Delta water treaty needs amending

  Dear HCN,

I read with interest Michelle Nijhuis' fine piece on the Colorado Delta. As HCN so aptly puts it, the issue is really whether or not environmentalists can find the means to change the Law of the River. While I support and applaud the legal efforts of the Delta coalition (Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, et al.) to tip the balance a little so as to sustain a trickle to the Delta, it seems to me it is high time to shore up some of the basic institutional architecture sustaining the current imbalance that so much favors development over ecology.

One of the linchpins of the present allocation system is the 1944 Water Treaty which, by the way, trumps the 1922 allocation agreement if push comes to shove. The Water Treaty has been untouchable for half a century and has so been avoided by the environmental community, many of whom regarded treaty-tinkering a waste of time and funds. On the other hand, it has been "amended" from time to time, as Nijhuis so delicately put it, and the time is ripe for another amendment, this time to the Treaty's Article 3 - an antiquarian brief if ever there was.

Article 3 specifies the order of priorities for allocating water under the treaty and does so in this order of uses: domestic and municipal; agriculture and stock raising; electric power; other industrial uses; navigation; fishing and hunting; any other beneficial uses.

Nowhere is ecology or environment referenced, relegating the lot to last priority in the treaty system.

It is high time to change this. My suggestion, frankly, is to reach a binational agreement through the International Boundary and Water Commission that technically incorporates ecology and environment in the categories of either navigation, or fishing and hunting, or both. If this was done, it would provide environmentalists with greater manuevering room under the Treaty, and the Delta would be better off.

We'd be better off, of course, if the two countries decided to pump life into the anachronistic "navigation" provision, but I'll save that for another missive.

Stephen P. Mumme
Fort Collins, Colorado

The writer is a professor at the Department of Political Science at Colorado State University.

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