Memorandum by Mr. Charles A. Timm of the Division of the American Republics to the Adviser on Political Relations ( Duggan )

Mr. Duggan: A hasty examination of this memorandum27 leads to the following observations:

Insofar as theoretical argument is concerned, it presents nothing new.
The clear implication that the United States may expect the same treatment in regard to the Rio Grande as Mexico receives in regard to the Colorado is not a new development but is stated more strongly than heretofore. However, it should be noted that, as to the Rio Grande:
The Mexican Section,28 in 1929–1930, upheld the right of each country to the full use of the tributaries located wholly in the respective states.
The present memorandum tends to infer, but does not state, that Mexico is now willing to treat the Rio Grande upon a new basis, presumably at least to the extent of protecting existing developments in the Lower Valley of Texas.
As matters stand, the Department can not consider this angle of the general problem in dealing with the Committee of Sixteen.
The memorandum is on pretty sound ground when it notes that if costs be disregarded the United States could eventually use double the supply of the river.
The reference to norms of international law is not very helpful. The only practical application made is in the statement—often made in the past by Mexico—that the waters should be divided in proportion to areas irrigable under similar conditions. This may be little more than a Mexican rationalization.
The only indication that Mexico recognizes the benefits it derives from United States works is in the assertion that this recognition is given in the reduction of Mexico’s claim from 3,600,000 acre-feet to 2,000,000 acre-feet.
Comments upon the enumerated paragraphs follow:
The Compact provisions relating to any future allocation to Mexico prescribed merely a procedure, not a right per se.
It is difficult to believe that “applicable principles of international law” should be thus defined or restricted, i.e., to limit developments to older modes.
The memorandum refrains from stating how much of the 7,500,000 acre-feet the Upper Basin can consume. Debler29 and others admit that this amount can not be consumed except with the aid of trans-mountain diversions. The admission by Mexico that the Lower Basin will need 9,340,000 acre-feet may be important.
The point need not be pressed that, after all, the earlier studies in Mexico probably did overlook some or all of these factors. The agreement to accept a proportionate reduction in extremely dry years may prove quite useful in the preparation of formulas and tables.
This is an admission that the data used in the Mexican memorandum of March 19, 1942,30 are unreliable. The data used are now different, but the figure of 2,000,000 acre-feet remains the same.
As a general proposition this is true. In the present case it is complicated by the factor of power production, not alluded to at all in the Mexican memorandum. The reference to the need of a common study by experts anticipates the proposal made in the concluding paragraph of the memorandum.
This paragraph of the memorandum is not altogether clear. It admits that our calculations are correct but then seems to suggest that the Lower Basin needs could have been supplied from the unused portion of the allocation to the Upper Basin, forgetting that in those same dry years the Upper Basin would probably have suffered deficiencies. The general sense is the same if the last clause means that the Mexican quota could have been met by using the Upper Basin surplus.
Our calculations on maximum Mexican development before 1935 ignored the depression years. On account of periods of low runoff it may be doubted it [if] development in either country could have been carried safely beyond the maximum reached before the construction of Boulder Dam. Mr. Lawson has records of shortages to sustain this view.
This paragraph is partially contradicted by the later statement that the value of Boulder Dam to Mexico was taken into consideration. The statement about the Company is too vague to have any value.
For the most part this is repeating arguments made in the memorandum of March 19, 1942. However, the agreement to accept a proportional reduction in extremely dry cycles may afford an opportunity to develop a formula based on percentages rather than on global amounts. Considering the status of water rights in the Basin States it should be borne in mind that reductions in releases are not prorated but operate to eliminate uses beginning with the use having the lowest order of priority.
Considering the memorandum as [a] whole, it may be observed that, although it appears to be somewhat categorical, certain concessions have been made, as follows:
The implication that Mexico is prepared to abandon its theory regarding tributaries if we give more generous treatment to Mexico in Baja California. (On the other hand, this may also be regarded as a threat which, considering Project 5, can probably be ignored.)
The acceptance of our figures on the water supply of the Colorado, suggesting their dependence upon our technical data.
The admission, in effect, that 9,340,000 acre-feet will be needed in the Lower Basin. Mr. Tipton31 and others place the need at some thing more than 10,000,000 a.f.32
The virtual admission that the Compact allocations refer to consumed, not to diverted, water.
The admission that 2,000,000 a.f. can not be supplied to Mexico in exceptionally dry years. This may provide the needed point of departure; obviously, 2,000,000 a.f. can be supplied when releases are 12,000,000 a.f. or more.
The concluding paragraph was to have been expected in view of recent developments in Mexico City. The effort to transfer the initiative to Mexico having failed, the second choice is El Paso–Juarez. What this may mean, in effect, is the suggestion of a joint survey, with power of decision, by the International Boundary Commission. In other words, the Mexican Boundary Commissioner would have the power of veto over future United States projects, with special reference, probably, to trans-mountain diversions and such projects as the Parker-Phoenix high-line canal. This interpretation does not, however, necessarily follow.

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The last sentence probably refers to arbitration. This is in line with suggestions, having something of the nature of threats, made recently to Mr. Bursley in Mexico City. It is a matter well worth watching.

It is worthy of observation that Mexico still gives no evidence of understanding the difficult political situation faced by the Department in its efforts to solve the Colorado River problem.

  1. Ante, p. 596.
  2. Of the International Boundary Commission.
  3. E. B. Debler, Hydraulic Engineer, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of the Interior.
  4. Foreign Relations 1942, vol. vi, p. 548.
  5. R. J. Tipton, Consulting Engineer, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
  6. Acre-feet.