An amendment to a standing water treaty between the United States and Mexico has received publicity over the past six months as an example of progress in water sharing agreements. But the amendment, called Minute 319, is simply a glimpse into ongoing mismanagement of the Colorado River on the U.S. side of the border. Over-allocation of the river’s waters 90 years ago combined with increasing populations and economic growth in the river basin have created circumstances in which conservation efforts — no matter how organized — could be too little to overcome the projected water deficit that the Colorado River Basin will face in the next 20 years.
In 1922, the seven U.S. states in the Colorado River Basin established a compact to distribute the resources of the river. A border between the Upper and Lower basins was defined at Lees Ferry, Ariz. The Upper Basin (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico) was allocated 9.25 billion cubic meters a year, and the Lower Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada) was allotted 10.45 billion cubic meters. Mexico was allowed an unspecified amount, which in 1944 was defined as 1.85 billion cubic meters a year. The Upper and Lower basins — managed as separate organizations under the supervision of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — divided their allocated water among the states in their jurisdictions. Numerous disputes arose, especially in the Lower Basin, regarding proper division of the water resources. But the use of (and disputes over) the Colorado River began long before these treaties.