By Paco Zavala
This past Monday, October 5th, at 6:00 p.m., the International Boundary and Water Commission Minute 320, titled “General Framework for Binational Cooperation on Transboundary Issues in the Tijuana River Basin” was signed by representatives of the U.S. and Mexican governments during a solemn ceremony held at “El Cubo”, a space within Tijuana’s Cultural Center. For IBWC, it was signed by Mexican Commissioner Roberto F. Salmon Costelo, and U.S. Commissioner.
The ceremony was attended by David Gibson, Executive Officer of the San Diego Regional Water Control Board; Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve Manager Christopher M. Peregrin; German Lizola, representing Baja California governor Francisco Vega de Lamadrid; the U.S. Consul General in Tijuana, William A. Ostick; Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de León, Director General of Special Affairs for Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mexico Consul General in San Diego Remedios Gómez Arnau; IBWC Mexico Section Secretary Jose de Jesus Luevano ; and USIBWC Secretary Sally Spener.
Each of these distinguished guests presented on the advantages and benefits that Minute 320 will provide for both U.S. and Mexico residents.
Mexican Commissioner Roberto F. Salmon shared that this innovative agreements brings together the efforts of authorities and organizations in both countries aimed at improving conditions in the basin through jointly-identified projects. U.S. Commissioner Edward Drusina noted that “the radical reduction of the sediment, trash, and contaminants from the Tijuana River Basin will not be solved in in the sort-term, but we are committing to implement this Minute to get the job done.”
As we understand it, signing Minute 320 was of pressing importance, in light of transboundary studies that indicated the need to address flood control measures, surface and groundwater collection and reuse, sediment/solid waste entering cross-border flows, water quality & wastewater discharges, environmental protection and restoration, integrated and sustainable watershed management, climate change, and community involvement, among other issues.
The signing of this Minute marks the first agreement focused on addressing, under a framework for cooperation, issues in the Tijuana River Basin; particularly the ages-old issues of sediment control, trash, and water quality.
The objective of this Agreement is to benefit residents of both countries living in the Tijuana River Basin in the area of San Diego, California/Tijuana, Baja California through the sustainable management of its transboundary resources. By removing trash and taking actions aimed at eliminating sediment transport into the Tijuana River channel, the goal is to achieve this through sustainable, permanent actions that will once and for all address these priority issues.
This agreement will create and establish a Binational Core Group (BCG) that will include – in addition to representatives from the Mexico and U.S. sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission – federal, state, and local authorities, and non-government organizations from both countries. This group will study the issues and come up with recommendations on cooperative measures to address the issues of concern and define the strategies to implement them.
The signing of the agreement enables the Binational Core Group to address not only the priority issues, but other topics of mutual interest that impact and can benefit the Tijuana River Basin. For over three years, the two governments met to discuss issues, implement surveys, and consult each other prior to arriving at a document to be submitted for signing, and which will benefit residents on both sides of the border.
The Commissioners acknowledge that there are international issues of concern regarding storm runoffs that transport sediments, solid waste, and other contaminants that endanger the natural resources of the Tijuana River Basin.
None of these issues were considered in the Treaty for the Utilization of International Waters signed between the U.S. and Mexico on February 3rd, 1944, by Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Said document consists of 28 articles and a Protocol, of which 25 are treaty provisions, 2 are transitory provisions, and one is a final provision. Each of these articles contains paragraphs and subparagraphs, clearly identified by numbers and letters, in which the conditions of the Treaty are expressly set forth. It was signed by the representatives of both the U.S. and Mexico, and ratified by both countries’ Senates.
Of all its content, only Article 16 addresses the conditions for the distribution of the waters of the Tijuana River and for having reservoirs to store its flows. In the U.S., these are the Barrett and Morena Reservoirs, and in Mexico, the Abelardo L. Rodriguez Reservoir. The El Carrizo Reservoir stores waters from the Colorado River-Tijuana Aqueduct, and some of the runoff from this reservoir slips into the Upper Tijuana River Basin. As a result, the waters of the Tijuana River flow down into the Estuary and then discharge into the Pacific Ocean.
Back when the Treaty for the Utilization of International Waters was signed, these issues were not address, perhaps because it was thought that things would change in the future. To date, more than 20 additions/amendments have been made, and now, the signing of Minute 320 makes it its latest addition.