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Synopsis of the International Agreements Establishing and Institutionalizing the International Boundary and Water Commission

I. 1848-1856

The International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico (IBWC) has its roots in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which established a temporary joint boundary commission to survey, mark and map the new boundary between the two countries.

Article 3

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement Between the United States and Mexico." signed February 2, 1848 (TS 207, 9 Stat. 922-43)

"...In order to designate the Boundary line with due precision, upon authoritative maps, and to establish the ground landmarks which shall show the limits of both Republics, as described in the present Article, the two Governments shall each appoint a Commissioner and a Surveyor, who, before the expiration of one year from the date of the exchange of ratifications of this treaty, shall meet at the Port of San Diego, and proceed to run and mark the said boundary in it's whole course, to the Mouth of the Rio Bravo del Norte. They shall keep journals and make out plans of their operations; and the result, agreed upon by them, shall be deemed a part of this Treaty, and shall have the same force as if it were inserted therein. The two Governments will amicably agree regarding what may be necessary to these persons, and also as to their respective escorts, should be as necessary."

II. 1889-1944

The present day IBWC, is a more than century-old experience by the governments of the United States and Mexico to resolve through a joint international commission located at the border those differences that arise from their common boundary. It was established by the two governments in 1889 as the International Boundary Commission.

Articles I & II

Convention between the United States of America and the United States of Mexico to Facilitate the Carrying out of the Principles Contained in the Treaty of November 12, 1884 and to avoid the Difficulties Occasioned by Reason of the Changes which take Place in the Beds of the Rio Grande the Colorado Rivers, signed March 1, 1889 (TS 232; 26 Stat 1512)

Article I

"All differences or questions that may arise on that portion of the frontier between the United States of American and the United States of Mexico where the Rio Grande and the Colorado rivers form the boundary line, whether such differences or questions grow out of alterations or changes in the bed of the aforesaid Rio Grande and that of the aforesaid Colorado River, or of works that may be constructed in said rivers, or of any other cause affecting the boundary line, shall be submitted for examination and decision to an International Boundary Commission, which shall have exclusive jurisdiction in the case of said differences or question."

Article II

"The International Boundary Commission shall be composed of a Commissioner appointed by the President of the United States of America, and of another appointed by the President of the United States of Mexico, in accordance with the constitutional provisions of each country, and shall consist of a Consulting Engineer, appointed in the same manner by each Government, and of such Secretaries and Interpreters as either Government may see fit to add to its Commission. Each Government shall fix the salaries and emoluments of the members of its Commission."

The Convention of March 1, 1889 provided an international body of experts to apply with authority for both governments, those rules that the two governments established to determine national ownership (sovereignty) of lands transferred from one side of the boundary to the other because of movements of the boundary rivers. Similarly, in the 1930's, the United States and Mexico called on the International Boundary Commission to resolve international flood control problems at locations in the Lower Rio Grande near its mouth, in the El Paso, Texas-Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua area, and in a cross-boundary stream at Nogales, Arizona-Nogales, Sonora. At the turn of the century, the two governments also called on this joint commission to recommend a technical solution to a difference over water depletion in the Rio Grande at El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. The two governments depended on this commission's studies as a basis in their negotiations for the first water distribution treaty between the two countries, the Convention of March 1, 1906. Still later, the two governments depended heavily on hydrologic studies of the Rio Grande and the Colorado River conducted by this commission and the technical expertise of the United States and Mexican International Boundary Commissioners when they concluded their second water distribution treaty in 1944.

III. 1944 to Present

The Water Treaty of February 3, 1944 expanded the jurisdiction and responsibilities of the International Boundary Commission and changed its name to the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC). The Commission's jurisdiction extends along the United States-Mexico boundary and inland into both countries where the two countries have constructed international projects. The Commission is charged with application of the boundary and water treaties and settling differences that may arise in their application. The treaties authorize the following activities:

  • Demarcation of the land boundary
  • Preservation of the Rio Grande and Colorado River as the international boundary
  • Protection of lands along the rivers from floods by levee and floodway projects
  • Distribution between the two countries of the waters of the Rio Grande and the Colorado River
  • Regulation and conservation of the waters of the Rio Grande for their use by the two countries by joint construction, operation and maintenance of international storage dams, reservoirs, and hydroelectric generating plant
  • Delivery of Colorado River waters allocated to Mexico
  • Solution of border sanitation and other border water quality problems.

Articles 2, 20, 24, 25

Treaty between the United States and Mexico
Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande

Signed February 3, 1944 (TS 944;59 Stat 1219 )

Article 2

The International Boundary Commission established pursuant to the provisions of the Convention signed in Washington March 1, 1889 Facilitate the Carrying out of the Principles Contained in the Treaty of November 12, 1884 and to avoid the Difficulties Occasioned by Reason of the Changes which take Place in the Beds of the Rio Grande the Colorado Rivers shall hereafter be known as the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico, which shall continue to function for the entire period during which the present Treaty shall continue in force. Accordingly, the term of the Convention of March 1, 1889 shall be considered to be indefinitely extended, and by the Convention of November 21, 1900 between the United States and Mexico regarding that Convention shall be considered completely terminated.

"The application of the present Treaty, the regulation and exercise of the rights and obligations which the two Governments assume thereunder, and the settlement of all disputes to which its observance and execution may give rise are hereby entrusted to the International Boundary and Water Commission, which shall function in conformity with the powers and limitations set forth in this Treaty.

"The Commission shall in all respects have the status of an international body, and shall consist of a United States Section and a Mexican Section. The head of each Section shall be an Engineer Commissioner. Wherever there are provisions in this Treaty for joint action or joint agreement of the two Governments, or for the furnishing of reports, studies or plans to the two Governments, or similar provisions, it shall be understood that the particular matter in questions shall be handled by or through the Department of State of the United States and the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Mexico.

"The Commission or either of its two Sections may employ such assistants and engineering and legal advisers as it may deem necessary. Each Government shall accord diplomatic status to the Commissioner, designated by the other Government. The Commissioner, two principal engineers, a legal adviser, and a secretary, designated by each Government as members of its Section of the Commission, shall be entitled in the territory of the other country to the privileges and immunities appertaining to diplomatic officers. The Commission and its personnel may freely carry out their observations, studies and field work in the territory of the other country.

"The jurisdiction of the Commission shall extend to the limitrophe parts of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) and the Colorado River, and to the land boundary between the two countries, and to works located upon their common boundary, each Section of the Commission retaining jurisdiction over that part of the works located within the limits of its own country. Neither Section shall assume jurisdiction or control over works within the limits of the country of the other without the express consent of the Government of the latter. The works constructed, acquired or used in fulfillment of the provisions of this Treaty and located wholly within the territorial limits of either country, although these works may be international in character, shall remain, except as herein otherwise specifically provided, under the exclusive jurisdiction and control of the Section of the Commission in whose country the works may be situated.

"The duties and powers vested in the Commission by this Treaty shall be in addition to those vested in the International Boundary Commission by the Convention of March 1, 1889 and other pertinent treaties and agreements in force between the two countries except as the provisions of any of them may be modified by the present Treaty.

"Each Government shall bear the expenses incurred in the maintenance of its Section of the Commission. The joint expenses which may be incurred as agreed by the Commission, shall be equally born by the two Governments...."

Articles 20

"The two Governments shall, through their respective Sections of the Commission, carry out the construction of works allotted to them. For this purpose, the respective Sections of the Commission may make use of any competent public or private agencies in accordance with the laws of the respective countries. With respect to such works as either Section of the Commission may have to execute on the territory of the other, it shall, in the execution of such works, observe the laws of the place where such works are located or carried out, with the exceptions hereafter stated...

Articles 24

"The International Boundary and Water Commission shall have, in addition to the powers and duties otherwise specifically provided in this Treaty, the following powers and duties:

"(a) To initiate and carry on investigations and develop plans for the works which are to be constructed or established in accordance with the provision of this and other treaties or agreements in force between the two Governments dealing with boundaries and international waters; to determine the location of such works, their location, size, kind and characteristic specification; to estimate the cost of such works; and to recommend to the two Governments, the arrangements for the furnishing of the necessary funds, and the dates for the beginning of the works, to the extent that the matters mentioned in this subparagraph are not otherwise covered by specific provisions of this or any other Treaty.

"(b) To construct the works agreed upon or to supervise their construction and to operate such works or to supervision their operation and maintenance, in accordance with the respective domestic laws of each country. Each Section shall have, to the extent necessary to give effect to the provisions of this Treaty, jurisdiction of over the works constructed exclusively in the territory of tis country whenever such works shall be connected with or shall directly affect the execution of the provisions of this Treaty.

"(c) In general to exercise and discharge the specific powers and duties entrusted to the Commission by this and other treaties and agreements in force between the two countries, and to carry into execution and prevent the violation of provision of those treaties and agreements. The authorities of each country shall aid and support the exercise and discharge of these powers and duties, and each Commissioner shall invoke when necessary the jurisdiction of the courts or other appropriate agencies of his country to aid in the execution and enforcement of these powers and duties."

"(d) To settle all differences that may arise between the two Governments with respect to the interpretation or application of this Treaty, subject to the approval of the two Governments. In any case in which the Commissioners do not reach an agreement, they shall so inform their respective opinions and the grounds therefore and the points upon which they differ, for discussion and adjustment of the difference through diplomatic channels and for application where proper of the general or special agreements which the two Governments have concluded for the settlement of controversies.

"(e) To furnish the information requested of the Commissioners jointly by the two Governments on matters within their jurisdiction. In the event that the request is made by one Government alone, the Commissioner of the other Government must have the express authorization of the Government in order to comply with such request.

"(f) The Commission shall construct, operate and maintain upon the limitrophe parts of the international streams, and each Section shall severally construction, operation and maintain upon the parts of the international stream and their tributaries within the boundaries of its country, such stream gaging stations as may be needed to provide the hydrographic data necessary or convenient for the proper function of this Treaty. The data so obtained shall be compiled and periodically exchanged between the two Sections.

"(g) The Commission shall annually submit a joint report to the two Governments on the matters in its charge. The Commission shall also submit to the two Governments joint reports on general matters or any particular matters at such other times as it may deem necessary or as may be requested by the two Governments."