XVI World Water Congress - Abstract
Submitted by the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission
Title: Improving Binational Water Management Policy Through Science
In the North American Southwest, water is a vital but disappearing resource. Water management officials along the United States/Mexico border are using binational water management policies that are over 100 years old. As the hydrology of the region changes, this paper examines new approaches using science and technology in the allocation of the Rio Grande Basin water to meet the current and future water needs of the two countries.
The rules governing the Rio Grande basin were established in the first half of the 20th century by a series of treaties and domestic agreements that allocate the water between the states and the two countries. The binational treaties are implemented by the International Boundary and Water Commission, U.S. and Mexico (IBWC), a binational organization responsible for applying the boundary and water treaties between the two countries and settling differences that arise in their applicaiton. Compliance with these agreements has become a more difficult task in recent years as the availability of water has changed, either through natural or anthropogenic sources. Changing water demands in the basin has contributed to previous shortfalls in Mexico's water delivery requirements which led to drastic and undesirable water measures to fulfill the international agreements.
To address these issues, the IBWC and stakeholders of the region are seeking a binational solution that takes into account the changing hydrology, while proactively managing the basin to continue meeting the requirements of the water treaty and domestic needs of each country. A conceptual model was developed in RiverWare to explore new and innovative delivery methods that maintain the spirit of the treaty while insuring compliance and continued availability by upstream users.
The model analyzes historical delivery practices, naturalized flow, and other best management concepts that comply with the international water treaty to quanitfy a fair and equitable allocation of water within the basin. Preliminary analysis has shown the model can assist water management officials in the management of this precious resource to assure a more equitable division of water in times of drought, thus reducing the impact of later measures necessary to meet the treaty delivery requirements. As development of the concepts in this model progresses, it is envisioned that the model will become an integral tool in a comprehensive binational solution to insure the fair and equitable distribution of waters in the Rio Grande basin.
The IBWC along with its respective stakeholders, will continue the advancement of this initiative with the vision of developing a binational cooperative basin management plan to safeguard the interest on both sides of the border.
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.
The more than 3000 km continental border between Mexico and the United States is home for more than 11.8 million people. This region has experienced consistent growth since WWII, in some instances doubling its urban area every twenty years. The rapid expansion of urban areas has boomed since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, increasing the settlement of the industry and residential zones and surpassing the planning capacities of the border cities, especially on the Mexican side of the border. Since 1993 institutions like the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission (BECC), have addressed the asymmetries in basic sanitation between the two countries which was a source of contamination for shared water bodies used as potable water. Two groups of investments certified by BECC along the border (Valle de Juarez and Baja California) were analyzed by ad-hoc Results Measurement Methodology to determine how the $253.61 million of US Dollars invested in basic sanitation infrastructure impacted eight communities on the Mexican side of the border. The impact assessment complemented the administrative project close out process, which measured the extent to which the physical targets (bricks and morter) of the certified projects were implemented. The impact Assessment process consists of a determining the impact achieved for the residents based on the use of the infrastructure. It develops a framework to document the results in the chain of inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts. Evaluation of the results was conducted using four indicators: (1) increase in wastewater residential connections system; (2) overall reduction on the number of latrines and cesspools; (3) reduction in untreated wastewater flowing into international water bodies; (4) reduction in associated diseases and/or exposure to raw sewage and 5) increased quality of life. Data sources included official sources (INEGI and COFEPRIS ), utility data, and surveys. However, the use of tools such as Geographic Information Systems allowed layering of all available data by layers in the case of the four Baja California communities. Surveys complimented official data and focused on specific project area impacts. In the case of Valle de Juarez, testing of water added information on the potential exposures to pathogens and other agents (Giardia and Cryptosporidium). Results indicate that the BECC mandate of improving human health and the environment had been fulfilled. Additionally, projects met fundamental environmental objective of providing access to service, and residents utilized infrastructure and benefitted with improved quality of life. Although several lessons learned are discussed, the Results Measurement Framework proved to be a useful tool. Discussion is presented on how cooperation among US and Mexican agencies were successful in producing the financial and technical resources needed for small and sometimes marginalized communities, to acquire levels of sanitation above the national average.
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.