Secretary Sally Jewell presents Minute 319 Binational Partnership the “Partners in Conservation Award”
Top officials from the U.S. Department of Interior, State Department and Bureau of Reclamation gathered Thursday to present the “Partners in Conservation Award” to partnerships that “achieved exemplary conservation results through cooperation and innovation across America.”
This year’s award recipients included representatives from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Sonoran Institute who have worked closely with other conservation groups and government officials from the U.S. and Mexico to orchestrate and secure a historic, binational, water-sharing agreement committed to implementing environmental restoration to the dry Colorado River delta.
This agreement, formally known as Minute 319, was among the first between nations to commit to sustaining shared natural values.
“We all knew going into this partnership that success would require buy-in from sovereigns with significant differences in water management practices, not to mention language, systems of governance and culture,” said Jennifer Pitt, director for EDF’s Colorado River Project. “Thanks to Interior’s willingness to work with conservation organizations, we were able to break down physical, political and cultural barriers to benefit water users on both sides of the border.”
Federal officials from the U.S. and Mexico worked with EDF and other conservation organizations on every aspect of the water agreement, including surplus and shortage sharing, rules that allow Mexico to store water in U.S. reservoirs, binational financing of a canal lining project to reduce seepage and water loss, and providing a venue for discussing future cooperative binational projects.
Pitt adds, “If we can show the long-term benefits of this five-year agreement, then there’s no limit to what we can achieve with long-term commitments to sharing water across borders.”
U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell provided the keynote address at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) conference in Las Vegas last week. Jewell addressed hundreds of water providers including representatives from cities, agricultural irrigation districts and hydro-power administrations, among others, on the need for a balanced approach to bridge the growing gap between Colorado River water supply and demand.
The Secretary did not shy away from discussing the imminent threats posed by climate change on diminishing river flows and water supplies. She described this state of the river as the “new normal” and urged water managers to join her in supporting "healthy watersheds and sustainable, secure water supplies.” Jewell pointed to the binational agreement with Mexico, signed in 2012, as an example of cooperative water management. She commended the agreement for its help in initiating an ecological rejuvenation process for the Colorado River Delta.
For next Basin-wide steps, Jewell pointed to the proactive path set forth in the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. With improved water conservation from both urban and agricultural users, water recycling and water banking, we can begin to level out the imbalance between supply and demand in an expedient and cost-effective fashion. Solving this water shortage is possible as long as cooperation and what’s best for the river itself and its users are the ultimate goals.
Secretary Jewell's clear support for this road map can allow stakeholders to forge ahead in hopes of restoring the proper balance for the environments, people, wildlife and economies that depend on a healthy Colorado River.
A statewide Arizona poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on October 3-7 revealed that ensuring a reliable supply of water is now a top priority for Arizona voters, positioning fifth on a list of important issues, just below jobs and above state spending, taxes and crime. 74 percent of respondents said reliable water supplies are a “serious” or “very serious” concern.
Respondents also “strongly supported” incentives to promote water conservation and efficiency at the level of 71 percent for residential use and 64 percent for agriculture.
These results were encouraging, as they demonstrated to Arizona policymakers voter willingness to discuss water issues and solutions that benefit future generations – topics that have previously been politically unviable in Arizona and other Western states.
Even more importantly, the results showed specific support for water conservation – identified as a fast and cost-effective solution in the Bureau of Reclamation's Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study.
Water conservation programs have successfully been implemented all across the Colorado River Basin, but there is certainly room for more. Since Arizona will be among the first to feel the effects of shortages, it's prudent that Arizona residents support more water conservation. But conservation in Arizona, alone, is not enough.
All Colorado River water users – in Arizona as well as the six other U.S. river basin states and two states in Mexico – depend on a healthy river system for reliable water supplies. The sooner all of these water users can increase the amount of water they conserve, the less vulnerable they will be to water shortages, both today and for future generations.
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