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

No. 2670

Sir: With reference to my telegram number 166, 11 a.m. [12 noon], of today,57 I have the honor to transmit herewith at the request of Mr. L. M. Lawson, American Commissioner, International Boundary Commission, United States and Mexico, an envelope which he states contains minutes numbers 128 and 129, dated July 29 [28] and July 31, 1930, respectively, regarding the project for the rectification of the Rio Grande between El Paso and Fort Quitman. The engineer report on which the report of the Commission is based is also transmitted herewith.58

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Arthur Bliss Lane
[Page 544]
[Enclosure 1]

Minute No. 128 of the International Boundary Commission, United States and Mexico

Subject: Rectification of the Rio Grande.

The International Boundary Commission convened in Mexico City, Mexico, acting upon instructions of both Governments, to proceed with the development of final plans for Rio Grande rectification as provided for by Minute No. 111.

The Honorable Genaro Estrada, Secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico, at the first session welcomed the members of the American Section. The personnel of the Commission present at these meetings which began on July 10, 1930, consisted of: Engineer Commissioner L. M. Lawson, Consulting Engineer C. M. Ainsworth, and Acting Secretary M. B. Moore—of the American Section; Engineer Commissioner Gustavo P. Serrano, Consulting Engineer Armando Santacruz, Jr., and Secretary José Hernández Ojeda—of the Mexican Section. Also present—in the capacity of technical advisers—were Engineer W. E. Robertson, Chairman of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce Flood Control Committee, and Engineer Salvador Arroyo, Chief of the Juarez Flood Control Works.

The Commissioners discussed at the first meetings the division of the work and proper procedure in studying and developing the river rectification plan and report. Daily meetings of the Commissioners, consulting engineers and technical advisers were continued from July 10 to July 28, 1930, during which time data and engineering details were reviewed, and the report to the two Governments was cooperatively developed and considered. On July 28, 1930 the Commission completed the report and recommendations on the subject, and set July 31, 1930 at ten a.m. as the time for the next meeting. Then the session adjourned.

L. M. Lawson

Commissioner for the United States
Gustavo P. Serrano

Commissioner for Mexico
Mervin B. Moore

Acting Secretary of the United States Section
José Hernández Ojeda

Secretary of the Mexican Section
[Page 545]
[Enclosure 2]

Minute No. 129 of the International Boundary Commission, United States and Mexico

Subject: Report on Rio Grande Rectification.

The Commission met in the conference room at the Department of Foreign Relations, Mexico City, at ten o’clock a.m. July 31, 1930, in accordance with Minute No. 128, to complete its action in reporting and recommending a plan for Rio Grande rectification.

Each section of the International Boundary Commission has been requested by the Foreign Relations Department of its Government to study and develop an international plan for the removal of the flood menace of the Rio Grande from the El Paso-Juarez Valley. Studies and investigations have now reached the point where it is possible to report to the two Governments a definite plan with estimates of cost; and the following is the report of the International Boundary Commissioners, together with a joint report prepared by the consulting engineers and technical advisers. Minute No. 111 of the Joint Commission, dated December 21, 1928, outlined in a general way the necessities for international action and gave a general description of the areas involved, a preliminary summary of the proposed plan and recommended proceeding with the development of the final details of the plans and estimates. During the past few months a most important step taken by the Commission consisted in rendering decisions determining the national jurisdiction and dominion of a number of banco cases in the area under consideration.
The plan prepared and developed by the Joint Commission is attached hereto as an exhibit to this minute. In transmitting it to the two Governments the Commissioners offer it as being both practical and feasible as an engineering and economic project. In general the plan consists of straightening the present river channel, effecting decrease in length from one hundred fifty-five (155) miles to eighty-eight (88) miles, and confining this channel between two parallel levees. In addition to this channel the plan includes the construction of a flood retention dam at the only available site, twenty-two (22) miles below Elephant Butte on the Rio Grande, creating reservoir storage of one hundred thousand (100,000) acre feet. Careful studies based on actual past flood performance show the advantage of reducing the flood flow reaching El Paso-Juarez by storage in the proposed reservoir. The reduction in flood flow thru the El Paso-Juarez Valley accomplished by such storage of flood waters effects a saving of a quarter of a million dollars in the works required thru the [Page 546] valley by decreasing the size of the channel and reducing the area required for right-of-way, and amount of yardage in levees.
The meandering and uncontrolled Rio Grande below El Paso-Juarez has in recent years become a very serious menace to adjacent lands on both sides. Authorities of both countries have unsuccessfully attempted the protection of the improvements in the El Paso-Juarez Valley and the two cities. Considering the futility of providing adequate and proper protection on the present meandering river location, the two affected communities have expended the limit of a reasonable and justifiable amount in local flood protection works. A proper and sound plan for accomplishing desired results lies in a coordinated international project.
Existing treaties provide for the center of the Rio Grande, except in isolated cases, being the International Boundary line. The present river channel, with excessive length, was produced by natural conditions which no longer exist. Increase in settlement, cultivation and values justify both Governments in considering means of removing the flood menace and providing an adequate flood channel.
Actual field surveys were continued in the location on the ground of a rectified channel subject, of course, to some later slight modification, but generally sufficiently definite to permit estimates of right-of-way and construction costs. With office and field location of this channel line which generally follows and straightens the present meandering river, it has been possible to estimate acreages and values of the relatively small areas that would be detached from one country and attached to the other—so balanced in area that neither country would gain nor lose national territory.
At the present time the bed of the Rio Grande between El Paso and Juarez is at a higher elevation than some of the streets and other properties of the two cities. Accumulations of sediment are continuing to aggravate this situation, and until proper grades and hydraulic conditions are introduced by artificial works, there are no means for carrying off these deposits which are encroaching upon the carrying capacity of the channel. The consensus of opinion of engineers who have studied the situation is that the correction lies in the plan proposed of straightening and confining the channel. One of the principal requirements to permit such artificial rectification is the equitable adjustment of the areas which would be necessarily detached from one side of the river and attached to the other in the straightening process. The plan evolved, of having each Government acquire the private titles to these equal areas for later exchange, provides a feasible solution. These areas to be acquired are generally seeped and waterlogged, and so shaped and situated as to be unsusceptible of proper irrigation and drainage.
The benefits to be derived from the straightened and rectified channel plans are mutual to the two Governments in affording flood protection and in permitting cultivation, improvement and settlement of even larger areas adjoining the Rio Grande than are now possible under the meandering river conditions. It is of utmost importance that the Governments own and control the flood channel in order that private encroachments be definitely prevented and eliminated. Such ownership and control will also be of great assistance in the enforcement of national immigration and customs laws of both countries.
In giving consideration to the determination of proper and justifiable proration of costs between the two countries, conditions other than gross and irrigated areas are necessarily included. Economic features and values in the two countries are distinct and different. While the use of areas may be entirely proper in a distribution of costs for irrigation development, this unit of proration for an international flood control plan is unsuitable and produces serious irregularities. The Commission has taken into consideration the benefits that each country would receive according to the areas and their values to be protected rather than the benefits each would receive on the sole acreage basis.
On the American side of the valley there are about fifty-three thousand (53,000) acres of land under the Rio Grande Federal Irrigation Project with water rights assured; the greater part of which is in full cultivation, and about seventeen thousand (17,000) acres in the lower portion of the valley below the project limits which are irrigated with project surplus water. The total irrigated area is seventy thousand (70,000) acres. This area is served with irrigation and drainage works, and first class roads. Finance companies facilitate the financing of the production and distribution of agricultural products.
On the Mexican side of the valley there are about thirty-five thousand (35,000) acres of land in cultivation, of which twenty thousand (20,000) acres have assured water rights under the Rio Grande Federal Irrigation Project, provided for by the Water Treaty of 1906.60 Practically no drainage works have been constructed and the irrigation works are largely insufficient. The productiveness of the lands on the Mexican side is under these circumstances much less than the corresponding lands on the north side of the river, and there are large areas with insignificant or no production. No major road improvements exist, and the finance companies organized to serve Mexican farmers are very limited in number and resources. The industrial plants and means for handling agricultural products are in very small proportion when compared with those in the valley in the United States.
The estimated value of agricultural investments in the American part of the valley, according to figures assembled by the Bureau of Reclamation, including purchase of land and its preparation, farm improvements, equipment and livestock, is seventeen million dollars ($17.000,000) or thirty-four million gold pesos. The value of agricultural improvements on the Mexican side as estimated by Engineer Salvador Arroyo, Chief of the Flood Protection work, is five million four hundred thousand ($5.400,000) gold pesos. Comparing these agricultural values in one part of the valley with those in the other it is seen that the Mexican side represents thirteen per cent of the total and the American eighty-seven per cent. Valley lands on either side of the river without water rights and assured irrigation service have very nominal value as compared with the lands obtaining water service from project sources; a comparison of such areas on this basis results in twenty-seven per cent for Mexico and seventy-three per cent for the United States.
As the cities and suburbs of El Paso and Juarez not only are included in the flood protection plan, but either directly or indirectly would receive a large part of the benefits of the rectification of the channel, the Commission has considered the proration of values which each city bears to the other and giving proper weights to various percentages, believes the justifiable proration to be twelve (12) per cent for Mexico and eighty-eight (88) per cent for the United States.
With reference to the estimates (exhibit number five of the engineers’ report) the grand total of six million one hundred six thousand five hundred dollars ($6.106,500) includes certain items in which the Commissioners concur as being non-proratable and properly and practically chargeable to each Government separately. These are: rights-of-way four hundred twelve thousand five hundred dollars ($412,500), for purchase of private channel rights above Cordova seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000), segregated tracts two hundred sixty-six thousand dollars ($266,000), changes in irrigation works two hundred twenty-five thousand dollars ($225,000). The total of these items, with twenty per cent overhead and contingencies is one million one hundred seventy-four thousand two hundred dollars ($1,174,200). This amount subtracted from the grand total leaves a proratable total of four million nine hundred thirty-two thousand three hundred dollars ($4,932,300). Using twelve per cent (12%) and eighty eight per cent (88%) as the basis of proration Mexico’s share of the cost of the project would be five hundred ninety-one thousand eight hundred seventy-six dollars ($591,876) and that of the United States four million three hundred forty thousand four hundred twenty-four dollars ($4.340,424).
On the basis that this report and the engineers’ statement have been prepared and submitted with the view of generally straightening the present river location between the International Dam above El Paso-Juarez and the Box Canyon below Fort Quitman, the question of using the present river at Fabens or following the boundary route on the south of the San Elizario area is left for later determination. From the data at hand, apparently there is argument in favor of both routes. Following either the present river or the boundary line route requires adjustment of detached areas, and the proposed channel below this section can be so located as to compensate for any inequalities of such areas.
The following are the recommendations of the Commission:
The Commissioners recommend that the two Governments approve the plan for river rectification as outlined in the attached engineering report, including the feature of the flood retention dam, the general straightening of the present river location, and the establishment of a flood channel which generally will follow and straighten the present river from International Dam to the Box Canyon below Fort Quitman.
That both countries in view of the serious situation proceed to an agreement, without delay, which will carry into effect the engineering and construction features as outlined in the attached report.
That the International Boundary Commission be authorized to prepare detail plans, and to direct and supervise the construction and all other engineering operations, utilizing such established governmental agencies as each government may deem proper.
That each section of the International Boundary Commission be authorized to acquire for its country the necessary rights-of-way and detached areas located within its territorial limits, thru the proper governmental agencies.
That agreement between the two Governments provide for the exchange of one-half of the area required for right-of-way and the total area of detached tracts of each country.
That the total proratable cost of four million nine hundred thirty two thousand three hundred dollars ($4.932,300) be divided between Mexico and the United States on the basis of twelve per cent (12%) and eighty-eight per cent (88%) respectively, and that each Government provide annually such required appropriations as will complete the work in four or five years.
That the agreement between the two countries provide for the jurisdiction of the International Boundary Commission over all matters concerning the rectified channel.
That this Commission be authorized to adopt such rules and regulations as it may deem necessary to the end that the preservation of the rectified channel may be perpetuated.
That each country hold the other immune from all private or national claims arising from the construction and maintenance of the rectified channel or any other cause whatsoever in connection with this project.

Respectfully submitted.

The Commission adjourned to meet again at the call of either of the Commissioners.

L. M. Lawson

Commissioner for the United States
Gustavo P. Serrano

Commissioner for Mexico
Mervin B. Moore

Acting Secretary of the United States Section
José Hernández Ojeda

Secretary of the Mexican Section
  1. Not printed.
  2. Printed with the convention between the United States of America and Mexico, for the rectification of the Rio Grande, signed at Mexico City, February 1, 1933, in Department of State Treaty Series No. 864.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1906, pt. 2, p. 1128.