457. Memorandum of Conversation1 2

[Page 1]


  • Colorado River Salinity (Part 1 of 2)


  • Foreign

    • Emilio O. Rabasa, Foreign Secretary of Mexico
    • David Herrera Jordan, Mexican Commissioner, International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC)
  • United States

    • William P. Rogers, Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Donald L. McKernan, S/FW
    • Marion H. Smoak, S/CPR
    • Chris G. Petrow, ARA/MEX
    • Clint E. Smith, ARA/MEX
    • T.R. Martin, IBWC

1. The Foreign Secretary outlined to the Secretary a new Mexican counter-proposal on the subject of Colorado River water salinity. He stressed the great importance which Mexico attaches to this subject, and the widespread concern about salinity which prevails among Mexican farmers in the Mexicali Valley. The Secretary indicated that the new Mexican counter-proposal to our own earlier plan for a five-year agreement leading to a solution of the problem would receive our prompt and closest consideration. The Foreign Secretary then asked the Mexican Commissioner, Mr. Herrera Jordan, to meet separately with Mr. Martin to outline the new proposal in detail, and the two experts adjourned.

2. In an adjoining room, the Mexican Commissioner explained that a note was in preparation in the Mexican Embassy that would r[Page 2]eply to the U.S. proposals for a new five-year agreement on the salinity problem. He said that Mexico could not continue to mix the highly saline drainage from the Wellton-Mohawk District with the better water being delivered in the bed of the Colorado River, and intended to bypass all of it to the Gulf of California.

3. The Mexican Government would therefore ask the U.S. to substitute for this bypassed drainage other water from Yuma Mesa wells. The Mexican Commissioner pointed out that a model constructed by the U.S. Geological Survey showed that use of the Yuma Mesa water would not injure the U.S., and Department of the Interior officials had informed his Government that the U.S. did not intend to use that water. He said that while the proposed operation might have to be continued ten or fifteen years, Mexico too had in mind an agreement for five years. He added that he hoped that the matter would be referred as quickly as possible to the International Boundary and Water Commission which was experienced and knowledgeable in this field, and which was competent to study the proposal and reach a practical decision.

4. Mr. Martin agreed that the matter should be taken to the Commission at once, and urged the Mexican Commissioner to obtain authorization to raise it with U.S. Commissioner J. F. Friedkin on returning to Ciudad Juarez the following day. Mr. Martin said that, without wanting to anticipate at this stage all the aspects that Commissioner Friedkin would have to discuss with him, several observations might be made: first, Commissioner Friedkin had had great difficulty in persuading the Colorado River Basin States to accept the loss for the U.S. of the 50,000 acre-feet of Yuma Mesa water that the recent proposals of the U.S. would entail, and it was doubtful that they could be persuaded to accept three times that amount of loss; secondly, when the Interior Department had stated that the U.S. did not intend to pump the Yuma Mesa waters, it meant that the U.S. Federal Government did not intend to pump them, but not that the State of Arizona would not want to pump them; thirdly, the State of Arizona looked upon the Yuma Mesa water as a very valuable resource, and could think of its proposed delivery to Mexico only in [Page 3] terms of injury. Mr. Martin pointed out that even if the Colorado River Basin States accepted such an arrangement, the Mexican proposal would require Congressional hearings and the appropriation of funds, possibly amounting to several million dollars. Finally, Mr. Martin mentioned that there was the inescapable juridical question of the extent of the U.S. obligation. Many U.S. officials believed that Mexico could advantageously use all the waters being delivered, including all the Wellton-Mohawk drainage, and adhered to the concept of salt balance which was inherent in the recent U.S. proposals, believing that the U.S. was not obligated to deliver better water than that Mexico would receive in a condition of salt balance below Imperial Dam. The Mexican Commissioner commented that his Government did not accept that concept.

5. Mr. Petrow and Mr. Smith, who had joined the conversation after the Secretary’s meeting with the Foreign Secretary (see memcon Part 2 of 2), assured the Mexican Commissioner that the Mexican proposal would receive the same serious consideration that was always given to all proposals of the Mexican Government, and that while the proposal would require very careful study and wide consultation in Washington and the Colorado River Basin States, the Department would respond as quickly as practical.

6. Subsequently, Mr. Smith suggested to the Foreign Secretary that a copy of the proposal be made available as soon as possible to Commissioner Friedkin, and the Foreign Secretary so instructed Commissioner Herrera Jordan.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 33–1 MEX–US. Limited Official Use. Drafted by T.R. Martin (ARA/MEX/IBWC) and approved on February 10 in S. The meeting took place in the Secretary’s office. Copies sent to C, S/S, INR/OD, S/PC, ARA, and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico. In a February 9 memorandum to Assistant Legal Adviser Mark Feldman, David A. Gantz (L/ARA) analyzed Rabasa’s counter-proposal, which concluded that “international rivers are subject to reasonable use, with equitable distribution of benefits.” Rabasa maintained that U.S. pollution must be compensated for and proposed bilateral diplomatic negotiation, or lacking that, ICJ arbitration. (Ibid.)
  2. In a meeting with Secretary of State Rogers, Foreign Secretary Emilio Rabasa outlined a Mexican counter-proposal to deal with the Colorado River salinity issue.