The Ambassador in Mexico (Sheffield) to the Secretary of State

No. 1362

Sir: Referring to the Department’s telegram No. 231, dated October 26, 1925, 3 P.M., directing me to again approach the Mexican Government with a view to obtaining its approval of Minute No. 61 of the International Boundary Commission United States and Mexico, regarding the proposed construction of certain cut-offs in the Rio Grande, I have the honor herewith to enclose for the Department’s information, a copy with translation of a note dated November 13, from the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations, in reply to my note of October 27, in the sense of the Department’s instruction.

The Department will observe that the Mexican Government is not prepared to sanction the immediate execution of the work proposed and stands substantially upon the note of August 18, last, which was transmitted to the Department with the Embassy’s despatch No. 983, of August 19, 1925.

I have [etc.]

James R. Sheffield

The Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs (Sáenz) to the American Ambassador (Sheffield)

No. 14763

Mr. Ambassador: I have the honor to reply to Your Excellency’s courteous note No. 867, of October 27, last, in which, referring to the recommendations of the International Boundary Commission contained in Minute No. 61 regarding the construction of certain cut-offs in the channel of the Rio Grande, near the City of El Paso, Texas, you state that the officials on both sides desire that the proposed work be [Page 583] commenced as soon as possible, in order to avoid the danger of inundation in the next flood season.

Your Excellency states that your Government knows from a report of the American Boundary Commissioner that the opinion prevails pretty generally along the border that the damage occasioned by the last flood might have been avoided if the channel had been straightened in accordance with recommendations contained in Minute No. 61 and that the said Commissioner also was of the opinion that the works in question could be undertaken while safeguarding the rights of both countries through the adoption of adequate precaution by the International Boundary Commission.

With regard to the efficacy of the proposed works in order to avoid floods, I must inform Your Excellency, insisting upon what was stated in my note of August 18, last, regarding this same matter, that it is the unanimous opinion, both of the experts who planned the works as well as of those charged with passing judgment on the project: (1) that what will avoid the risk of floods will be the construction of works throughout the whole extension of the El Paso valley and not in one isolated section; (2) that these works, in order that they may have an assured result and not produce, down-stream, greater evils than those it is proposed to avoid, must be started in the lower extremity of the valley and continued up-stream; (3) that their construction at once would only be technically permissible because the changes which the cut-offs at first proposed would produce in the control of the river are of slight importance. Moreover, upon examination of the project presented, it is seen that it is not exclusively the cut-offs which are proposed to avoid floods but the levees (bordos) which it would surely not have been possible to construct in a good Condition of stability within the season of torrential rains prevailing between the date of Minute No. 61 and that of the floods. If, moreover, it is borne in mind that the proposed works were calculated to hold a maximum flood discharge of 12,000 cubic feet per second, and that the flood which took place on September 1, last, registered 13,500 cubic feet per second, it will necessarily be deduced that even upon the completion of the works the flood would have taken place on account of their insufficient capacity and that, consequently, the general opinion prevailing on the border, referred to by the American Boundary Commissioner, has no foundation.

With respect to safeguarding the rights of both nations by adequate precaution on the part of the International Boundary Commission, I must inform Your Excellency that it is precisely the proposals regarding sovereignty over the portions of land segregated by the cut-offs and the various bancos formed at the very site of the cut-offs which I have considered to be the precautions or, rather, decisions of [Page 584] the International Boundary Commission necessary as a prerequisite so that, by orderly procedure, the cut-offs may be authorized. It is solely the desire to avoid the development of new complications in addition to those already existing which has impelled my Government to proceed in the manner in which it has proceeded, it being very far from its purpose to prevent the construction of works which it considers and always has considered of the greatest urgency and utility, especially if the study and its realization is extended so as to secure the defense of the entire El Paso valley and not exclusively of the small part now in question.

In summary, taking into consideration that the repetition of floods will not be imminent until the last third of next year and that less than a year would be employed for completing the proposed works and agreeing upon the previous proposals above referred to, I beg leave once more to insist, in accordance with the contents of my note No. 11089 of August 18, last, that the cases which I have referred to in that note, and in the present note, should be considered and settled by the International Boundary Commission before proceeding to the construction of the proposed cut-offs.

The time employed in this preliminary work would not be lost in the carrying out of the project, since the volume of the last flood demonstrated the insufficient capacity of the proposed works and that, consequently, the project will have to be revised by increasing its capacity. Likewise, there can be studied during this time the complete project of defense works in the entire El Paso valley.

I hope Your Excellency’s Government will be pleased to agree to the possibility and justice of meeting the conditions required by my Government within the time now at our disposal.

Please accept [etc.]

Aarón Sáenz
  1. File translation revised.