US-Mexico water sharing deal is sparing Colorado River users from shortage

Water in the Río Colorado from the U.S.-Mexico deal

In my book, I focused a great deal on the environmental and cultural benefits of the “pulse flow” through the Colorado River Delta, enabled by a 2012 agreement between the United States and Mexico. It was a shiny bauble, but there’s a lot more to the agreement than that. Most important from the perspective of U.S. water users is Mexico’s ability to conserve water and store it in Lake Mead.

That part of the deal is huge right now. If/when Lake Mead drops too far, a shortage will be triggered, with water deliveries to U.S. users cut. If not for the U.S.-Mexico deal and related U.S.-side conservation measures, Mead would be 10 feet lower today, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (pdf)*. About a quarter of that water resulted from the Mexican deal. Absent that, we’d be flirting with shortage right now.

Worth remembering as we all nervously watch Washington for clues about how the broader U.S.-Mexican relationship under the recent change in administration will affect negotiations over the Colorado River.

* Thanks to Steve Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists for making CRS reports available. Thanks to Brett Walton at Circle of Blue for bringing the CRS report to my attention. Brett’s Federal Water Tap is a Monday must read for me.