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U.S. and Mexico Sign Treaty for Mutual Use of Rivers’ Waters (1944)

International Boundary and Water Commission

Silent | 1944

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  •  U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for his work in establishing the United Nations 
  •  Mexican Ambassador to the United States Francisco Castillo Nájera 
  •  U.S. Ambassador to Mexico George S. Messersmith 
  •  U.S. Commissioner of IBWC Lawrence M. Lawson 
  •  Mexico Commissioner of IBWC Rafael Fernández MacGregor 
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This film captures scenes of the Treaty for the Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande being signed by officials on February 3, 1944 in Washington D.C. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Mexican Ambassador to the United States Francisco Castillo Nájera, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico George S. Messersmith, and International Water and Boundary Commissioners Lawrence M. Lawson of the U.S. and Rafael Fernández MacGregor of Mexico each sign the treaty before it is officially sealed. The treaty, known as the Water Treaty of 1944, established water entitlements for Mexico and the U.S. and gave IBWC authority to implement and enforce the allocation of the shared water resources between the two countries. The treaty also dictates that IBWC investigate and report to both governments the need and opportunity for hydroelectric plants, international storage dams, and other flood control works on boundary rivers.
The International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) has its roots in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsen Treaty of 1853, both of which established (and re-established) the U.S.-Mexico border, and also established commissions to survey and map the new U.S.-Mexico border, designating landmarks to mark the border. As the rivers that created the borders changed their courses naturally, land changed jurisdiction, and the International Boundary Commission (IBC), the IBWC's predecessor, was established in 1889 to apply rules that resulted from the Rio Grande and Colorado Rivers' roles as the boundaries between the two countries. In 1906, the two countries signed their first water distribution treaty, the Convention of March 1, 1906, which designated portions of the rivers to each country. In 1933, the two countries began joint river projects to stabilize the Rio Grande, and in 1944, the countries formed the IBWC to enforce allocations of the river and began work on dams that would be operated and maintained by both countries. The IBWC has been integral in resolving boundary disputes for the two countries over the following decades and in constructing dams and reservoirs that stabilize the boundary rivers, keeping them on course to maintain consistent borders and benefits for the U.S. and Mexico.