FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Five years of sensitive talks over water rights between the United States and Mexico are finally reaching a conclusion. Government leaders plan to sign an agreement at the Morelos Dam in Mexico next week.
It developed from talks that began when the seven Colorado River states signed a landmark agreement in 2007 to share the pain of shortages and the wealth of surpluses from the reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The water users called at the time for federal officials to get Mexico to participate.
The agreement would also link Mexican and U.S. water allocations from the Colorado River during surplus and drought.
The pact calls for the Southern California district to pay Mexico $5 million over three years in return for 47,500 acre-feet of water. The agencies in Arizona and Nevada would each pay half that for about half the amount of water. An acre-foot of water is enough to serve two households for a year.
"It is a significant development on the Colorado River," said Kip White, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation. "It could be one of the most significant things that’s happened since the 1944 Colorado River Compact."
The current agreement is an addendum to a 1944 U.S.-Mexico water treaty.
It would let Mexico continue an emergency program begun two years ago to store water in Lake Mead, the reservoir behind Hoover Dam near Las Vegas. That’s when an earthquake in Mexico damaged its pipelines. Mexico asked the U.S. at the time to let it store water temporarily while repairs were made to irrigation systems.
The agreement also calls for a pilot program of water releases from the U.S. to replenish wetlands in the Colorado River delta of the Gulf of California.
Provisions include Mexico agreeing to adjust its delivery schedule during low reservoir conditions; Mexico having access to additional water during high reservoir conditions; and a commitment to work together on a pilot program that includes water for the environment.