Regulatory Development: Mexico to Store Colorado River Water in Lake Mead

The 1994 treaty between the United States and Mexico entitled Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande (1944 Treaty) expressly provides that Mexico may take 1.5 million acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River. According to a recent Western Water Law article, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) is developing an order—Minute 319—that would impact existing Colorado River operations. Among the reported Minute 319 components is a provision that would allow Mexico to store its Colorado River entitlement in Lake Mead. The storage of Mexico’s Colorado River water entitlement—or a part of the entitlement—is likely to draw the attention of other Colorado River interests. As an example, U.S. water representatives have not been provided the same flexibility to store water. In addition, increased water storage in Lake Mead would mean that less water would be available for hydroelectric power generation. Moreover, Lake Mead’s water levels are utilized as an indicator of drought conditions. Therefore, changes in the lake’s levels due to Mexico’s ability to store water could stave off a drought declaration and, in turn, the mandatory reduction in Colorado River distributions.