348. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1


  • Salinity Problem with Mexico

Over the last month, State and Interior carried on intensive discussions to find a solution to the salinity problem. A proposal was worked out which Mr. Dungan and I discussed with Senator Hayden.2 I understand that the Senator found it acceptable, but that we are unable to proceed with negotiations until other problems on the Colorado, which the Senator regards as related, are also settled. I am not certain Mexico will accept the proposal but it gives us a negotiating position for the first time.

In the meantime, Mexico continues to receive what it regards as poor quality water. Mexicali farmers are agitated, and carrying on weekly demonstrations. They plan demonstrations throughout Mexico on July 12. Although they have been assured by Mexican officials that a solution is forthcoming momentarily, they are aware of none and fearful of receiving water beginning in October which they consider unusable for irrigation. They use U.S. Department of Agriculture handbooks to prove their case. The Mexican President has been told by his Senate Majority Leader (Senator Moreno

Although the effect on our relations with Mexico will be serious, the probable risk to the water rights of the seven Colorado Basin States [Page 741] is equally disturbing. Over the two and one-half years that this dispute has dragged on, Mexico has insisted more and more that it is entitled to water of equal quality. Mexico argues that the Treaty3 divided the waters of the Colorado, and that it is unjust for Mexico to receive all of the drainage and for U.S. irrigators on the opposite bank of the river to receive sweet water from storage. We can make a fairly persuasive case on the basis of the history of the Treaty, and the Treaty itself, against the Mexican contention for equal treatment. But I am rather uneasy about arguing before the International Court, where all but a few of the judges are from the less developed countries, that Mexico is not entitled to equal treatment. We estimate that we are now delivering to Mexico 600,000 acre feet of drainage water to fulfill our Treaty commitment. At ultimate development (about 1980), it is estimated that we will be delivering about 900,000 acre feet of drainage water. With runoffs averaging 10 million acre feet or less over the last several years, the danger of an adverse decision requiring us to deliver water from storage is uncomfortably evident.

Although neither Senator Hayden nor Reclamation have been willing to acknowledge the risks we are running, they are now acting as if they understood them.

It is essential that we begin negotiations with Mexico immediately if we are to have any hope of selling the proposal which has been worked out. More delay, accompanied by anti-American demonstrations in Mexico, may make it politically impossible for Mexico to agree to anything we would regard as reasonable. I hope that you can get Senator Hayden’s agreement that we may proceed with negotiations.4

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Mexico, Vol. I, Memos, 12/63–12/65. Confidential. Another copy indicates that the memorandum was drafted by Mann. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/MEX Files: Lot 69 D 377, POL 33 Water, Boundaries, Inland Waters)
  2. Senator Carl T. Hayden (D–Arizona), chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Johnson reviewed the negotiations with Senator Hayden in a telephone conversation with Assistant Secretary Mann on June 11; see Document 16.
  3. Reference is to a treaty relating to the utilization of water from the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and from the Rio Grande. The treaty was signed by the United States and Mexico on February 3, 1944. (59 Stat. (pt. 2) 1219)
  4. Johnson on June 23. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No substantive record of the meeting, or evidence that the salinity problem was discussed, has been found.