GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

Possible water for SoCal from Mexico?

Posted by George J Janczyn on August 3, 2010

Since San Diego has an agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District for some of its water, I always read stories about IID when I find them even if they might not appear that interesting on the surface. So I was skimming an article in last week’s Imperial Valley Press innocuously titled IID to unveil new logo, review new administration building proposal when I came to a paragraph that said:

“The IID board will also hear about a proposal to allow Southern California water agencies to fund quake repairs on Baja California’s water infrastructure in exchange for a portion of Mexico’s Colorado River water allotment.”

The Baja Earthquake could mean water for Southern California water agencies? I knew there was a possible deal with Westlands that could help replenish the giant but half-empty Diamond Valley Lake reservoir and my first thought was that a deal with Mexico could top it off.

Trying to learn more, my emails to the reporter and to IID went unanswered, but I received a response from Halla Razak, the Colorado River Program Director at San Diego County Water Authority. She confirmed that there have been talks about extensive earthquake damage to canals and water facilities in northern Baja and possible mitigation assistance. When I pressed her about which water agency proposed this idea and who is coordinating discussions, she replied that the whole idea is “very preliminary, discussed during informal conversations.”

I did find something related in this Executive Director’s Report to the Colorado River Board of California although it only mentions temporary storage, not a water transfer:

“As reported at the April Board meeting, with the large magnitude earthquake that occurred in the Mexicali Valley in early April, water deliveries from a large number of the canals in the Mexicali Valley have been disrupted. To assist Mexico in coping with this situation, the United States has suggested that, in the interest of international comity and as a one-time program, Mexico would be allowed to store up to 200,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir system in the United States this year and then be allowed to request the delivery of the stored water during calendar year 2011. This would mean that in 2011 Mexico could request a deliveryof up to 1.7 maf. Mexico has considered this offer made by the United States and is proposing that this offer by the United States be incorporated into a more comprehensive deal that includes the concepts that are currently being discussed by the two countries to pursue Bi-National projects that could benefit both countries. Thus, Mexico has proposed that within the next 90 days that agreement be reached on a proposal for International Cooperative Measures in the Colorado River Basin and that this agreement be documented in a new minute to the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty, Minute 318.”

Further digging led to a little more. From Metropolitan Water District’s Colorado River Program Manager, I received this reply:

“Mexico and the United States are negotiating an agreement that would provide Mexico with additional tools to better manage its water supply. Included in the discussions are a proposal for Mexico to store water in Lake Mead, for the United States and Mexico to jointly develop water conservation programs in Mexico, and for Mexico to temporarily provide water to the United States in exchange for receiving funding for earthquake repair. [emphasis mine] The proposal is still being developed; at this time no formal agreement has been reached. If the United States and Mexico reach agreement, then agencies such as Metropolitan could begin discussions with Mexico about how to move forward on specific aspects of it. It is hoped that an agreement could be reached by the end of 2010.”

As for the damage to water infrastructure caused by the quake, the Baja California Earthquake Clearinghouse website has detailed illustrated reports. The summary below is from a newsletter of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute:

Damage to agriculture in the Mexicali Valley as a result of liquefaction is considerable. An estimated 300 km of canals are damaged, and most of this year’s crops are expected to be lost because of an inability to water them. Flooding of agricultural land with water from sand boils and other sources has resulted in standing water, which kills plants. Fields are no longer level, and will require earthwork and leveling before gravity-controlled irrigation can resume. 300,000 families are thought to be largely out of business because of the earthquake.

[Added] See also this July EERI comprehensive report surveying the quake damage.

If something does emerge from the preliminary talks it will no doubt require high-level involvement because of the international treaty with Mexico and the complex laws governing Colorado River water, but if MWD is right about an agreement by the end of the year, Mexico could soon get some needed assistance and Southern California might be able to supplement a large reservoir or two. Win/win.


Aug 4 update: I received this followup note from Bill Hasencamp from the MWD General Manager’s Office:

The International Boundary and Water Commission oversees the 1944 Treaty with Mexico regarding water deliveries between the 2 countries. Since the Original Treaty, more than 200 Minutes have been added to either amend or clarify the Treaty. For the current effort, the IBWC is leading negotiations between the 2 countries to draft a minute that will handle the provisions of any water and currency exchange between the two countries. The Bureau of Reclamation is coordinating the Colorado River Basin States’ input to the negotiations, as we would be the ones providing any money for water. It’s the ultimate responsibility of the IBWC, however, to complete negotiations, which is hoped to finish in the next few months, so that Mexico can start receiving U.S. money to fund infrastructure repair.

There is a meeting in Las Vegas this Friday between the 2 countries to further the discussions.

[Aug 11: The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports on the upcoming meeting]

[Dec 20: Salazar, Elvira announce water agreement to support response to Mexicali valley earthquake]


7 Responses to “Possible water for SoCal from Mexico?”

  1. Burt Freeman said


    The lessons from the Baja earthquake are many. First, as you report above, the damage to the water delivery systems is very extensive, inflicting economic pain on a large region and many people. Fortunately, the quake epicenter was in a sparsely populated location. This should be a reminder of what could happen north of the border; San Diego water could be cut off for an extended time period via damage to its aqueducts and pipelines. It reminds us of the purpose for the Emergency Storage Program (ESP) that the SDCWA is building; and how expensive it is and whether it would really be effective.

    Indeed, we are already getting a lot of agricultural water from the IID through the QSA; maybe we can now buy some Mexican agricltural water for a while. All of it has to be pumped through the Colorado River Aqueduct (crossing the San Andreas) at great expense and with limited capacity. Yes, it would be great to see Diamond Valley contain more water. But we should remember that Diamond Valley is located NORTH of the Elsinore fault.

    • I suppose we could wall off Mission Gorge and turn Santee, Lakeside, and El Cajon into our own “Diamond Valley Lake” :-) but realistically the San Vicente 117-ft dam raise looks about as good as it gets for expanding local storage capacity

  2. Sara said

    Are you kidding me? The CWA can negotiate with Mexico in exchange for infrastructure repairs, but claims it cannot access SD’s own wastewater to consider potable reuse as a local, reliable option?

  3. Burt Freeman said

    Well, the SDCWA is a water wholesaler; water sold to the member agencies belongs to the agencies. What they do with it is up to them. SDCWA can lean on the agencies, but —. This has to do with this supply and demand distinction; SDCWA provides much of the supply in response to the demand (modified by the useage policies, e. g. conservation, purple pipes, etc.) for water from the member agencies, such as the city of San Diego.

  4. Burt Freeman said


    A belated “congratulations” on your stellar reporting of the potential Mexican deal!

    My earlier remarks were a little off target; clearly, MWD and SDCWA are in the market from time to time for additional water. The issues are: how much does it cost, and where to put it (while it evaporates). Yes, Diamond Valley has been drawn down drastically, and so have the reservoirs in the SDCWA system. San Diego might benefit from more water (ESP only functions properly when there is water in the reservoirs) if the price were right.

    We should remember that Mexico’s water is an allocation of water from the Colorado River Basin; it is subject to all of the problems that are associated with it.

  5. Don Wood said


    Keep digging and see what you can find out about quiet negotiations going on related to a proposal for SDCWA and the Las Vegas water agency to join in a deal with the Mexicans and Sempra Energy to fund and build a new desalinization plant near Sempra’s LNG plant, south of Rosarito Beach, in return for being allowed to take some of Baja’s water currently stored in Lake Mead.

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