Rio Grande/Rio Bravo
There are two main applicable international treaties. The first is the Boundary Convention (“1889 Convention”), which was signed in Washington, D.C., United States on 1 March 1889, and entered into force on 24 December 1890. The Boundary Convention established the International Boundary Commission (“IBC”) to apply the rules in the 1884 Convention between the United States and Mexico, and was later modified by the Banco Convention of 20 March 1905 to retain the Rio Grande and the Colorado River as the international boundary.
The second is the Treaty Relating to the Utilization of the Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers, and of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) from Fort Quitman, Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico (the “Water Treaty”) (which was signed in Washington, D.C. on 3 February 1944) and the Supplementary Protocol (which was signed in Washington, D.C. on 14 November 1944). The Water Treaty came into force on 8 November 1945 by the exchange of ratifications between the United States and Mexico. The Water Treaty distributed the waters in the international segment of the Rio Grande from Fort Quitman, Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. The Water Treaty authorized Mexico and the United States to construct, operate, and maintain dams on the main channel of the Rio Grande. The Water Treaty also changed the name of the IBC to the International Boundary And Water Commission (“IBWC”) and, under Article 3, directed the IBWC to give preferential attention to border sanitation problems.
Additional bilateral treaties that are relevant to the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) include the following:
- The Treaty of 2 February 1848, which established the United States-Mexico international boundary, and the Treaty of 30 December 1853, which modified the boundary to where it exists today.
- The Convention of 29 July 1882, which established another temporary commission to resurvey and place additional monuments along the western land boundary from El Paso, Texas, United States/Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico to San Diego, California, United States/Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.
- The Convention of 12 November 1884, which established the rules for determining the location of the boundary when the meandering rivers transferred tracts of land from one bank of the river to the other.
- The Convention of 21 May 1906 (“1906 Convention”), which provided for the distribution between the United States and Mexico of the waters of the Rio Grande above Fort Quitman, Texas to the El Paso-Juárez Valley. The 1906 Convention allotted to Mexico 60,000 acre-feet annually of the waters of the Rio Grande to be delivered in accordance with a monthly schedule at the headgate to Mexico’s Acequia Madre just above Juárez, Chihuahua. To facilitate such deliveries, the United States constructed, at its expense, the Elephant Butte Dam in U.S. territory. The 1906 Convention also provides that in case of extraordinary drought or serious accident to the irrigation system in the United States, the amount of water delivered to the Mexican Canal shall be diminished in the same proportion as the water delivered to lands under the irrigation system in the United States downstream of the Elephant Butte Dam.
- The Convention of 1 February 1933, through which Mexico and the United States agreed to jointly construct, operate, and maintain, through the IBC, the Rio Grande Rectification Project, which straightened, stabilized, and shortened the river boundary in the El Paso-Juárez area.
- The Chamizal Convention of 29 August 1963, which resolved the 100 year-old Chamizal Boundary Dispute at El Paso, Texas, United States/Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. The IBWC relocated and placed concrete lines on 4.4 miles of the channel of the Rio Grande in order to transfer 437 acres of land to Mexico.
- The Treaty of 23 November 1970 (“1970 Treaty”), which resolved all the pending boundary differences between Mexico and the United States and maintained the Rio Grande and the Colorado River as the international boundary. The 1970 Treaty established procedures to avoid the loss or gain of territory by either Mexico or the United States incident to future changes in the course of the river. The 1970 Treaty charges the IBWC with carrying out its provisions.
The Member States of the IBWC are Mexico and the United States.
The Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) has its origin at the Continental Divide in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado in the United States and cuts through the middle of New Mexico to the junction of Texas and Chihuahua, where it serves as the international boundary between Mexico and the United States. The river extends for 1,885 miles, ultimately flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, and the river and its tributaries drain a land area of 182,200 square miles. According to Article 2 of the Water Treaty, the jurisdiction of the IBWC extends to the border sections of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) and the Colorado River, the land boundary between the United States and Mexico, and works located upon their common boundary. Each Member State, however, retains jurisdiction over the works in its territory.
The Water Treaty grants the IBWC the status of an international body. The IBWC consists of a Mexican and a United States Section, each headed by an Engineer Commissioner. The Commissioners and their staff possess certain diplomatic privileges and immunities. In addition, materials and equipment to be used for the construction, operation, and maintenance of works constructed through the IBWC do not need to pay import or export customs duties.
The IBWC replaced the IBC that was established under the 1889 Convention. The responsibilities of the IBC were generally limited to resolving boundary problems. The Water Treaty extended the 1889 Convention indefinitely and broadened the scope of the IBWC to include water issues. According to the Water Treaty, the IBWC retained the duties and powers of the former IBC by the 1889 Convention, as well as other treaties and agreements in force between the United States and Mexico.
The IBWC is responsible for applying the boundary and water treaties between the United States and Mexico, including to:
- Undertake investigations, and develop plans for joint boundary and water works;
- Construct, operate, and maintain the joint boundary and water works, including international storage dams, reservoirs, and hydroelectric power plants (as well as stream-gauging stations which provide the hydrographical data used to determine the national ownership of the waters);
- Implement other rights and obligations assumed by the United States and Mexico in the 1889 Convention and the Water Treaty, especially in regards to improving border sanitation and other water quality problems, demarcating the land boundary, using levees and floodways projects to protect the land along the rivers, and preserving the Rio Grande and the Colorado River as the international boundary;
- Report to the United States and Mexico on such matters as deemed necessary or as requested by them; and
- Resolve disputes between the United States and Mexico regarding the interpretation or application of the Water Treaty.
The IBWC is an international body composed of the United States Section and the Mexican Section, each headed by an Engineer Commissioner appointed by the respective president of each country. Each Section is administered independently of the other. The United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (“USIBWC”) is a federal government agency and is headquartered in El Paso, Texas. The USIBWC operates under the foreign policy guidance of the U.S. Department of State. The Mexican Section is under the administrative supervision of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations and is headquartered in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico.
In addition, each Section includes at least of two principal engineers, a legal adviser, a secretary, plus other staff as the Section requires. The Water Treaty does not discuss the frequency of meetings between the Commissioners. While the proceedings of the IBWC are governed by the 1889 Convention, the IBWC has also developed internal procedural rules and regulations.
The USIBWC is comprised of the Executives Offices of the Commissioner (including the Office of the Legal Advisor, the Foreign Affairs Office, the Washington DC Liaison Office, the Public Affairs Office, the Human Resources Office, and the Compliance Programs Office) and an Operations Department, Engineering Department, and Administration Department. The Operations Department, which is headed by the Principal Engineer of Operations and had eight field offices, is responsible for providing technical and policy advice and ensuring that all of the operations and maintenance activities performed are consistent with treaty requirements. For example, among other responsibilities, it manages 20,000 acres of floodplains and 500 miles of levees, oversees half of the boundary monuments and markers, and performs the water accounting to determine, jointly with the Mexican Section, the ownership of the Rio Grande and the Colorado River waters. The Engineering Department, which is headed by the Principal Engineer of Engineering, is also responsible for providing technical and policy advice, as well as administering the engineering, environmental management, and geographic information system functions of the USIBWC (such as conducting water qualify monitoring and hydraulic studies). The Administration Department, which is headed by a Chief Administrative Office, provides administrative support for the entire USIBWC through its acquisitions, budget and financial services, information management, and general services divisions.
The Mexico Section is formally known as the Comisión Internacional de Límites y Aguas Entre México y los Estados Unidos Sección Mexicana (“CILA”). CILA’s mandate is to coordinate with the USIBWC to better the living conditions of those who currently depend on the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) and to ensure that the river will continue to be a water resource for future generations. The National Commission on Water is in charge of regulating and administering the water studies. The headquarter offices of CILA are located in Ciudad Juárez, but the Mexican government has established additional offices along the border in Tijuana, Mexicali, Nogales, Acuña, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo. The Mexico Section is led by a Director General who works out of the Ciudad Juárez office. In addition, each office also has principal engineers who perform the studies on the river’s water pursuant to CILA’s mandate.
The U.S. and Mexican Commissioners are in continuous contact. See Functions.
Implementation by the IBWC of provisions of treaties and other international agreements frequently requires specific agreements by the IBWC for the planning, construction, operation, cost sharing, and maintenance of joint works. These decisions of the IBWC are categorized as “Minutes,” which contain recommendations to the United States and Mexico. Minutes are recorded in Spanish and English and are submitted to the governments of the United States and Mexico within three days of being signed. Except where the specific approval of the governments is required by treaty, the Minutes are considered to be approved as long as they are not disapproved by the governments within thirty days. Once approved, the Minutes enter into force as binding obligations on both Mexico and the United States. There are more than 300 binding Minutes.
The Commissioners may also submit recommendations for new projects to their respective governments in order to try to resolve new, or anticipated, boundary or water problems. The United States and Mexican governments, as well as state or local authorities, may also propose a project to the IBWC through their respective Sections. The IBWC will then conduct a joint investigation, and publish the results in a joint report by the Principal Engineers of the United States and Mexican Sections. If the investigation concludes that a project is needed, feasible, and can be justified as an international project, the IBWC can endorse the conclusions of the investigation in a Minute and recommend the project to the United States and Mexican governments. If the project is authorized and funded by both the United States and Mexico, the countries will each work, according to an approved agreement, on their portion of the project through their respective Sections and under the supervisions of the IBWC.
The IBWC is tasked with settling the differences that occur between the United States and Mexico concerning the interpretation or application of the Water Treaty, subject to the approval of both countries. In the event that the Commissioners cannot reach an agreement, the Sections will inform their respective governments in order for discussions to commence through diplomatic channels so that the United States and Mexico, where appropriate, can reach an agreement on settling the dispute.
Data on water flow and reservoir condition are collected and updated daily on the IBWC website. The collated stream gauging record and records of waters in storage, rainfall and evaporation stations and of the measurements of the quality of waters are published annually in the Flow of the Rio Grande and Tributaries and Related Data, an IBWC bulletin. Data on water quality and quantity is also available on IBWC’s Geographic Information System.
The IBWC submits to the United States and Mexico an annual report on its activities.
The United States and Mexican Sections each maintain their own staff, and each Member State funds the cost of the operation of its Section.
Unless they have reached an agreement specifying otherwise, the United States and Mexico generally share the costs of projects concerning the mutual control and utilization of boundary river waters in proportion to their respective benefits derived. But for projects involving man-made works or operations in one Member State that is causing, or threatening to cause, damage in the other country, the Member State where the problem originated is responsible for the cost of the project. For more information on projects, see Decision Making.
Under the 1906 Convention, the United States—barring extraordinary drought or serious accidents to the United States irrigation system—had agreed to deliver 60,000 acre-feet of water annually to Mexico from the Rio Grande at the Acequia Madre head works.
Article 4 of the Water Treaty allocates between the United States and Mexico the waters of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) between Fort Quitman, Texas, United States and the Gulf of Mexico. Mexico receives:
- All of the waters reaching the main channel of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) from the San Juan and Alamo Rivers, including the return flow from the lands irrigated from the latter two rivers.
- One-half of the flow in the main channel of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) below the lowest major international storage dam, so far as said flow is not specifically allocated under this Treaty to either of the two countries.
- Two-thirds of the flow reaching the main channel of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) from the Conchos, San Diego, San Rodrigo, Escondido and Salado Rivers and the Las Vacas Arroyo.
- One-half of all other flows not otherwise allotted by this Article occurring in the main channel of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo), including the contributions from all the unmeasured tributaries, which are those not named in this Article, between Fort Quitman and the lower major international storage dam.
The United States receives:
- All of the waters reaching the main channel of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) from the Pecos and Devils Rivers, Goodenough Spring, and Alamito, Terlingua, San Felipe and Pinto Creeks.
- One-half of the flow in the main channel of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) below the lowest major international storage dam, so far as said flow is not specifically allotted under this Treaty to either of the two countries.
- One-third of the flow reaching the main channel of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) from the Conchos, San Diego, San Rodrigo, Escondido and Salado Rivers and the Las Vacas Arroyo, provided that this third shall not be less, as an average amount in cycles of five consecutive years, than 350,000 acre-feet (431,721,000 cubic meters) annually. The United States shall not acquire any right by the use of the waters of the tributaries named in this subparagraph, in excess of the said 350,000 acre-feet (431,721,000 cubic meters) annually, except the right to use one-third of the flow reaching the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) from said tributaries, although such one-third may be in excess of that amount.
- One-half of all other flows not otherwise allotted by this Article occurring in the main channel of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo), including the contributions from all the unmeasured tributaries, which are those not named in this Article, between Fort Quitman and the lowest major international storage dam.
Furthermore, under Article 10 of the Water Treaty, the United States agrees, barring extraordinary drought or serious accident to the United States irrigation system, to provide to Mexico a guaranteed annual quantity of 1,500,000 acre-feet (1,850,234,000) from the Colorado River. In addition, if the Colorado River has a surplus of water in excess of Mexico’s guaranteed allocation and the supply needs in the United States, the United States agrees to deliver additional water from the Colorado River to Mexico, up to a maximum annual quantity of 1,700,000 acre-feet (2,096,000 cubic meters).
The IBWC monitors ownership in waters stored at the international dams, and this data is available on the IBWC’s website. The IBWC determines ownership in the reservoirs on a weekly basis. The IBWC also oversees the collection of field data, the exchange of data between the United States and Mexico, and the computation of national ownership on a weekly basis.
The USIBWC has established five Citizens’ Forums in order to promote the sharing of information about USIBWC activities with the general public in relevant areas of the United States. The five Citizens’ Forums are: (1) South Bay Citizens’ Forum (established in 2002 for the public in San Diego County, California), (2) Colorado River Citizens’ Forum (established in 2003 for the public in Yuma County, Arizona and Imperial County, California); (3) Southeast Arizona Citizens’ Forum (established in 2005 for the public in Southeast Arizona); (4) Rio Grande Citizens Forum (established in 1999 for the public between Percha Dam, New Mexico and Fort Quitman, Texas); and (5) Lower Rio Grande Citizens’ Forum (established in 2003 for the public in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas).
Both Sections make a range of information and documents publicly available on their websites. For example, CILA’s website includes a directory of contact information for the staff at all of the Mexican office locations and regularly posts press releases to keep the public updated on developments concerning the IBWC.
According to Article 28, the Water Treaty “shall continue in force until terminated by another Treaty concluded for that purpose between the two Governments.”
- International Boundary and Water Commission – Mexican Section, available at http://www.sre.gob.mx/cila/.
- International Boundary and Water Commission – United States Section, available at http://www.ibwc.state.gov/.
- Monitoring the Water Quality of the Nation’s Large Rivers, NASQAN National Stream Quality Accounting Network—United States Geological Survey, available at http://water.usgs.gov/nasqan/docs/riogrndfact/riogrndfactsheet.html.
- Helen Ingram and David R. White, International Boundary and Water Commission: An Institutional Mismatch for Resolving Transboundary Water Problems, 33 NAT. RESOURCES J. 153 (1993).
- Stephen P. Mumme, The Background and Significance of Minute 261 of the International Boundary and Water Commission, 11 Cal. W. Int’l L.J. 223 (1981).
- Stephen P. Mumme and Scott T. Moore, Agency Autonomy in Transboundary Resource Management: The United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico, 30 NAT. RESOURCES J. 661 (1990).
- International Boundary and Water Commission: Two Alternatives for Improving Wastewater Treatment at the United States-Mexico Border, United States Government Accountability Office, 24 Apr. 2008, available athttp://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08595r.pdf.
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Depending on the project scope the treaty may not be applicable to all projects
- Implementation of the Strategic Action Program of the Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem
- Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS)
- Regional Programme of Action and Demonstration of Sustainable Alternatives to DDT for Malaria Vector Control in Mexico and Central America
- Meso-American Barrier Reef System II
- Wider Caribbean Initiative for Ship-Generated Waste
- Reduction of Environmental Impact from Tropical Shrimp Trawling Through the Introduction of By-Catch Reduction Technologies and Change of Management
- Integrated Transboundary Ridges-to-Reef Management of the Mesoamerican Reef
- Regional Framework for Sustainable Use of the Rio Bravo
- Integrated Assessment and Management of the Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem
- Sustainable Management of Bycatch in Latin America and Caribbean Trawl Fisheries (REBYC-II LAC)
- Catalysing Implementation of the Strategic Action Programme for the Sustainable Management of Shared Living Marine Resources in the Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems (CMLE+)
- Sustainable Management of the Shared Marine Resources of the Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem (CLME) and Adjacent Regions