(Mexico City—December 20, 2010) A bi-national pact announced today to allow Mexico to store a portion of its annual allocation from the Colorado River—up to 260,000 acre-feet over three years—in the largest U.S. reservoir—Lake Mead—sets the stage for progress on environmental issues in ongoing talks between the two countries, according to Environmental Defense Fund.
"As Lake Mead water levels continue to drop, a bi-national agreement to store water there that Mexico can't use—until it repairs the damage from last April's earthquake to its irrigation systems—is the logical solution for both countries," said Jennifer Pitt, director of EDF's Colorado River Project. "Secretary Salazar's announcement today proves that diplomacy deployed to create additional flexibility on the Colorado River has great potential. It can improve water supply reliability for water users in our country and Mexico, and protect our invaluable environmental resources."
The water level of Lake Mead—located on the Colorado River about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas—has been dropping steadily for the last decade due to drought and now is nearing the elevation—presently at 1082 feet above sea level or 39% of capacity—that will trigger shortages in Arizona and Nevada.
This U.S.-Mexico accord, known as Minute 318, follows two previous deals between the two countries:
1. Under the terms of Minute 317, the United States and Mexico are exploring how to improve Colorado River management, including: water supply management in dry times, bi-national conservation and desalination projects, and the delivery of water for environmental flows in the Colorado River delta.
2. Under the terms of Minute 316, the United States and Mexico agreed to dedicate water to the largest wetland in the Colorado River delta—the Cienega de Santa Clara—during pilot operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant in Arizona. The treated water is intended for inclusion in water deliveries to Mexico, and preserving the like amount of water in Lake Mead.
"For the first time in decades, the United States and Mexico are working productively towards mutually beneficial changes on the Colorado River," Pitt concluded. "Given dire predictions of drought in this region, today's agreement is a critical step in building the mutual trust and confidence we need to craft additional agreements that deliver a more sustainable water supply for our communities and for the environment."
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