Minute 319
May 10, 2014 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Last November, after five years of remarkable negotiations that unfolded far from the Delta, representatives from the U.S. and Mexico agreed to a complex, multi-part water deal that will give them desperately needed flexibility for weathering the drought. More surprisingly, the two nations will join the team of environmental organizations to release a flood of more than 105,000 acre-feet of water – 3.8 million big-rig tankers' worth – into the Delta's ancient floodplain, and chase it with a smaller, permanent annual flow to sustain the ecosystem.

It is the unlikeliest of times to pull off a deal like this. Rather than hoarding all the water for themselves in this drought –– the river supplies some 35 million people –– the West's largest water agencies have pledged to send some all the way to the sea. That move is, to some extent, a long-overdue acknowledgment that the U.S. bears responsibility for the impacts its dams have caused beyond its borders. And after years of fruitless court fights in the U.S. by environmental groups, the Mexican government finally insisted that water for the Delta be a cornerstone of the broader deal.
For High Country News, Matt Jenkins describes the most ambitious water sharing plan ever created between Mexico and the United States (single page print version). For much more about this project and the water issues surrounding it, there's Eli Rabett's roundup of John Fleck's blogposts about this. (Or read the tl;dr version by Alex Harrowell.)
posted by MartinWisse (9 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I never thought this would happen in my lifetime. These people are heroes.
posted by fshgrl at 11:29 AM on May 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I never thought this would happen in my lifetime. These people are heroes

At a conference a couple of months ago I attended a presentation by someone involved in negotiating and implementing this agreement. It's amazing that so many people and agencies were willing to spend that much time and effort on such a complicated, long term, and conflict-ridden situation. It was one of the most hopeful and inspiring conference presentations I have ever seen.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:36 AM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pretty great photo gallery from one of the first pulses at HCN.

3 articles from NatGeo:
Chasing the flow
Monitoring the pulses
A Community Gets its River Back

There is some really cool environmental work being done alongside the geopolitical/water issues that are being worked on. Exciting times!
posted by carsonb at 12:48 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not really sure that the Mexicans or environmentalists won this hand of cards. The deal gives Mexico more water when the big U.S. utilities don't need it, and potentially subjects Mexico to getting less water than its traditional entitlement in a severe drought, when before the U.S. utilities had to absorb all of the drought risk. The environmentalists established a precedent that when they want water for their projects, they have to pay cash for it.
posted by MattD at 1:47 PM on May 10, 2014

People agreeing to share water makes me significantly less pessimistic about the future of the human race.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:45 PM on May 10, 2014

The environmentalists established a precedent that when they want water for their projects, they have to pay cash for it.

I don't know where you are, but around here cash-for-water (and for land, of course) has been a key part of the toolkit for a couple of decades. In a perfect world maybe that wouldn't be needed, but we aren't in a perfect world and buying out water rights and paying for efficiency programs produces tangible, practical results and brings in cooperators without whom nothing is going to happen.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:47 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm really impressed by the creativity shown by all sides here to find a solution. The American water agencies were able to hold pretty firm but still showed a willingness to look for solutions.

The other thing that stands out: Mexico is essentially buying low on a share of the Colorado's water flow in the future by agreeing to eat a portion of the shortage now. It could turn out to be shrewd, but could also go south for Mexico. If I'm reding this right, it relies on the assumption that water levels and inflow will rebound. If the drought turns out to not be cyclical, but rather a new normal as a result of climate change, which seems quite plausible, it could hamstring them.
posted by dry white toast at 6:56 PM on May 10, 2014

the LA times did a good story on this, month or two back. resilient nature returned quickly to a place of long absence. the long term bodes ill for mexico, as it is downstream from a nation of virtually infinite thirst and power. it would not surprise me in the least if i read that we had sucked up every single drop.
posted by bruce at 9:04 PM on May 10, 2014

I read an article in Harper's last year — “Emptying the World’s Aquarium” by Erik Vance [Subscribers only. Sorry] — about the fishermen in the Sea of Cortez. Given how desperate the situation there is, I can only hope that this isn't too little, too late.

I also recently ran across a video from Alexandra Cousteau on the subject.

Even so, I'm glad that people can come to agreement. I can only hope that we in Georgia can do the same with our neighbors in Tennessee and Alabama & Florida.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:04 AM on May 11, 2014

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