From National Geographic Water Currents (Jennifer Pitt):
The Colorado River agreement, known as Minute 319, is groundbreaking in its approach, moving away from a focus on “who gets what” to a more modern, flexible framework that allows the U.S. and Mexico to share surplus when water is plentiful and share shortage when water is scarce. The agreement also commits the two nations to work together on water conservation and restoration of the Colorado’s long-desiccated delta by committing water to sustain it.
This cooperative framework to water management creates benefits for water users on both sides of the border, demonstrating that with a broad approach to river and water management, there is room to negotiate a win for multiple stakeholders – a model that water leaders might use to solve problems elsewhere in the Colorado River basin. Moreover, it stands as what is likely the first agreement between nations to jointly commit water to sustain a river’s natural values.
But Minute 319 also stands as a reason to celebrate what people of diverse cultures and interests can accomplish when they come together to focus on a common goal. I salute all of the men and women who toiled for years to make possible a new era of binational cooperation on the Colorado River…
To get to a place where we could meaningfully address the degraded delta’s environment, river restoration advocates had to work on success in every aspect of the U.S.-Mexico agreement, including surplus and shortage sharing, rules that would allow Mexico to store water in U.S. reservoirs, binational financing of a canal lining project, and a venue for discussing future cooperative binational projects like ocean water desalination. Moreover, we had to ensure that myriad stakeholders from both countries remained interested in working on all elements of the agreement, even when the potential for failure loomed on the horizon.
It took early “get-to-know-you” meetings, where border crossings were arranged for officials who had not previously spent much time abroad. It took dinners – complete with wine and tequila – where negotiators from top levels of government broke bread and got better acquainted. It took field trips to the border where these leaders could see firsthand how the Colorado River is managed between nations.
All told, it took close to five years to negotiate a five-year agreement. But Minute 319 truly demonstrates the adage that the process is the product. The U.S. and Mexican negotiators’ investment in getting to know people, water systems, laws, and politics brought the two nations into the Minute 319 framework where their interests on the Colorado River became more aligned than ever before.
Today, each country has a real stake in how the other conducts Colorado River management, and in collaborating to make real improvements including environmental restoration and water conservation. This alignment will serve water users in both countries well for years to come. I am proud and honored to have been able to witness and participate in the process.