The IBWC and climate change

When I taught international relations I often referred to a great model for other nations that the U.S and Mexico invented: the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).  The IBWC was born when the U.S. and Mexico converted the old International Boundary Commission–which had completed surveys to determine the border and still maintained the border monuments between the two nations–into the more powerful and modernized International Boundary and Water Commission IBWC to adjudicate the 1944 water treaty they had just completed.Today we know so much more about water issues and it’s time for another revision.

At the time it was written, the treaty was the most forward-leaning water treaty in the world in anticipating eventual water shortages and issues. But when the treaty was written to demarcate the waters it did so following a particularly wet period in the southwest. The data used then was the only record of precipitation that we had, so we used it since we knew so little about tree ring and other data sets. We have not since seen a similar wet era since, and forecasts show even drier years ahead under climate change scenarios.

In fact, a few years ago while preparing a paper I accessed the latest models and judged that the U.S. would not meet its treaty obligations to Mexico on the Colorado River about once every three years. By the time the paper was published the likelihood was 9 of 10 years and we approach the first declared and negotiated shortage today.

The IBWC operates with ad hoc and local Technical Advisory Committees and local Citizen Forums (I served on the San Diego forum a decade ago). Neither is permanent or empowered. What has been advocated–and which is something I again call for–is a permanent Science Advisory Board that can sift through local, regional and national water and other environmental data and provide policy options for both sides when it comes to their shared waters and futures. Such a fix is easy, immediate in benefit and overdue.