2015 CWC Convention Speaker, Mario López Pérez, works for CONAGUA, Mexico’s National Water Commission.
Mr. López Pérez will present on Thursday afternoon of the 2015 CWC Annual Convention as a part of General Session IV: A Broad View of the Colorado River. López Pérez has worked for Mexico’s Comisión Nacional del Agua since 1980. He frequently makes presentations and has published a number of articles on drought, climate change and related subjects. He earned his master’s in pedology and soil survey from Reading University.
A: There were two types of people on the Mexican side of the delegation who negotiated Minute 319. The diplomatic group was the Mexican Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC). The other people were like myself- professionals in water in different areas. I represented CONAGUA (Mexico’s National Water Commission) as the head of the professionals in Mexico who participated in negotiating Minute 319. If something is wrong you can blame me, if something’s right you can tease me.
On the Mexican side, I was responsible for the technical contents of Minute 319.
Q: What are the primary ways that the creation of Minute 319 affected international cooperation between the US and Mexico?
A: The process began when Mexico fought with the US over the All-American Canal lining. Everything started there. At that time, Mexico was not happy with what was going on the US. The political lever decided to start a fight. They devoted all their efforts to that. Mexico was defeated in the court ruling and many people in Mexico were angry because of that. Some people thought that there would be a window of opportunity to view the US and the Colorado River Basin differently. Those people included the previous Mexican International Boundary and Water Commissioner, Arturo Herrera, the new Mexican Commissioner, Roberto Salmón, and myself. We went to see many people- moral leaders on the Mexican and US sides of the border- and analyzed how we could do something different and benefit Mexico.
We reached an agreement with the US and together we came up with a Framework Minute that included everything we wanted to do.
We explained this view to many people. Former US International Boundary and Water Commissioner, Carlos Marin, engaged the seven Colorado River Basin states.
At first, the US people were not very confident in Mexico; they didn’t trust us. We felt that even though they didn’t say so. We understood why they were not confident in us. The past was against us. The position, the situation, the behavior of the previous Mexican delegations was aimed at doing nothing to receive everything. The past was against us in terms of the negotiating process.
The purpose of most of the first meetings we had from 2009 to 2011 was to make the people in the US understand that the people they were negotiating with in Mexico had a different point of view than our predecessors; we wanted to bridge trust and confidence between us. There are many examples that show how we did that, but the thing is that the process was not easy. There were many bumps in the road and many ups and downs. It was a see-saw. Because of the US distrust of the Mexican side but also between the seven basin states.
The first thing we said was, “You don’t have to see the basin as a transboundary basin. You have to see it as a whole in terms of water users and environmental needs and issues.” We also said that we didn’t want a single item minute. The US only proposed that Mexico needed to join the shortage- that Mexico needed to comply with a certain amount of water savings when Lake Mead was at certain levels. We said that was not an integral view.
You need to see the problem as a whole. It is pointless to see it as only us. We said, “Why don’t we see it as a basin. Why don’t you store Mexican water? Why don’t you store Mexican conserved water? Why don’t we exchange Mexican water? Why don’t we share water in surpluses? Why don’t you share the concern to protect and restore the Colorado River Basin?”
We wanted the “whole enchilada”. The “whole enchilada” will be the new view regarding how to do things for the basin. The US was afraid to accept that because they said Mexico would not comply. So, the decision was to reduce the scope of the Minute in terms of timeframe and goals to be reached. That’s the reason Minute 319 has only a certain timeframe, even though Mexico proposed to extend it.
During the negotiation, we identified those people who were listened in each of the seven basin states. We talked to them each separately in order to make them understand that the proposal was an honest proposal. They wanted to have a short-term minute and they wanted to prove that it would be possible and then they wanted to renegotiate. We said, “On one condition. The concept of the ‘whole enchilada.’
If they want to put more on the ‘whole enchilada’ this next time around, that’s fine. But these are the things that are necessary to improve the Colorado River management. Minute 319 is the new baseline for what should be done in the Colorado River Basin. We need to have creative thinking.
Q: Do you consider Minute 319 to be an achievement?
A: Yes it is! I must say that we have presented it and written many articles to different journals presenting it from the point of view of Mexico. I presented it in World Water Week and in Geneva at the UN European Economic Commission. I know that Arizona presented it in Tajikistan. It is considered everywhere as a new concept and a new way for two countries to share a basin.
Take, for example, the concept of roommates. The US and Mexico are roommates on the Colorado River. We share everything. It is a very thin line between where the property of one ends and another begins.
We need to work together in a different way. Bob Snow said that the All-American Canal was a waste of time and money for both countries. We can do better than that, and we did with Minute 319.
From our point of view, Minute 319 is a success. The implementation should also make it a success and we are working hard to do that.
Q: The description of your panel presentation in the CWC Convention program asks about next steps. Specifically, will we see another Minute on the Colorado River?
A: The international recognition of Minute 319 is everywhere. You can see it documented and reported around the world. Having said that, many people have asked, “What’s next?”
For sure there will be a Minute 3xxx because of Mexico’s compromise to keep working in a different way with the US.
Tomorrow the process will start again. Together IBWC Mexican section and CONAGUA will begin to think in a creative way. What could be included in minute 3xxx? As we see it, at least there would be the same items that were included in Minute 319. Those are the cornerstones of the new baseline.
What we’ve started to think about is what else is needed. What was the problem with Minute 319? What can be improved in the implementation?
Q: What are your next priorities in relation to the Colorado River and future cooperative agreements?
A: The top priorities are to keep promoting the benefits of the success of the pulse flow and our new baseline. These two different aspects are internationally recognized. For the first time, two countries share the same view to conserve the environment in a transboundary basin. This is recognized around the world. That’s one thing.
Another thing is that we need to continue working together to develop projects for new water and projects for conserving our present water. We need to reduce the amount of water that is being used but also to increase the amount of water that can be shared. We need to be creative with that. The concept of ICMA (Intentionally Created Mexican Allocation) and ICS (Intentionally Created Surplus) is very important. Yes we can change water from ICMA to ICS but the system could also be improved by an exchange from ICS to ICMA. Why don’t we think both ways? What if Mexico develops many desalination plants? Mexico can give water to the US as long as Mexico doesn’t use it. How can we get that water to the US?
There are many possibilities and we need to develop the infrastructure for them. One thing that the US doesn’t want to break is the 1940 compact. The compact and water legal framework is a very small shirt that the US suffers. The problems that you had in the past in terms of water is one of the limitations that we always face. When we ask the states in the US to exchange water directly with Mexico they say that it is not possible because they have these agreements and compacts. That’s not a good way to do these things. The US in these terms is hanging on the past facing the future.
Climate change is a fact. Runoff is decreasing. Very hard times will come by, that’s for sure. We need to think and act differently. Why don’t we develop a parallel process to change things? What if we didn’t have these compacts and the present legal framework for water at all US levels? What can we envision for the Colorado River Basin in 50 years? We need to do this brainstorming in order to identify new things that can be started in Minute 3xx.