Interior officials and Mexican diplomats shook hands and smiled for cameras Wednesday after pledging cooperation on the Colorado River. Just another ceremony in Washington, D.C.? Hardly.
The meeting marks a new era in Western water politics when parched communities in Nevada, Arizona and California are eyeing water south of the border, not just north from Colorado and our neighbors. "This takes some of the pressure off us as Coloradans," says Glenwood Springs water lawyer Jim Lochhead, a lead negotiator in the deal. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming must meet their obligation to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet annually to Arizona, Nevada and California, which, in turn, must send 1.5 million acre-feet to Mexico under a 1944 treaty.
If drought continues three more years, Las Vegas is projected to lose 40 percent of its water supply. If it continues five more years, it could lose 90 percent.
That's why they're looking to Mexico for salvation. Water talks between the two countries were set back dramatically in September when the main U.S. and Mexican envoys on the issue were killed, together, in a plane crash.
"We have no choice but to bring in supplies from the outside," says Southern Nevada Water Authority's Pat Mulroy, who also is eyeing piping in water from the Mississippi River to quench her customers. "Mark my words," she continues, "unless we do something considered outrageous by today's standards, the West is going to run dry."
The Mississippi seems to me rather far away. But the fact it is mentioned means that the West is getting rather nervous and desperate.
Mexicali, watch out!