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The US-Mexico Border Communities Green Infrastructure Initiative

IWRA World Water Congress 2017 - Cancun Mexico
6. Water and sustainable growth
Author(s): Maria Elena GIner
Joaquin Marruffo
Felipe Adrian Vazquez

Maria Elena GIner
Joaquin Marruffo
Felipe Adrian Vazquez

Keyword(s): Green infraestructure, stormwater management, climate change resiliency, sustainable urban growth


The purpose of this initiative is to provide local border communities with a comprehensive strategic model for the integration of Green Infrastructure (GI) in their urban planning, as a means to mitigate the environmental, economic, and social impacts of inadequate stormwater management.

During the past twenty years, the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) and the North American Development Bank, as a fundamental part of its binational mission, have substantially contributed to the improvement of the quality of life and the environment of the US-Mexico border communities, by providing assistance to both US and Mexican communities in the implementation of water and wastewater infrastructure projects. As an example of its impacts, the Mexican border population served with wastewater treatment has increased from 21% in 1995 to current levels of over 90% as a direct result of the BECC programs.  This has resulted in a positive impact on water quality due to the elimination of approximately 450 MGD of untreated wastewater flowing into shared water bodies. In parallel, cities have grown up to 50% in population while increasing its urban footprint by 4 times, decreasing infiltration, and significantly increasing runoff. Consequently, the key issue to water quality now is no longer untreated wastewater but the threat stormwater poses to the sustainable growth of cities, because of its impacts of flooding on the natural and built environments. Stormwater carries sediments and other pollutants that flow into binational rivers contributing to the pollution of potable water sources.


As a strategy to mitigate these impacts, the BECC created the Border Communities Green Infrastructure Initiative. The long term goal is to support communities in building resiliency through the use of GI in public spaces such as parks, sidewalks, mediums, and parking lots as a way to adapt to climate change, improve urban image, and strengthen native ecosystems. This methodology was founded on the experience in the City of Tucson, Arizona and is composed of four strategic pillars: technical, legal, environmental and social. This approach includes training, strengthening municipal codes, developing pilot projects, native vegetation restoration, and the participation of residents, local government, and the private sector.


The results completed to date include: a) two border wide forums with an attendance of almost 300 participants each; b) implementation of five pilot projects in the border towns of Sonora, Coahuila and Texas; c) incorporation of GI into municipal codes of three border cities; d) development of design guidelines for Mexico, leveraging US experience,  with input from the private sector, e) binational stormwater master plan for 2 communities , and f) development of a hydrologic model for a case study at a micro watershed level, replicable to other shared basins.


This approach, a shift in paradigm in the development of conventional stormwater infrastructure, is intended to influence public policy at the local level that is replicable and scalable on both sides of the US Mexico border, resulting in more livable cities, improved water quality, stronger binational environmental health, and the development of innovative public policies that contribute to sustainability.  


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