212. Memorandum of conversation, October 11, among Rusk, Udall, and other U.S. officials1

[Facsimile Page 1]


  • Colorado River Salinity Problem


  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of the Interior
  • Mr. Floyd Dominy, Commissioner of Reclamation
  • Mr. Joseph F. Friedkin, U.S. Commissioner, IBWC
  • Mr. Sterling J. Cottrell, Acting Assistant Secretary
  • Mr. Abraham Chayes, Legal Adviser
  • Mr. Frank J. Barry, Solicitor of the Department of the Interior
  • Mr. Edward Weinberg, Deputy Solicitor of the Department of the Interior
  • Mr. Robert M. Sayre, Deputy Director, CMA

Secretary Udall said that the water supply on the Colorado River was the shortest this year that it had been in several years. He noted that it might be necessary to release some of the water being impounded at Glen Canyon Dam to meet downstream requirements. This situation made it extremely difficult to find a solution to the salinity problem on the lower Colorado River. He thought any solution involving the provision of the additional water to Mexico would not be acceptable to the Basin States. Mr. Dominy recalled the Senate hearings that had followed his decision last year to release impounded flood waters for river regulation. Mr. Friedkin agreed that any solution to the salinity problem involving the release of additional water for [Facsimile Page 2] Mexico would not be acceptable to the Basin States and thought that other solutions were possible.

The Secretary of State said that he was seriously concerned that continued failure to find a solution would lead to court action in which the United States stood to lose, given the state of facts in this case. Secretary Udall agreed and said that he desired to avoid any possibility that an international water master might be appointed for the Colorado River.

Secretary Udall said that the proposal of the Department of State for coordinating the pumping at Wellton-Mohawk with the Mexican diversion schedule was essentially sound, but that his Department would need the details on the Mexican schedule to work out a program. [Typeset Page 508] He said that his Department would attempt to work out a program so that the salinity level of water delivered to Mexico would be 1,500 p.p.m. or less during the coming winter. Commissioner Dominy asked if the Mexicans would be agreeable to such a program and would accept water with 1,500 p.p.m. Commissioner Friedkin said that 1,500 p.p.m. this winter would be about salt balance. He thought that the Mexicans would accept it. In any event, he considered that the United States could defend itself if it achieved this quality of water for delivery to Mexico this winter. He said he would take the matter up with the Mexican Commissioner as soon as possible. He added that he thought the Mexican Commissioner would have a difficult time accepting unless there were a long-term solution in prospect. He regarded a satisfactory long-term solution as the key to any acceptance by the Mexicans of an interim solution which they did not regard as entirely in keeping with their rights under the Treaty.

Mr. Weinberg noted that under the Treaty Mexico has the right to divert 900 cubic second feet at all times and that they would in effect have to forego this right for limited periods during the winter. Mr. Friedkin agreed that this was the difficult point [Facsimile Page 3] for Mexico. Mr. Chayes observed that the two Presidents had agreed to work out a practical solution without regard to their juridical positions. He thought the temporary solution for this winter fit this formula and hoped that the Mexicans would agree.

Secretary Udall agreed that there had to be a long term solution. Working out a long-term solution was not as easy, however, because it would require appropriations. He considered the alternatives the installation of tile drain or the by-pass channel. He recalled that his Department had obtained funds to install 8,000 acres of tile drain at Wellton-Mohawk and that this construction is now well underway. However, Bureau of Reclamation’s model studies to date do not reveal that tile drains would be effective in initially reducing salinity of the drainage effluent as indications are that the tile drains would intercept and discharge the saline waters of the lower aquifer. It is understood, however, that installation of a tile drain system and abandonment of the deep well pumping would satisfy Mexican interests and would avoid the legal issues raised by a by-pass channel. Mr. Dominy observed that the Bureau’s model studies are not definitive and that there is conflicting evidence on the effectiveness of tile drains insofar as producing a drainage effluent of better quality than that from the deep drainage wells. Commissioner Friedkin agreed that there was conflicting evidence on the tile drain solution. Nevertheless, the Mexican Commissioner regarded tile drain as an acceptable method of drainage and Commissioner Friedkin thought that the United States could defend itself on using this type of drainage at Wellton-Mohawk.

[Typeset Page 509]

Secretary Udall said that his Department would consider a by-pass channel as a long-term solution if tile drain proved impractical. He emphasized that the long-term solution required appropriations and that he and Commissioner Dominy would have to discuss it with Senator Hayden and other interested parties before he could make a definitive decision. He wanted to be assured that the Mexican Government would not publicly discuss the possible alternatives before he could complete the necessary discussions. Mr. Sayre said that the Mexican Government had consistently taken the position that it had a commitment from President Kennedy to resolve the problem by October but had not discussed possible alternatives. He thought the Mexican Government would agree to avoid any discussions of details. He said the Department could [Facsimile Page 4] instruct Ambassador Mann to discuss the matter with the Foreign Minister and obtain a specific commitment to that effect.

The Secretary of State inquired whether the Mexican Government had indicated it would accept the temporary solution proposed for the winter of 1963–64. Mr. Sayre said that Foreign Minister Tello had proposed informally to Ambassador Mann a temporary solution along the lines the Department of State had recommended. The Foreign Minister had not been specific in his conversation, but Mr. Sayre thought the proposal would be acceptable to Mexico.

It was agreed that Commissioner Friedkin would obtain as soon as possible Mexico’s proposed diversion schedule for the winter of 1963–64 so that the Bureau of Reclamation could develop an operating program for coordinating the pumping at Wellton-Mohawk with the diversion schedule. It was also understood that Commissioner Friedkin could assure the Mexican Commissioner that the United States would make a decision soon on a long-term solution.

It was agreed that the Department of State would instruct Ambassador Mann to discuss the matter with the Mexican Foreign Minister, to inform him in general terms of the temporary solution proposed for this winter, to assure him that a decision would be made on a long-term solution soon, and to obtain a commitment from him that the Mexican Government would avoid any discussion of the details of the temporary solution or the possible alternatives for a long-term solution.

  1. Colorado River salinity problem. Limited Official Use. 4 pp. DOS, CF, POL 33–1 MEX–US.