How Will ‘America First’ Policies Impact Water Security on the Colorado River?

Water security on the Colorado River faces an ambiguous future, with the Minute 319 agreement set to expire.

By:  Meghan Curran, Lynx Global Intelligence

 

Tensions between the United States and its southern neighbor have risen steadily over the last few months. In January, a diplomatic standoff ensued as President Donald Trump announced his decision to move ahead with the construction of a border wall preceding Mexican President Pena Nieto’s White House visit, which was thereafter canceled.  The implications of President Donald Trump’s proposal to fund the building of a wall along the U.S-Mexico border by applying a 20% tax on Mexican imports disproportionately effects certain U.S. states. Colorado is one of these states.

Mexico is Colorado’s second largest market for export goods, besides Canada. In 2015, Colorado exported $1.08 billion in goods to Mexico, an 83% rise from 2010 levels, according to Commerce Department data (Denver Business Journal, 2017). Additionally, Colorado imported $1.72 billion in goods from Mexico in 2015 (a 164 % increase from 2010 levels). While there are numerous negative implications regarding trade between Colorado and Mexico under ‘America First’ policies, there are also human security concerns relevant to the increasing tension between the United States and Mexico.

One potential human security concern is water security, and the future of agreements between the U.S. and Mexico regarding the Colorado River. In 2012 the U.S. signed an agreement with Mexico establishing rules for managing water from the river, which runs from the Colorado Rockies to the Gulf of California. The river passes through seven states, and provided water for 33 million in the United States and Mexico. Under the 2012 arrangement, called Minute 319, the United States and Mexico agreed to share surpluses and shortages from the river.

In times of drought in the United States, Mexico agreed to accept less water in exchange for being able to store water in the United States during times of surplus, reducing the potential for harmful flooding. Prior to the 2012 agreement, the United States had sent the same amount of water to Mexico every year, despite the river’s waning levels and increasing concerns over drought in the U.S. southwest. Mexico, which has limited capacity for water storage, in return could store surplus water in Lake Mead, of great benefit to the U.S. since the lake is crucial to supplying water to the Las Vegas area. The United States also agreed as part of the arrangement, to support improvements to Mexico’s water infrastructure. Additionally, both the United States and Mexico agreed to provision a specific amount of water annually to the Colorado River delta area, which has become desert-like in recent years, endangering native plant, fish, and animal species. (New York Times, 2012)

Water security on the Colorado River faces an ambiguous future today, with the Minute 319 agreement set to expire at the end of 2017. With tenuous relations between the United States and Mexico persisting, and a water shortage on the river projected to be declared as early as 2018, the future of Colorado River, a lifeline for tens of millions of people on both sides of the border, is uncertain. It is still unclear how President Trump’s ‘America First’ policies might impact resolutions regarding future management of the river, but the delivery of water to 3 million Mexican households could potentially be at stake. Additionally, in 2016 Lake Mead recorded its lowest water levels since the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. Mexico’s willingness to continue to store water in Lake Mead in accordance with Minute 319 has the potential to significantly impact over 1 million people in the Las Vegas Valley, as well as the area’s massive tourism industry. (San Diego Union Tribune, 2016)

With water levels expected to continue to drop in the coming years, a renewed emphasis on binational cooperation between the United States and Mexico on the issue of water security is essential. Colorado, as both the source of this crucial waterway, and a key trading partner for Mexico, will no doubt have an essential role to play in helping to broker this future cooperation.

 

 

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Mexico is Colorado’s second-largest market for export goods, after Canada. Colorado exported $1.08 billion in goods to Mexico in 2015, up 83 percent from 2010 levels, according to Commerce Department data.

Manufactured food products represented about 25 percent of Colorado’s exports to Mexico in 2015, valued at $269.6 million. That was followed by chemicals (18 percent, $192.9 million), non-electrical machinery (10 percent, $112.1 million), and fabricated metal products (9 percent, $100.2 million).

And Colorado imported $1.72 billion in goods from Mexico in 2015, up 164 percent from 2010. Roughly half of those Mexico-to-Colorado imports were classified as computer and electronics products, valued at $856.3 million.

No. 2 was plastics and rubber products (9 percent, $150.8 million), followed by non-electrical machinery (8 percent, $135.6 million) and electrical equipment, appliances and components (5.5 percent, $95.3 million).

What will a Trump Administration Mean for Conflict Around the World?

Co-Founder at Lynx Global Intelligence

 

Little appears certain within the incoming administration, policy-wise. “Predictioneering” will prove especially difficult considering the president-elect’s lack of government service record, exacerbated by waffling on issues like climate change. For the purpose of analysis, let’s assume “conflict” a unitary measure*, which will either increase or decrease during the next four years.

Conflict around the world will decrease:

 Trump has expressed a willingness to act in a way that appears pragmatic to some. His selection of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State is nothing less than an overture to long-standing geopolitical frenemy, Russia. In keeping with Trump’s assertions about Putin’s greatness, the choice firms up what looks to be a warming in relations between the two nations. While this may produce a peace dividend of sorts for both countries (especially Russia), it is precisely this selectivity in friend-making that could raise the specter of conflict elsewhere. Nevertheless, a focus on pragmatic, pro-business cabinet members is a plus. Pragmatism leads to compromise, avoiding conflict and war.

Conflict around the world will increase:

 While a direct warming of relations with a former foe may prove beneficial in the short-term for Russia, the new relationship will come at a cost, certainly to those who inhabit Russia’s immediate periphery. As the residents of Crimea can surely relate, Russia’s willingness to use force covertly has not been meaningfully checked by the West. Residents in Syria will mirror that same sentiment, but regarding the overt use of violence to achieve political ends. The less willing a US president is to provide leadership that stands up to war crimes and the instruments of armed conflict, it becomes more likely nations will feel at liberty to commit such crimes. Globally, a selective preference for Russia as a partner will alienate the Chinese. China seeks pragmatic, long-term partnerships, not ignorance (see: Trump Taiwan call) or prolonged conflict. Preference towards Russian interests could come at the expense of relations with America’s second largest trading partner, China (following peaceful Canada at #1). Ignorance and a lack of respect for protocol, especially in diplomacy, raise both tensions and the risks a tactical mistake will be made, sparking war. That reality unfortunately promotes the idea that global conflict may increase in years to come.

 

 

*In reality, measures of human conflict as understood by scholars is a surprisingly complex measure. Everything from food insecurity to human rights abuses can spark conflict, which also varies in scale, latency and intensity.