The Colorado Waters Dispute

Courtesy Reuters

Once again the diplomatic relations of the United States and Mexico are troubled by controversy over the waters of the Colorado River. The latest dispute, though building up slowly, is potentially more serious than earlier ones because of the vast agricultural development of the Southwest and the urgency of hemispheric solidarity. Water with heavy salt content draining back into the Colorado from irrigated land in the United States is endangering Mexican crops further downstream. At a time when the Johnson Administration particularly wants the friendship of Mexico and the rest of Latin America, the controversy provides Mexican leftists with a popular rallying point for their attacks on their own government as well as that of the United States. Unfortunately, the treaty of 1944 which divided Colorado River water and guaranteed orderly development of the region was drawn in haste and without clear provision for handling certain obvious problems. These omissions are the source of the present quarrel and may become the basis for action by the World Court.

Since the turn of the century, Mexico and the United States have been concerned about Colorado River water, and the attitude of each is understandable. This valuable stream drains some of the most beautiful and driest land in the world-about 242,000 square miles in the United States (parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and California) and 2,000 square miles in Mexico. From its source high in the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, it flows nearly 1,400 miles in a southwesterly direction through a majestic countryside-painted deserts, Grand Canyon, fertile valleys-where water is as precious as gold. Crossing the international border near Yuma, Arizona, the Colorado winds its last 100 miles through Mexico before emptying into the Gulf of California.

Despite its vast watershed and artery of tributaries, the Colorado is not a heavy flowing stream. In the entire basin the average precipitation is only 15 inches and evaporation quickly reduces runoff by 90 percent. On the basis of records kept since 1922, the remaining 10 percent amounts to less than 15,500,000 acre-feet,

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