Press Room

Millions of People and Birds Benefit from New Water Agreement between U.S. and Mexico

Treaty expansion provides years of certainty for water users in both countries dependent on the Colorado River, paving the way for collaborative conservation efforts that protect people and birds.

SANTA FE, N.M. — Today, the National Audubon Society celebrates an update to the 1944 Water Treaty between the United States and Mexico that improves water security for water users in both countries.

“Water is the lifeblood of any ecosystem, and nowhere is water more precious than in the arid West,” said David Yarnold (@david_yarnold), Audubon’s president and CEO. “The Colorado River’s flow now trickles to a stop 100 miles from the sea, due to over-allocations and a historic drought. This is an urgent crisis for millions of people and birds, but this upgraded water agreement proves meaningful solutions are still possible.”

Known as Minute 323, the new language in the treaty secures commitments from the U.S. and Mexico to improve water conservation and storage along the Colorado River basin, voluntarily reduce water usage during times of drought, and support scientific monitoring in the desiccated Colorado River Delta for the benefit of both people and birds. A group of six non-governmental organizations from both countries, including the National Audubon Society, actively participated in the negotiation and drafting of the new treaty language, and remain committed to restoring the Delta.

“The new water agreement is a victory for more than 36 million water users in rural and urban communities on both sides of the border,” said Jennifer Pitt, Audubon’s Colorado River project director. “Leaders from the United States and Mexico have taken a giant leap forward to secure the reliability of the Colorado River, truly representing the best in international collaboration. As the two countries increase water security for people, they are also able to commit water and resources to conservation efforts that protect the millions of birds that depend on the Colorado River and its delta.”

The increasing pressures on western water have put birds in a perilous situation, one that will require creative approaches and unprecedented collaboration. Through its Western Water Initiative, Audubon leads water conservation and habitat restoration efforts in the Colorado River basin and across a network of saline lakes in the intermountain West. The forests and wetlands along the Colorado River provide habitat for more than 400 bird species, representing more than 40 percent of the species found in the American Southwest.

“The years of water security guaranteed by Minute 323 will give a boost to efforts to protect birds and the places they need across the arid West,” said Karyn Stockdale, director of Audubon’s Western Water Initiative. “Species like the Summer Tanager, western Yellow-billed Cuckoo and southwestern Willow Flycatcher depend on agreements like this that provide balanced solutions that work for both people and birds.”

Specifically, Minute 323:

  • Provides for Mexico to continue to store its water in Lake Mead, helping to keep reservoir levels high enough to avoid triggering dramatic cuts to Colorado River water users.
  • Includes an agreement between both the United States and Mexico for voluntary water cutbacks in times of droughts that further staves off triggering a shortage declaration. Should a shortage be declared, these new commitments will slow progress towards even larger water shortages.
  • Commits US water managers to invest $31.5M in water efficiency projects in Mexico that will result in savings of more than 200,000 acre-feet of water. In return, certain U.S. entities will receive a one-time water exchange, and over the long term Mexico will benefit by generating additional water from these conservation programs and improved infrastructure.
  • Obliges both the United States and Mexico to each provide water and funding for continued habitat restoration and scientific monitoring in the Colorado River Delta through 2026. 
  • Commits Audubon, along with partner NGOs, to match the federal commitments for water and funding.

In July 2017, Audubon published the Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline, a comprehensive scientific analysis detailing the nexus of water shortage, climate change and bird habitats along the Colorado River basin and across a network of salt lakes in intermountain West. A key takeaway from the report was the urgent need to continue and improve collaborative water conservation efforts like today’s binational agreement.

Click here to read FAQs about the Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline. To read the full report and learn more about Audubon’s Western Water Initiative, please visit www.audubon.org/conservation/western-water. Graphics attributable to "Lotem Taylor/National Audubon Society" available for download and use here.

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more how to help at www.audubon.organd follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.

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Contact: Nicolas Gonzalez, ngonzalez@audubon.org, (212) 979-3068.

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