Memorandum by the Legal Adviser (Hackworth) to the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

Pursuant to prior arrangements, Messrs. Timm, McGurk and myself, of this Department, accompanied by Commissioner Lawson and three members of his staff—Messrs. Clayton, Legal Adviser, Lowry, and Ainsworth, Engineers41—attended the meeting of representatives of the Colorado River Basin States at Santa Fe, New Mexico, April 14, 15 and 16. The Basin States, including the irrigation and power interests, were represented by approximately 50 people.

We presented, on April 14, a proposal in brief guaranteeing (a) the delivery to Mexico each year of an amount of water equal to 10% of the diversions for that year from the Colorado River for agricultural and domestic use in the States of Arizona, California and Nevada (this amount is estimated at around 750,000 acre-feet, the maximum amount used by Mexico prior to construction of the Boulder Dam, and may, if necessary, be taken from the reservoir), and (b) the delivery of an additional amount of not less than 750,000 acre-feet in any year from other water arriving and being available at the International Boundary from the river (this water represents that which may be divertible from the surplus water now going to Mexico through [Page 609] the river channel under ordinary conditions). The proposal stated that the maximum deliveries under (a) and (b) should not exceed 2,000,000 acre-feet in any one year, and that deliveries in excess of the amount specified in (a) and the minimum amount specified in (b) shall be subject to the availability of such excess water at the International Boundary. In other words, the proposal does not contemplate a guarantee of water in excess of approximately 1,500,000 acre-feet.

It was generally considered that for the time being and for some years to come most, if not all, of the guaranteed 1,500,000 acre-feet referred to in (a) and (b) can be taken from the river at the border without interfering with power and irrigation projects in the United States, but that should this prove to be insufficient at any time to meet the needs of Mexico, other water shall be released from the Dam to make up the deficiency, there being certain qualifications with respect to Mexico’s ability beneficially to use the water, and the possibility of extraordinary drought or serious accident to the irrigation system in the United States. There would be a certain amount of so-called “wild water” which Mexico could capture from time to time but we would enter into no undertaking regarding it.

The Committee of Sixteen representing the Basin States adopted a resolution approving in principle our proposal and specifying, that it is the consensus of the Committee that the quantity of water required to be delivered shall be treated as a maximum quantity and that the ultimate quantity of water to be delivered under the provisions of any treaty be kept within such limitations. Five States, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, voted in favor of the resolution. Nevada, whose representative arrived late and was unable to participate in all the discussions, did not vote. California, and the power and irrigation interests in that State, cast two negative votes, there being a sharp difference of view between the Californians and the representatives of the other States.

In addition to the foregoing the Basin States, other than California, presented a “Statement of Policy”42 providing that the facilities constructed and to be constructed and used for the delivery of water to Mexico under any treaty should be under the control of and operated by the United States; that the channelization of at least the international section of the Colorado River and the construction of flood control facilities on the Gila River are of paramount importance; and that these matters should be included in the negotiations with Mexico and made a part of any treaty relating to the allocation [Page 610] of waters of the Colorado between the United States and that country. This, if carried out, would, among other things, result in the taking over by the Federal Government of certain facilities now operated by the California interests. The proposal was strongly opposed by the representatives from California but was approved by the other States. The discussion, in which we took no part, was somewhat heated. The action taken both on the resolution referred to above and on this “Statement of Policy” constitutes the first decisive step taken by the six Basin States against the opposition of California.

The California interests are relying upon contracts concluded with the Secretary of the Interior relating to irrigation and power,43 on the strength of which large issues of bonds have been floated. They realize that if a certain amount of water is guaranteed to Mexico, the time may come when they will be required to give up some of the water they are now using or may use under these contracts. They desire that some provision shall be incorporated in the treaty safeguarding the contracts. I told those who spoke to me about the matter that we could make no commitments in that respect but would, of course, consider any statement which they might desire to present. One or two had asked permission to file a statement with the Department.

Dr. Timm, who made notes at the meetings, will prepare and submit a more comprehensive report.44

Green H. Hackworth

P.S. Mr. Lawson is to submit to the Department a suggestion regarding the approach to be made to the Mexican Government, it being the understanding that we shall not, at least in the first instance, offer Mexico the maximum amount which we might eventually be prepared to make available. There are a number of questions to be discussed in connection with the negotiations, such as facilities to be provided for delivery of water to Mexico, protective works in that country to safeguard the Imperial Valley of California, etc., all of which will involve considerable expenditures of money.

  1. Frank B. Clayton, Robert L. Lowry, and C. M. Ainsworth were employees of the American Section of the International Boundary Commission.
  2. Not printed.
  3. The Secretary of the Interior entered into a series of contracts to operate, maintain, and amortize the Boulder Canyon Project by 1987. Contracts to sell electric energy were made with the State of Nevada, the Department of Water and Power of Los Angeles, the Southern California Edison Company, the California Electric Power Corporation, the Metropolitan Water District of South California, and the cities of Pasadena, Glendale, and Burbank.
  4. Report of June 9, addressed to Messrs. McGurk, Bonsal, and Duggan, not printed.