480. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1 2

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  • Echeverria Visit—Colorado River Salinity Problem

The problem of Colorado River salinity is uppermost in the Mexican’s minds. I felt you should
have a separate memo on this.

The Problem

Our 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico promised them 1.5 million acre-feet of usable water from the Colorado River. In 1961, we opened up a new irrigation project in Arizona—the Wellton-Mohawk Project—which began sending highly saline water into the Colorado. The Mexicans were getting water roughly twice as saline as our people. We had a new agreement in 1965 that helped solve part of the problem. But a real solution has dragged on.

We are now in the second of two one-year extensions. The Mexicans are not willing to agree to any kind of settlement now that does not offer better water and, within a reasonable time, a definitive solution.

We thought we had worked out a 4 1/2 year interim agreement. This is not acceptable to Echeverria. He claims to be under heavy political pressure from his farmers to get water as good as U.S. farmers get in the Imperial Valley.

On your instructions, our experts have been working to find some solution that would meet with Mexican approval. I plan to discuss this with Foreign Secretary Rabasa tonight and hope to get agreement so we can solve this one.

We can offer:

(1) to take immediate steps to provide better water for Mexico. This will—in 3 days—provide them with water that is at least 100 parts per million less saline content (in the 1120–1150 ppm range as compared with the 1245 pp they are now getting).

(2) to appoint a high level and competent person to head a task force to find a long-range and definitive solution to this problem—through desalting or substitute waters or other technical means.

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(3) instruct the task force to report to you in a reasonable time.

(4) promise the Mexicans we will have a solid proposal for a final solution by the end of this year.

If the above is acceptable to the Mexicans—and it is the most we can technically and politically offer at the moment—we can then go to work on the more involved technical, economic and political problems involved in a final solution.

Meantime, we should try to get the Mexicans to defer demands for money damages for past actions, though we can offer to discuss this bilaterally.

The above is consistent with the Talking Points contained in your overall memo for the Echeverria visit (see page 3 of Talking Points).

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 932, VIP Visits, Mexico: President Echeverría, 15 June 1972 [2 of 3]. Secret. Sent for action. Sent as an add-on to a June 14 briefing memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon. Attached but not published at Tab A are the Talking Points. (Ibid.)
  2. In anticipation of President Echeverría’s June 15–16 visit, Kissinger provided President Nixon with background on the Colorado River salinity issue, which he characterized as the most important issue for Mexico.