31 May 2008

Down Mexico Way

If you think that people in California have it bad, read this article on the effects of the dying Colorado River in Mexico:
One hundred years ago, 30-ton steamboats made their way up the mouth of the Colorado. Now, at low tide, there is no longer enough water flowing downriver to float the Cucapa's 20-foot-long pangas and their cargo. For all his hard work, Figueroa ended the day mired in the nearly dry riverbed, a mile short of his destination, his fish losing much of their freshness and value.

"Malo viento," he kept saying. But it was the river, not an "evil wind," that had let him down.

Dams, drought, climate change, urban growth, industrial agriculture and politics on both sides of the border are to blame, and none of those adverse conditions will reverse any time soon.

Reservoirs have been drawn down to historically low levels, and some scientists predict that under the influence of climate change, the river's annual flow could drop by 50% over the next 40 years.

Despite heavy snowfall in the central Rocky Mountains this year, river managers in the U.S. continue to advise the states that depend on the Colorado River to prepare for water shortages within five years.

Measures to shore up U.S. reserves, meanwhile, are likely to make water even more scarce in Mexico.

For many years, Mexico has benefited from an unofficial surplus over its meager original allotment of river flow. The extra water comes from a combination of underground seepage from an unlined diversion canal in California, and storm runoff that makes its way south of the border.

The U.S. is in the process of stanching the fugitive flow by lining much of the All American Canal, a 90-mile-long irrigation ditch in California's Imperial Valley. Plans also are underway to build a small reservoir to catch 60% to 70% of the surplus surface water before it reaches Mexico.

The extra water has been a boon to crops in the arid Mexicali Valley and a godsend to the Colorado River Delta, where the Cucapa and hundreds of other poor fishermen eke out a living. Marine biologists believe that the corvina and other fish rebounded from the brink of extinction largely as a result of periodic high flows that flushed through the mouth of the river.

"To the extent it survives at all, the environment down there lives off the slop, off unplanned releases," said Peter Culp, a water lawyer and consultant to the Tucson-based Sonoran Institute, a nonprofit group that has been working on delta restoration.

[snip]

Across the city, shiny black and blue barrels dot the rooftops of new housing developments, barrels in which residents store water for use when none is flowing through their faucets. Often, the shutdowns last days.

In Lomas de la Presa, a middle-class neighborhood where some houses cost the equivalent of $40,000, resident Raul Natzu said the water flows about four hours a day. "There's enough for essential uses, but no water for flowers or anything outside."

In ramshackle neighborhoods like Puesta del Sol, where people erect makeshift dwellings from plywood, cinder blocks and surplus garage doors, water doesn't flow at all. Instead, residents buy what they can afford from roving trucks. They store the water in rain barrels and dole it out as needed to bathe, flush toilets, and wash dishes and clothes.
The US overallocated the Colorado years ago (setting a baseline that was too high), and -- as today's "high flows" equal yesterday's "average flows" -- those allocations are even more imbalanced. Mexico, as the recipient of "left-overs" is getting less and less, with terrible environmental, economic and social consequences that do not make the gringos look like good neighbors.

Bottom Line: As water in the west gets scarcer, the weak will suffer.

8 comments:

J said...

The US overallocated the Colorado years ago (setting a baseline that was too high), and -- as today's "high flows" equal yesterday's "average flows" -- those allocations are even more imbalanced. Mexico, as the recipient of "left-overs" is getting less and less...

David, I am not sure I understand. The baseline was set on past average flows, which are high flows today, so Mexico's fixed quantity should be relatively increasing. Mexico does not receive leftovers, as far as I know. There are no leftovers in fact.

As said, I may be wrong, please explain.

J said...

Mexico, as the recipient of "left-overs" is getting less and less

David, I am not sure I understand. Mexico receives a fixed amount of water, so if the baseline was fixed too high in the past, that is the USA's problem.

The leftovers over the quota are not significant.

David Zetland said...

@J -- I am referring to leftovers about Mexico's 1.5maf right. They USED to be significant. (They will be even smaller when "Drop 2" goes into operation and "saves" unused releases from going past the border.)

J said...

Yes, there will be no more leftovers for Mexico.

Unfortunately they got used to these windfalls and feel cheated by their stopping.

David Zetland said...

EVERYONE feels cheated when things change that they took for granted. That's why damage to the environment, expensive oil, lost jobs, etc. are so upsetting. We evolved for cycles (seasons) -- not for discontinuities.

J said...

"Malo viento," he kept saying.

Really? That's not Spanish. It sounds to me as a WASP trying pathetically to speak Spanish.

No offense intended. You have good intentions.

Dom Reaper said...

J, read the 1922 compact, the allocation was not based on 'average' (true average) flows.
And the "malo viento" is direct quote from the story in the LA Times, not the fault of Aguanomics. And if you knew Mexico, you'd realize there are people who don't speak perfect Spanish. Geez.

CRG said...

I know I'm a little late on this discussion (ok, 2 years late), but I'll give it a go anyway. Mexico's allotment is more than Wyoming's, New Mexico's, and Nevada's, and about as much as Utah's, so it's right in the middle of the apportionments doled out among the various users.

As far as the unapportioned amounts that Mexico has been able to use in the past through excess seepage or spills, it's a little like two neighbors, one with a really crappy sprinkler that has been overwatering his lawn for years. Neighbor #2 plants his rose garden in the overspray and takes advantage of the free water. Does he have a right to complain (let alone sue) when neighbor #1 fixes his sprinklers and he has to start watering his own roses?