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Southern Nevada Water Authority

International agreement helps protect river resources

Minute 319

International Boundary and Water
Commission Representatives Roberto Salmón
(Mexico), left, and Edward Drusina (U.S.) sign
Minute 319 while observed by, left to right,
Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Undersecretary for North American Affairs
Julian Ventura, U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Ken Salazar, Mexico National Water
Commission Director General Jose Luis Luege
Tamargo, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Commissioner Michael Connor and SNWA
General Manager Pat Mulroy.

The U.S. and Mexico signed a series of agreements Nov. 20, 2012 to help ensure the Colorado River system meets the water needs of both countries. The SNWA Board of Directors and the Colorado River Commission previously approved the agreements during a joint meeting Nov. 15.

Minute No. 319, a subset to the 1944 Water Treaty, is a five-year agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. Under the agreement, Mexico will adjust its delivery schedule during low reservoir conditions, will have access to additional water during high reservoir conditions and will work with the U.S. to ensure water for the environment and water benefits for both nations.

Mexico can store a maximum 200,000 acre-feet of water annually in Lake Mead through 2017, creating Intentionally Created Mexican Allocation (ICMA). Similar to Southern Nevada’s Intentionally Created Surplus (ICS), Mexico may use its ICMA based on reservoir conditions, according to the agreement.

When Lake Mead levels are at 1,145 feet or higher, Mexico may take up to 80,000 acre-feet per year of additional water from the river. If the lake drops to 1,075 feet or below, Mexico would reduce its 1.5 million acre-foot allocation of water by up to 125,000 acre-feet of water.

The agreements also include a pilot program that will allow the SNWA to invest in infrastructure improvements in Mexico in exchange for 23,750 acre-feet of ICS credits, a share of the water the improvements would save.

“If lakes Mead and Powell reach critical elevations as a result of prolonged drought conditions in the Basin, it may no longer be operationally possible to deliver each country’s full allotment of Colorado River water,” said General Manager Pat Mulroy. “It would result in significantly reduced Colorado River deliveries that could damage both countries. Minute 319 allows both countries an interim period of cooperation to proactively manage the Colorado River in light of increased variability and uncertainty due to climate change. This agreement will maximize river utilization during variable reservoir conditions, benefiting both countries.”

In 2010, a major earthquake in Mexico resulted in the two countries agreeing to emergency storage of a portion of Mexico’s allocation in Lake Mead. The agreement helps bolster Lake Mead elevations and in turn decreases the probability of shortages to Nevada. It also paves the way for additional international discussions about shared water resources, conservation and water management. Seven western states and Mexico share the Colorado River, which serves more than 25 million people.

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