Washington, D.C. — The Trump administration’s stumbling and reckless approach to U.S.-Mexico relations could have profound and damaging side effects on water security in the American West, according to a new study from the Center for American Progress.
The CAP column notes that a prolonged drought in the American West, climate change, and growing demand for water are creating an urgent need for the Trump administration to responsibly address and manage complex water challenges in the Colorado River basin.
“More than 35 million Americans rely on the Colorado River for their drinking water, but those water supplies could be put at risk if the Trump administration fails to take these challenges seriously,” said Ryan Richards, Senior Policy Analyst for the Public Lands team at CAP and author of the paper. “A breakdown in U.S.-Mexico relations could jeopardize treaties, put more strain on water supplies, and ultimately trigger shortage conditions that would have a devastating impact on jobs and the economy across the West.”
Management of the Colorado River basin within the United States is coordinated among the basin states and various agencies within the Department of the Interior. However, river management between the U.S. and Mexico is governed by the binational International Boundary and Water Commission, or IBWC, and is affected by a range of other agreements between the two countries. Over the years, the IBWC has addressed international challenges incrementally through the negotiation process set forth by a treaty with Mexico signed in 1944. The most recent renegotiation expires at the end of this year. The Trump administration’s rhetoric on Mexico, immigration, and a border wall could make it more difficult for the two countries to come to a satisfactory agreement on the Colorado River.
Since 2000, the Colorado River, which irrigates 5.5 million acres of agriculture lands, has experienced the driest period in the more than 100 years records have been kept. The geological record suggests conditions this dry have not been felt for more than 1200 years. This combination of human use and drought has brought the water levels in the basin’s reservoirs dangerously low and could trigger critical emergency conservation measures—such as steep cuts in water allocation throughout seven western states reliant on the river.
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