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How Can Managers and Scientists Facilitate the Flow of Scientific Information? Perspectives from Mexico Alfonso Larqué-Saavedra, Centro de Investigación Cientifíca de Yucatán In a world where natural resources are becoming more limited, the human race should make certain that those resources do not disappear or diminish to the level of putting the life of the planet at risk. Decision-making in its various forms at levels ranging from the international to the household level, determine how those resources are managed. However, humans have not developed a systematic approach to decision-making with regard to natural resource management. In environmental matters, the participation of humans in decision-making can be seen from various points of view, such as: • member of the system for natural resource management, • creator and designer of the system, • beneficiary of the system, • funder of the system, • the one responsible for executing the system, and • evaluator of the system. In each and every one of these scenarios, people require a certain level of information, including scientific information, in order to achieve that which is most important for the decision, his commitment. In the case of water resource management, the decision- maker has important obligation to all of those that depend on the water resources. The importance of this obligation and the associated need to make good decisions, highlight the decision-maker’s need for adequate, reliable scientific information to take into consideration in decision-making. In the case of water in Mexico, the importance of water resources has long been recognized, dating back to pre-Hispanic Mexican culture. Rain deities such as Tlaloc and Chac were integral to Aztec and Mayan culture, respectively, and they persist today as important figures, particularly to farmers in the Yucatan. Politically, water resources have always played an important role in Mexico. In terms of the recognition of the importance of water management in more modern times (and without pretending to do a historical analysis on this matter), it is enough to note that the Secretariat for Hydraulic Resources already existed by the middle of the twentieth century. This social and political recognition of the importance of water resources would years later be transformed into the Comisión Nacional del Agua (National Commission for Water -- CNA), which inherited all of the information that its predecessor procured. The CNA has a vast number of personnel responsible for water resources in the broadest context. In addition, various government offices (“Secretariats”) compile valuable and well-documented information, which can inform decision-making. The Secretariat for 86
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the Environment, the Health Secretariat, and the Secretariat of Agriculture and Ranching all contribute to this effort. Finally, in the Congress of the Union there is a Commission of Deputies that analyzes the legislative aspects of water resource governance. At the same time, there is a basic critical mass of scientists generating valuable information so that executives can establish state policies with a stronger scientific basis. Precisely because of the importance of water for the sustainability of life and of human activities, scientific knowledge is fundamental.1 This knowledge is typically generated in research centers which, in the case of Mexico, are still in the process of consolidation. Given the geography of the country and lack of coordination among the research centers, it is difficult to make generalizations about the knowledge that is obtained. However, the Mexican Academy of Sciences has water as one of its strategic research programs, and research centers continue to be created, generally located in “key” sites within Mexico, and often with a specific mission. An example of one such research center is Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán (CICY). CICY, as any other scientific research center around the world, communicates its research results by means of peer-review articles published in international scientific journals. CICY collaborates with a number of institutions, among them: • Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México • Universidad Autónoma de Yucatan • Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon • Kent University, Ohio • Instituto Tecnológico de Cancún • Ben-Gurion University, Israel • University of Illinois-DeKalb • Comisión Nacional del Agua In recognition of the need to find more direct means of communication with decision- makers, other than articles in international scientific journals, 2 CICY also maintains 1 One reviewer emphasized the importance of the evolving nature of the water information system in Mexico and the apparent shifting of responsibilities for gathering, storing, and analyzing data, pointing out that there is an important opportunity to evaluate the “knowledge system” for water management in order to identify ways to operate the system more effectively. For consideration of this issue in the U.S. and some international contexts, see: Cash, D.W. and J. Buizer. 2005. Knowledge-Action Systems for Seasonal-to-Interannual Climate Forecasting. Washington, DC, National Academies Press. Available at: http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11204.html. See also the National Academies Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability’s project “Linking Knowledge with Action for Sustainable Development” at http://www.nationalacademies.org/sustainabilityroundtable/Linking_Knowledge_Main.html ). 2 One reviewer mentioned that in the United States, for example, decision-makers rarely rely heavily upon peer-reviewed literature to inform their decisions. Therefore, to ensure that scientific information is effectively communicated to decision-makers, various means of communication, including direct communication before, during, and after research projects should be considered (see Cash, D.W. and J. 87
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direct communication with local and federal authorities by conducting research in specific problem areas that are key to the region or the country. The results of these projects are published in the form of technical reports that contain information needed to understand the problem, propose a solution or solutions, and make a decision. In response to a perceived need for more water research, CICY created the Center for Studies on Water in Cancun, as requested by the Governor of Quintana Roo. The Quintana Roo government donated the buildings that host the center and participated with an initial funding. CICY administers the Center, which is also partially funded by The Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT). During the last 35 years, the state of Quintana Roo has experienced very rapid development based on tourism. During 2004, 6.5 million tourists visited the state, generating 4 billion USD for the tourism industry. Since the main destinations are the beaches, coral reefs, and cenotes (sinkholes), all related to water, research into the quality and abundance of aquifers in the region was needed. Further, no one had conducted detailed studies of the impact that rapid development has had on the aquifers. Therefore, the Center for Studies on Water was established to assess the conditions of the aquifer (contamination sources, water quality, dynamics, etc.) and also to evaluate the sustainability of further development in the region. The Center has two main research areas, 1) the hydrogeology of the regional aquifers (flow rates, gradients, flow direction, porosity, permeability, transmisivity, saline intrusion, contaminant dispersion, etc.) and 2) water quality near the coast and further inland, to identify sources of contaminants and model contaminant dispersion. Their overarching priority is to establish a “water quality control network” that will provide continuing high quality data on the regional hydrology. This information is being incorporated into a Geographic Information System in order to create comprehensive maps to aid decision makers in constructing conservation policies. Other ways in which the Center shares information with decision-makers and the local community include the “Red del Agua del Mayab”, a water information network formed by several local NGOs, travel agencies, hotel associations and similar organizations. The Center’s main role is to advise on regional problems and potential solutions regarding water. At the same time, the Center collaborates with the Quintana Roo State Science Council and the water commission in an advisory capacity, providing guidance on issues related to the regional aquifers. Buizer. 2005. Knowledge-Action Systems for Seasonal-to-Interannual Climate Forecasting. Washington, DC, National Academies Press. Available at: http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11204.html. See also National Academies Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability’s project “Linking Knowledge with Action for Sustainable Development” at http://www.nationalacademies.org/sustainabilityroundtable/Linking_Knowledge_Main.html ). 88
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