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Binational efforts to improve water quality along the U.S – Mexico border

IWRA World Water Congress 2017 - Cancun Mexico
A. Bridging science and policy
Author(s): Wayne Belzer

Wayne Belzer
International Boundary and Water Commission, US Section

Keyword(s): water quality, binational
Article: Oral:


Water quality issues in the world's freshwater resources is a growing dilemma. With fewer freshwater sources, growing demand, and historical pollution affecting many water bodies, this issue is a daunting challenge. When that water body is shared by more than one country, the challenge is even greater. For the Unted States and Mexico, the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo represents just such a challenge.

The Rio Grande/ Rio Bravo marks 1, 255 miles of border between the state of Texas in the United States and the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas in the Mexico. The river is used by both countries as a source of freshwater for agriculture, ranching, recreation, and most imprtantly as a potable water source. Increasing population growth along the border has also increased the amount of pollution reaching the river. Many stretches of the river do not meet the recognized water quality standards of both countries and are in need of restoration. With bouth countries having different laws, standards, and uses for the river, finding a solution requires a cooperative approach to identify problems and joint solutions for recovery.

The Lower Rio Grande Water Quality Initiative was born from both countries desire to develop a program in the most downstream segment (Falcon Dam to the Gulf of Mexico) of the river to bring together scientists and policy makers from all levels of government in the region to study the historical tends for contaminants, identify sources of pollutants, and ultimately to develop a binational plan that bouth countries can adopt that adequately satisfies the laws and resources in both countries. The Initiative's technical committee has been tasked with providing the scientific data and models to develop recommendations that the policy makers in both countries can implement along the border to recover water quality and preserve the future of the valuable freshwaterre source.

The approach was to bring key binational agencies involved in water quality in the region to discuss their interests and to devleop a framework to address any water quality issues. The process included binational efforts in data collection, information sharing of historical data, joint monitoring of the watershed, development of a binational water quality database, and the development of water quality models to better understand the sources of impacts and effects of recommended solutions.

This initiative has already gathered and assessed historical data from all sources in both countries and has coordinated a joint data collection and model construction for seasonal, synoptic data. The next step in this process is to evaluate the results of the water quality modeling to determine where contaminants are being introduced and to prepare recommendations that are both effective and feasible to implement. Binational cooperation is leading us to find ways to return the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo to a healthier river that can continue to be an ever improving social and economic benefit for the United States and Mexico.

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