United States and Mexico Celebrate Partnership for Historic Release of Colorado River Water to Delta, Benefitting Both Nations

Last edited 09/29/2021

BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO AND YUMA, AZ – Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael L. Connor and Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science Anne Castle today joined other senior officials of the United States and Mexico to celebrate a historic first-time intentional release of water—called a “pulse flow”—from Morelos Dam near the U.S.-Mexico border. The water release—which began on March 23, reaches its peak today and will continue until mid-May— is part of a broad package of joint cooperative treaty actions to ensure the Colorado River system is able to continue to meet the needs of both nations.

“The spirit of cooperation and commitment to protect and preserve the Colorado River is exemplary, and these partnerships will inspire future generations to take on and solve complex challenges involving finite resources,” said Deputy Secretary Connor, emphasizing the importance of this experimental flow. “This is the first time in history that water has flowed below Morelos Dam to aid in the long-term restoration of the river, and I want to thank the Mexican and U.S. Sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission, Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River basin states, and all the U.S. and Mexican organizations involved in making today's event happen. ”

The United States and Mexico agreed to the water release as a result of joint efforts and investments in water conservation projects in accordance with “Minute 319,” a 2012 bi-national agreement adopted under the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Treaty framework for sharing the Colorado River water. All Lower Colorado River Basin users in theUnited States. and Mexico will continue to receive their full allocations of Colorado River water in 2014.

The pulse flow, which began on Sunday with the lifting of one gate at Morelos Dam, will run for eight weeks. More control gates will open as the dam releases water at varying amounts and speeds toward the delta, its estuary and the Sea of Cortez. A volume of 105,392 acre-feet of water will flow down the river's channel to help regenerate native cottonwood and willow habitat. The experimental flow also is providing the scientific community the opportunity to gather valuable data from collaborative monitoring activities; these data will inform both countries in developing future management actions regarding water flows in the delta. Scientists from Interior's U.S. Geological Survey are playing a key role measuring the hydrologic and ecosystem response to the pulse flow.

Representatives of federal, state and conservation organizations from the United States and Mexico have worked cooperatively since Minute 319 was signed in 2012 to establish a delivery plan for the timing and amounts of water releases from Hoover Dam for the pulse flow.

“The pulse flow now underway is the first major step in a series of anticipated actions and cooperative measures outlined between our two countries,” said Assistant Secretary Castle. “Today's event celebrates our shared vision to work together as partners to address the resources of the Colorado River and its parched Delta.”

Connor and Castle celebrated with other dignitaries including: Director General for North America from the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ana Luisa Fajer; Director General of Mexico's National Commission for Water, David Korenfeld; U.S. Commissioner Edward Drusina and Mexico Commissioner Roberto F. Salmon from the International Boundary and Water Commission; Baja California Governor Francisco Vega; as well as representatives from seven U.S. and two Mexican states that use Colorado River water to sustain their agriculture, economies, communities and environment.

“A lot of hard work by various teams from Mexico, the United States, state governments, water districts, and private organizations has gone into making this pilot project a reality, and those partnerships are as historic as this pulse flow,” added Castle. “The results of the eight-week run of pulse flow will yield ground-breaking new science for both countries and help improve our understanding of the river, its delta, and potential restoration opportunities.”

Minute 319 is a five-year agreement approved by both governments for a series of cooperative actions. Key elements include:

  • Joint investment in water conservation and infrastructure projects that will generate water for the Colorado River Delta and a pilot water exchange program;
  • Establishing proactive basin operations by applying water delivery reductions or increases to Mexico depending upon Lake Mead reservoir conditions;
  • Extending humanitarian measures from a 2010 agreement, Minute 318, allowing Mexico to defer delivery of a portion of its Colorado River allotment while it continues to make repairs to earthquake-damaged infrastructure; and
  • Establishing a program of Intentionally Created Mexican Allocation whereby Mexico could temporarily reduce its order of Colorado River water, allowing that water to be delivered to Mexico in the future.

The Bureau of Reclamation's Lower Colorado Region will implement many of the projects and programs outlined in the Minute 319 agreement. The Lower Colorado Region serves as the "water master" for the for the most downstream 688 miles of the Colorado River within the United States on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior.

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