The Adviser on Political Relations (Duggan) to the Chargé in Mexico (Bursley)

Dear Herb: Your letters of February 10 and 11, 1943 in reference to the Colorado River problem give additional evidence that the Foreign Office attempted, no doubt with the best intentions, to steer the matter along lines that might well have proved disastrous. Needless to say, the Department, no less than the Mexican Foreign Office, is desirous of finding an equitable solution; but before deciding upon a formula we must know pretty definitely what the cost to the United States would be in terms of limitations upon the future of the Colorado River Basin.

Torres Bodet’s suggestion that the Mexican Government might ask us to refer the matter to arbitration was not unexpected. This possibility has been discussed more than once with and among members of the Committee of Sixteen. The elaborate arguments presented by the California members to the effect that no arbitral body could properly hold against us afford some cause for suspicion that they really fear the consequences of an arbitral proceeding. On this point you may recall paragraphs, page 27, of the Report of December 23, 1942,33 on the Denver and El Paso meetings. All things considered, it would appear to be highly inadvisable for the Mexican Government to bring up at this juncture the question of arbitration. However, in our discussions with the Committee we shall not fail to keep in mind the possible dangers to us of an arbitral settlement.

In your letter of February 11 you made an interesting comparison between Federal Project No. 5 and the proposed Mexican heading below the Upper Boundary. I detect what seems to me to be a substantial difference. As was noted in the memorandum of conversation [Page 606] of January 2534 (page 4), a cut in the right bank of the Colorado would greatly increase the flood danger in that it would create a situation wherein the river might once more break through to the Salton Sea. You will recall that there is a rapid drop in altitude from the Alamo heading in the river to the Imperial Valley (California). No comparable danger to either country is inherent in Federal Project No. 5. This matter has angles that we are not overlooking.

The Foreign Minister’s suggestion that, as regards the memorandum of November 4,35 something might be accomplished at that end by informal conversations without written exchanges of any kind agrees with my original idea respecting these talks about the whole water problem.

Copies of these two letters from you have been handed to Mr. McGurk36 for the information of Ambassador Messersmith.

Sincerely yours,

Laurence Duggan
  1. Report by Charles A. Timm, of the Division of the American Republics (not printed), of meetings with Bureau of Reclamation and International Boundary Commission officials and with a sub-committee of three of the Committee of Sixteen.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. vi, p. 561.
  4. Joseph P. McGurk, Assistant Chief of the Division of the American Republics.