The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: I refer to the letter to you of March 18, 1944 from Secretary Ickes commenting upon the water treaty with Mexico, which was signed on February 3, 1944 and transmitted to the Senate on February 15, 1944.

The comments by Secretary Ickes fall into two groups: those relating to the possible effects of the treaty upon the general interests of the United States and those relating to the functions and duties of the Department of the Interior as they might be affected by the treaty.

As to whether the provisions of the treaty can justifiably be regarded as too generous to Mexico a few brief statements may be in order:

So far as the guaranteed quantity allocated to Mexico from the Colorado River is concerned it is by no means established that the quantity of 750,000 acre-feet represents the maximum possible use in Mexico before the construction of Boulder Dam. In this connection it is my understanding that Mexico had the right to use half of the flow of the Alamo Canal,91 which at times exceeded 3,000,000 acre-feet a year. Furthermore, it is expected that ultimately approximately one-half of the 1,500,000 acre-feet guaranteed to Mexico will be composed of return flows, which in effect will mean that Mexico will receive no more, and probably less, than five per cent of the virgin run-off of the Colorado River system. Nor is it unimportant that the minimum quantity guaranteed is less than the total of Mexico’s diversions during 1943. International precedents upon this subject indicate that the criterion that would probably be used in international proceedings would be the uses by Mexico as of the date of such proceedings and not the uses as of some date adopted ex parte by the United States to suit its own interests. When considered in the light of previous Mexican demands and of present uses in Mexico it is not believed that the guaranteed allocation can be regarded as over-generous. In its [Page 1364] ultimate practical effects the treaty provisions would seem to assure a large expansion of uses in the United States and some decrease of uses in Mexico, in both cases as compared with present diversions.
The terms relating to the division of the water of the Rio Grande below Fort Quitman are also believed to be fair. The conditions on this stream are markedly different from those prevailing in the Colorado River system. In the case of the Rio Grande the ultimate effect of the treaty provisions would assure a considerable expansion over present uses in each country.
The suggestion that Colorado River water was traded for some Rio Grande water is without foundation. The circumstances of the case, with particular reference to Federal Project No. 5, made it quite unnecessary to engage in a trade of this kind and in fact none was contemplated, proposed, or made.
In respect of the distribution of costs of the works called for by the provisions of the treaty it is believed that they will be regarded upon closer analysis as not inequitable. In the case of the works on the Rio Grande the costs of construction, operation, and maintenance are to be divided in proportion to the benefits received by the respective countries. Assuredly, this should be considered a fair division. In the case of the works on the Colorado River Mexico is to pay a proportionate part of the costs of construction, operation, and maintenance of certain works to be used in the interest of both countries and all of such costs of works used entirely in the interest of Mexico. Mexico is not required to pay any part of the costs of Boulder Dam or of Davis Dam, but the treaty does not contemplate the direct use of any part of the capacity at Boulder in the interest of Mexico, and even Davis Dam and Reservoir are thought of primarily as serving the interests of the United States and only incidentally the interests of Mexico. Furthermore, all of the power revenues at Davis Dam will accrue to the benefit of the United States whether the power will be produced by water destined for the United States or for Mexico.
Power production at Pilot Knob92 may in time bring some benefit to Mexico in the form of a reduction in its part of the costs of certain works, but only after the construction cost of the hydro-electric works is fully amortized.
Finally, it is important to note that the present uncertainty regarding the amount of water that Mexico is to receive from the Colorado and the amount of Rio Grande water that developments in the Lower Valley of Texas can depend upon in the future tends to retard plans and developments. One of the important advantages of this treaty is that it removes this cloud of uncertainty. In the case of the Colorado an enormous quantity of water will of necessity flow [Page 1365] across the boundary line into Mexico for many years and since much of this can be put to beneficial use in that country it becomes highly important and even necessary to fix the limits of our obligation and of Mexico’s rights. Furthermore, I am informed that the allocation provided in the treaty falls well within the limits of a formula in the making of which officials of the Bureau of Reclamation fully participated.

Turning now to the treaty’s provisions on administration and organization, I should like to make a few comments on the points raised in the letter from Secretary Ickes:

The International Boundary Commission had already been made permanent by the Convention of November 21, 1900;93 hence the present treaty merely adopts what had been already done, thus rendering unnecessary the continuance of the earlier convention.
By virtue of its experience under previous treaties and ordinary statutes, this Commission is the appropriate agency for administering the treaty now under consideration, which, in fact, is strictly in line with the provisions of the Convention of March 1, 1889.
It is true that the proposed treaty vests in the United States Section of the Commission numerous functions relating to matters which are usually performed by other agencies when such matters are primarily domestic in character and effects, but it may be stated that in the negotiations the Mexican representatives were insistent that some measure of control over all facilities in both countries necessary for the effectuation of the treaty provisions be fixed in the International Boundary Commission, or its national sections, subject to the supervision of the Department of State of the United States and the Foreign Office of Mexico. A careful analysis of the treaty provisions leads to the inescapable conclusion that this control in the Commission is [provided?] only to the extent necessary to insure compliance with the treaty provisions and to afford a central agency with which both countries could deal in matters pertaining to the boundary and to international waters. Correctly interpreted the treaty would mean in effect that the jurisdiction of the United States Section of the Commission would apply only to facilities on or near the boundary used exclusively or primarily for the delivery of Mexico’s waters. On all up-stream facilities on the Colorado this section would exercise no control or jurisdiction and these would remain under the exclusive control of the Bureau of Reclamation, which would so operate these structures as to assure the delivery of Mexico’s waters at the boundary. The manner [Page 1366] in which the two Departments would correlate their functions in relation to the works on the Colorado is clearly indicated by the satisfactory relations which subsist in the administration of the Rio Grande Project in New Mexico and Texas, which is not affected in any respect by this treaty. As for the Rio Grande below Fort Quitman it is not perceived in what manner it could be understood that the jurisdiction of the United States Section under the terms of the treaty encroaches upon the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Reclamation, and it is believed that the jurisdiction of the Bureau over Project No. 5 in the Lower Valley of Texas would be unaffected. The sole purpose of all these provisions is, without interfering with domestic arrangements, to funnel through the Commission matters relating to the treaty provisions. It is understood that representatives of the two Departments have engaged on numerous occasions in informal conversations regarding the relations of the two Departments in the administration of the treaty terms. This would seem to be the appropriate procedure, and it is hoped that any remaining questions can be thus resolved, preferably in advance of the hearings upon the treaty in the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate.

This letter does not, of course, discuss exhaustively the points at issue, but it may serve to indicate that the treaty is not inequitable, that the Department of State does not seek to encroach upon the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, and that in further conferences representatives of the two interested Departments should be able to resolve without difficulty any remaining doubts and questions.

Sincerely yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. The Alamo Canal, prior to completion of the All-American Canal in 1942, carried water from Rockwood Heading at Andrade on the Colorado River west to the Imperial Valley of Southern California and its Mexican extension, the Mexicali Valley. Unlike the All-American Canal which throughout its 80–mile course flowed north of the border, the Alamo Canal ran westward for 60 miles through Mexican territory.
  2. A spillway in the All-American Canal.
  3. The Water Boundary Convention between the United States and Mexico, signed at Washington; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1900, p. 788. This convention extended for an indefinite period the treaty of March 1, 1889, also signed at Washington, printed in William M. Malloy (ed.), Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1776–1909 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1910), vol. i, p. 1167.