US, Mexico, and Conservation Organizations Join Forces to Restore Flows to the Colorado

November 20, 2012
Chandler Clay, 202-572-3312,
(Washington, D.C. — Nov. 20, 2012) An historic agreement announced today between the United States and Mexico will work to rejoin the Colorado River to the Sea of Cortez and define how the two countries will share the river’s resources in the face of increasing demands for water. The agreement establishes new guidelines for river management during drought, while making key investments in water conservation and the environment to ensure that nature can thrive in times of shortage. Another key element of the agreement gives Mexico permission to store water in Lake Mead, a federal reservoir on the Colorado River, located in Arizona.

The Colorado River provides drinking water for more than 33 million people, irrigates 4 million acres of farmland, produces abundant hydropower, and supports a vibrant recreation industry. Yet the mighty river that once flowed from the northern Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California falls short. Since 1960, the river has rarely reached the sea at its delta.

As part of this agreement, the U.S., Mexico, non-governmental organizations, and the seven Colorado River basin states are cooperating to set aside water needed to serve environmentally sensitive areas in the Colorado River Delta.

“Water is the lifeblood of the Colorado River delta,” said Jennifer Pitt with the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River Project. “This agreement demonstrates water supply reliability and healthy river flows can go hand in hand.”

This binational agreement, known as Minute 319, is a major success for international water policy. Minute 319 is an addendum to the 1944 Treaty that defines how the U.S. and Mexico share water in the river that crosses the countries’ common border.

“The importance of binational collaboration cannot be overstated,” said Osvel Hinojosa, Director of Conservation for Pronatura Noroeste, a Mexican non-profit organization. “This agreement marks a turning point in Colorado River relations between the United States and Mexico.”

The Colorado’s delta is a critical link supporting nearly 400 species of birds on their journey through the Sonoran Desert across northern Mexico, Arizona and California. In addition to making water available to support flows in the river, the agreement will fund new restoration projects. This work builds on years of restoration efforts already underway by local communities hoping to regain some of the economic, cultural, and environmental benefits the delta once provided.

“This is a major accomplishment for everyone who has worked to restore habitat in the delta and for the local communities who benefit,” said Francisco Zamora, Director of the Colorado River Delta Legacy Project for the Sonoran Institute. “Water ensures that these restoration projects will expand and endure into the future, which is very exciting.”

“This is about a sustainable future. By beginning to restore the delta, we are demonstrating that there’s great promise for healthy rivers throughout the Colorado River basin,” said Taylor Hawes, The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Director. “We’re developing and demonstrating solutions that benefit nature while meeting the needs of people for generations to come.”

A binational coalition of non-governmental conservation organizations including Pronatura Noroeste, the Sonoran Institute, Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy are collaborating through an entity called the Colorado River Delta Water Trust to secure water and manage the restoration efforts in Mexico. These organizations have participated extensively in the binational discussions leading up to the agreement, with assistance from policy experts at El Colelgio de la Frontera Norte, a prestigious Mexican research institution, and Squire Sanders & Dempsy, an international law firm.

Working with the Water Trust, these conservation organizations are joining forces on a fundraising campaign to secure water and expand on-the-ground restoration efforts. In the interim, as the fundraising campaign develops, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation is providing a four-year program-related investments loan to finance the acquisition of these permanent water rights.

Additional support to advance the conservation and restoration efforts in the Colorado River delta has come from the Walton Family Foundation, Tinker Foundation Inc., the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other major conservation funders.

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