Efforts to Manage the Colorado River Take Step Forward with Signing of Minute 323

After two years of negotiations, Minute 323 was signed by officials from the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico (“IBWC”) in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua on September 21, 2017 and was entered into force during public ceremony in Santa Fe, New Mexico on September 27th.

Minute 323 is the successor to Minute 319, which expires on December 31, 2017. The new treaty Minute expires on December 31, 2026, commensurate with the expiration of the 2007 Interim Guidelines, and furthers common goals among the United States and Mexico to protect and sustain the Colorado River. Minute 323 continues or expands many of the provisions of Minute 319.

Among the key provisions in Minute 323 is the continuation of surplus and shortage sharing. Under surplus conditions (when the August 24-Month Study projects an elevation of 1,145 feet or higher for January 1 of the following year), Mexico will receive the following additional deliveries:

  • 40,000 AF when the projected elevation is 1,145 feet to less than 1,170 feet
  • 55,000 AF when the projected elevation is 1,170 feet to 1,200 feet
  • 80,000 AF when the projected elevation is greater than 1,200 feet
  • 200,000 AF if water is released for flood control, regardless of the projected elevation.

Under shortage conditions (when the August 24-Month Study projects an elevation of 1,075 feet or less for January 1 of the following year), Mexico’s allocation will be reduced by the following amounts:

  • 50,000 AF when the elevation is projected to be 1,075 feet to more than 1,050 feet
  • 70,000 AF when the elevation is projected to be 1,050 feet to 1,025 feet
  • 125,000 AF when the elevation is projected to be less than 1,025 feet.

The Minute also provides for “Mexico’s Water Reserve,” which can be used to offset reductions due to shortage. Mexico’s Water Reserve is the combined water storage from any deliveries that are deferred due to an emergency, Mexico’s revolving account, or Intentionally Created Mexican Allocation (“ICMA”). Mexico’s revolving account continues to allow for storage of Mexico’s water in the United States. ICMA continues to allow Mexico to defer delivery through adjustments resulting from conservation projects or new water source projects. 2% of any water that Mexico identifies as ICMA will be reserved for environmental purposes in Mexico. Deliveries can be taken in any year, except during flood control operations, and they cannot trigger a shortage or decrease elevation into a subsequent shortage tier.

A new provision in Minute 323 is the Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan, which is intended to reduce the risk of critically low reservoir levels. The plan is contingent upon the United States adopting a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (“DCP”). The DCP, which is still in development, would include additional shortage tiers so that the Lower Basin States would take deeper cuts sooner. Under the Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan, Mexico would take cuts in parity with the United States. Reductions under both the plans are recoverable.

Other provisions of Minute 323 would implement measures to address salinity impacts; address daily flow variabilities in Colorado River deliveries to Mexico; commit to a cooperative effort among the United States, Mexico, and non-governmental organizations to provide water for the environment and funding for environmental monitoring and habitat restoration; and provide for increased investment by the United States for water infrastructure and environmental projects in Mexico.

“Minute 323 is the result of many rounds of technical discussions involving a broad group of stakeholders from both countries. This agreement puts us on a path of cooperation rather than conflict as we work with Mexico to address the Colorado River Basin’s many challenges,” said U.S. Commissioner Edward Drusina of the International Boundary and Water Commission.

Mexican Commissioner Roberto Salmon said, “This agreement provides certainty for water operations in both countries and mainly establishes a planning tool that allows Mexico to define the most suitable actions for managing its Colorado River waters allotted by the 1944 Water Treaty.”

Additionally, seven domestic agreements among parties in the United States were executed along with Minute 323. The domestic agreements govern Colorado River operations, management, and accounting and are necessary to implement the Minute.


Written by Marta L. Weismann