made to irrigation canals that were damaged in a 2010 earthquake. Las Vegas and other municipalities will also pay for improvements to Mexican canals to decrease losses, and then use the quantity of water that was formerly “lost” from the system.
Some people don’t just wait for disaster to make opportunities — they plan for worst-case scenarios. Las Vegas has a plan on the books to build another pipeline into Lake Mead, once the lake hits a certain low level. By signing practical, clever deals like this one — which, by the way, are a win-win all around — they forestall that expensive construction item, and enhance the reliability of the system for everyone. Mexico has also avoided the cost of building its own reservoir south of the border, which is significant.
Apparently water managers from Australia, Asia, and Africa are already interested in borrowing language and ideas from this pact. Props to SNWA for taking the lead and seeing this important deal through.