Workshop participants spent the afternoon of the first day in breakout groups, which were called “knowledge cafés,” diving deeper into each of four topics:
- Interaction and flow of resources, people, and services: The movement of water, people, species, goods, and services across the border and throughout the region create interactions that can have positive and negative sustainability implications.
- Scarcity and abundance of resources: The drylands region is affected by the paradox of simultaneously experiencing both an abundance of cultural and ecological richness and an acute scarcity of other precious natural resources.
- Environmental shocks and stressors: The region faces high environmental variability and extremes that co-occur with abrupt policy changes and market volatility.
- Governance and innovation: The challenges and opportunities for sustainable solutions throughout the region will require coordination and collaboration at a variety of levels—local, national, binational, and beyond.
Each café group consisted of at least two members of the planning committee, two facilitators, and one rapporteur; other participants attended the sessions of their choosing. Café participants spent most of the time in collaborative discussion, with the goal of collecting substantive input that has the potential to inform future sustainability efforts.
The facilitators of each knowledge café session summarized their sessions on the next day of the workshop; the rest of this chapter covers those presentations.
Facilitators Rosario Sanchez (Texas A&M University) and José Luis Castro Ruíz (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte) reported on this café session.
Sanchez and Castro began by discussing how the flows of resources, people, and services define the dynamics of the drylands border region in terms of the environment, economic development, culture, politics, security, and other dimensions. They shared several points to illustrate how dynamic this region is. They stated that Mexico is a top foreign tourism destination for U.S. travelers; in June 2017 there were almost 22 million inbound border crossings from Mexico to the United States. According to Sanchez, 279 million northbound crossings took place throughout the border region. Mexico is also the top country of residence for U.S. expatriates; in 2017, close to 900,000 U.S. citizens lived in Mexico. They also found that more than 20 percent of U.S. jobs are linked to trade along the border, and 1 in 24 workers depend on U.S.-Mexico trade. Since Mexico is the main export destination for three of four U.S. border states (Arizona, California, and Texas), Sanchez noted, those border communities depend on Mexico to keep their economies growing.1
According to the 2015 census estimates from both countries, 7.7 million people lived in the 25 U.S. counties across the four border states (Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas), while 7.1 million lived in the 37 Mexican border municipios.2 Castro and Sanchez noted that if the area was a single country, it would be among the five largest economies in the world. A major driving force underlying the dynamics of this region is the difference in rates of population growth in Mexico and the United States. Their research showed that both U.S. and Mexican border states and cities have seen major growth over the past several decades, but growth on the Mexican side has been much more rapid, and it has occurred with very little regulation or planning.
When thinking of flows of resources, Sanchez and Castro said that water is a central issue. The two countries have a bilateral agreement in
2 Data from Censos de Población, 1980–2010; Conteo de Población, 2015; U.S. Census Bureau.
place for surface water,3 but groundwater continues to be a taboo subject for international discussions, and there is little or no sharing of data about subsurface water resources. Groundwater, especially from regional aquifers, will be critical for supporting growth in the border regions, given that surface water has been largely depleted.
The demand for energy is also growing. Sanchez and Castro stated that energy costs represent almost 40 percent of total expenditures by U.S. state water utilities, and as Mexico explores the possibility of natural gas exploration (fracking), it raises concerns about the large water supplies needed to support such activities. Thus, the water and energy nexus is a critically important issue.
To prompt the discussion, Sanchez and Castro asked the café participants to think about key underlying questions, such as how sociological factors affect and inform environmental factors, and vice versa; how the area can better cope with and plan for growth while adjusting to changing climatic conditions; and what more can be done to enhance the management of fluid resources across the region.
The café session discussion focused on the challenge of planning for the future in the face of dynamic change. Changes and flows can occur on many different (but often interconnected) levels. For example, one participant noted, in agriculture farmers must consider both how the climate affects their production and how national and international commerce and trade will help or hinder their operations. Participants also brought up the need to better understand how the flows affect each side of the border: one participant noted that in the realm of waste disposal, the methane emissions produced from garbage in the United States can end up being disposed of in Mexico. Another participant noted that Mexico also commonly ships unprocessed energy resources to the United States and then has to purchase the processed energy back from the United States at a higher cost.
The café discussion returned to the issue of people, the “human flow.” Participants noted that each type of cross-border migration has a different socioeconomic context. There are those who commute on a daily basis for work, those who migrate to and remain in the United States (legally and illegally), those who get “stuck” in transit in Mexico (e.g., Haitians and Central Americans who have been refused entry to the United States), and those who, after having been deported from the United States, remain in Mexico close to the border to have access to family still residing in the United States.
Café participants noted that other flows represent different stages of
life: older people in the United States commonly head south for retirement or to receive less expensive medical services, while younger people in Mexico commonly head north for job opportunities. Many café participants remarked that migration is an inevitable human phenomenon. A change in policy or the construction of a wall may have indirect effects that will require new strategies, collective action, and governance; however, if the population in the region is transient, the question then becomes what level of civic participation and investment in future planning one can expect from local residents.
Turning to biological flows, in addition to the commonly thought of movement of plant and animal species that cross or span the border, café participants considered the spread of infections and infectious diseases, such as avian flu, that can also cross the border and ought to be considered when addressing human and animal migration. It was noted there is as yet no infrastructure in place to address these types of threats.
Considering the topic of water that Sanchez and Castro had discussed, participants noted that groundwater is a crucial resource that crosses several jurisdictions and raises several questions with respect to governance. Participants provided examples of how in regions such as Texas, groundwater is considered private property (owned by the owner of the land above), while in Mexico groundwater is national property—albeit not always effectively managed. Thanks to new observational capabilities, it is now possible to assess how much groundwater exists and how much is being withdrawn. The results thus far show groundwater depletion in most of the study areas, but participants noted that higher resolution and better data are still needed to quantify these dynamics.
The group turned next to discussion of the flow of intellectual resources and how communities could strengthen interactions among academic institutions and other knowledge systems. A participant noted that although there are several initiatives already in place at the individual, group, and network levels, they often do not communicate with one another to share efforts.
The group had a long discussion about data needs. Many participants stressed that data sharing is indispensable to what the scientific community can do and that it presents a great opportunity for more U.S.-Mexico cooperation. Conversely, participants noted, a lack of data can allow people to take advantage of the gaps in knowledge, which could lead to inappropriate use and exploitation of resources. There are many practical challenges that must be overcome to improve data sharing—in particular, the need to harmonize data units, standards, and measurement techniques. One participant said that coordinating information is a challenge even just within the United States, noting that in one project looking at sustainability along the Rio Grande in three states, it was very difficult to collect and share data
among the states because there was no consistency in the datasets. Another example offered was that in archeological studies of cultural resources, data sharing between the United States and Mexico is also a real problem because American archeologists collect their data in very different ways than Mexican scientists.
The café participants stressed that a key initial step is to understand what data on sustainability currently exist in the region. Many different agencies and programs have already generated enormous amounts of information, but it has not been collected and analyzed in a way and at a rate that allows for useful synthesis. Participants noted that the objectives for data collection also vary from study to study and need to be well understood before the data are analyzed. In some instances, participants cautioned, data can be manipulated, analyzed, or disseminated in a way that benefits a particular agenda.
Determining the validity of the data is another important step in the process, several participants said, but how does one determine which information and sources are trustworthy? They noted that the scientific community will be essential in providing insight and oversight to research communities (both public and private agencies) as they collect data. Scientists can also help identify the most strategic data indicators for particular projects and studies. Several participants suggested goals for improved data collection, such as a common, interoperable database or improved access to existing databases, as well as the establishment of data standards that would work across varying governance structures and function for both sides of the border. The costs of such improvements can vary widely, and one must also consider which agency would be responsible for managing these new databases and datasets. Several participants emphasized that it requires significant ongoing “human infrastructure” to keep databases current.
The infrastructure needed to manage flows in the drylands region used to focus primarily on sewage and water treatment, noted one participant, but the area now has a wider range of needs that will require expanding and rehabilitating the current infrastructure. Others stressed that the infrastructure created will need to be adaptive and flexible to accommodate the amount of dynamic movement of people and capital in the border region and to be sustainable over time. The drylands community will need to look at rebuilding infrastructure on both sides of the border as an opportunity to address such major concerns as water and energy usage. One participant brought up the possibilities of implementing “leapfrogging technologies” that can address problems on both sides of the border holistically and in tandem. For example, electricity from renewable energy production can be easily transmitted across the border, benefiting both sides: one side of the
border can benefit from cleaner energy, while the other side of the border benefits from the revenue it receives for the energy production.
The discussion concluded with the café group identifying several questions that would benefit from further study:
- Where does the border region get all of the other resources it needs (beyond water)?
- What drives resilience capacity at the individual level? How do different individuals respond to disasters and to long-term changes? What accounts for differences in individual responses?
- What are the underlying strategic drivers and the root causes of growth and flows in the border regions? What are the underlying drivers of migration: Which populations are moving? Who is promoting or necessitating the flows? What needs are particular to this border zone?
Facilitators Jadwiga Ziolkowska (University of Oklahoma), Constantino Macías Garcia (Steering Committee Member), and Natalia Martínez Tagüeña (Steering Committee Member) reported on this café session.
Ziolkowska began by listing four resource and ecosystem issues to consider when evaluating a diverse region such as the transboundary drylands area as a whole or by jurisdictions: common resources, shared natural resources, transboundary externalities, and linked environmental and political issues. Common resources are those, such as clean air, the ocean, and the ozone, that are valuable but not always owned by any particular jurisdiction. Shared natural resources are those that cross jurisdictions, such as rivers, or that benefit different users within a jurisdiction. Transboundary externalities are exogenous factors, including human-made changes: they can be positive, but they can also be negative, as with carbon dioxide, auto emissions, and river pollution. Linked issues refers to the way social institutions can potentially exacerbate environmental problems. She noted that these four issues may carry different weights in different areas and that they are just a few of the issues that could potentially affect transboundary resource management.
Using the Rio Grande basin as an example, Ziolkowska discussed how the area’s growing population, frequent droughts, and agricultural production demands have all put severe stress on the water supply. How can an area manage water economically? How does one determine the price for a commodity for which there is no common or regulated market? In the United States, there is no well-established market or pricing system for water, other than regional water banking efforts or nonstandardized
early-stage water markets (which have not taken off successfully). Paying one’s water bill does not reflect the true cost of water—just the pumping, filtration, delivery, administrative costs of water utilities, and quantity of use. She noted that places worldwide that have tried to privatize water have faced much resistance.
In her presentation, Ziolkowska asked the café session participants to consider how management of resources across international borders is different from domestic management: How does the physical or legal presence of an international border affect coordinated stewardship of a shared resource? The definition of sustainability, with its economic, environmental, and social approaches, may vary within each region. She said it is important to learn from past collaboration experiences and move toward institutionalizing the process through treaties and agreements at various levels of government that can foster transboundary research and collaboration.
Ziolkowska referred to a phenomenon called the “tragedy of the commons,” in which individuals try to reap the greatest personal benefit from a given common resource, neglecting the well-being of society and often depleting the resource. In addition to managing these issues with institutional frameworks and governmental measures, she noted that it is important to consider how gaining a better understanding of a region’s cultural needs and diversity can be applied to solving ecosystem issues. Lastly, she mentioned that looking at resource use over time, and not just by region, can provide further insight into management needs.
Martínez Tagüeña re-emphasized the importance of understanding a region as a socioecological system where ecological and sociocultural needs are intertwined and should not be seen as a dichotomy. In addition, she mentioned the notion of biocultural resources, the biological resources that are also cultural since they have a linguistic expression, an associated knowledge, and a practical and sometimes sacred use. These resources are thus charged with history, memory, and identity. Furthermore, following the research literature on materiality theory, she suggested to further diminish the divide between human and nonhuman agents with a conceptual look at how nonhuman agents are also part of social practices.
Martínez Tagüeña said that she has learned through working in collaboration with local inhabitants (indigenous groups, ranchers, pastoralists, and others) how they understand the union between nature and society. Instead of taking a “nature is here to serve us” approach, which she notes is common in Western philosophy, some local inhabitants are more inclined to appreciate, work with, and adapt to nature. Their value systems are different and are often outside of a monetary gain. She encouraged the café participants to work in collaboration with local communities and to value their traditional ecological knowledge through innovative methodologies of participatory research. Finally, she emphasized how indigenous com-
munities in drylands regions have adapted through millennia to cycles of resource abundance and scarcity, not only to the seasonality of resources, but also to other important aspects of their cultural landscapes. She said they teach us adaptation and resilience to change and also about the possibility of having a simple way of life in harmony with nature.
Participants focused on the need to understand the ecosystem and adjust their views around consumption and proprietorship, which may be the key to better managing scarce resources. In the United States, groundwater is a private good, belonging to whomever owns the land above. For rivers and the areas surrounding them, the theme is often first in place, first in right. Participants reiterated the issue of discrepancy between water demand and water pricing, particularly in agriculture, but they stressed that it will be difficult to change the general U.S. views around water use and value.
Café participants noted that the flow of water between countries also calls for the consideration of the treatment of wastewater. Because of how wastewater is (or is not) managed, river flows and water levels in the drylands region continue to decrease while water salinity and sediment contents increase. One participant noted that several cities in Mexico lack the funding to effectively manage and treat wastewater; another noted that the United States, instead of using its capacity to treat wastewater coming from Mexico, is instead spending 75 percent more energy on desalinization. Other participants brought up additional examples of waste and hazardous material conversion and repurposing, including systems that are able to turn highly toxic substances like brine and sodium hydroxide into usable materials. However, since there is no consensus about who owns the water—particularly as it crosses legal borders—it is harder to seek mutual solutions.
Regarding the tragedy of the commons, a participant asked how to change consumers’ mindsets around conservation from “I need to use as much as I can before it is all gone” to “let’s all use less so we save.” Ziolkowska responded that the mental shift is related to generational change. Younger consumers should be educated early on sustainable approaches, she said. Participants suggested that instead of taking a “top down” approach to resource management, ideas for change should also be solicited at the community level, and several provided examples of local groups who were motivated to see change because of how their daily lives were affected.
Café participants also noted that it is important to weigh the benefit of personal results and the need for assimilation against universal well-being and the local context: for example, attempting to maintain a lush, green landscaping aesthetic in a desert climate or piping manmade rivers into cities uses critical resources in nonessential ways. Instead, participants sug-
gested, the focus should be on maximizing the use of the resources that are abundant in an area. One participant reminded everyone that one of the key sustainability challenge of the scarcity-abundance paradox is learning how to make use of abundant resources to compensate for those that are scarce—such as solar energy, which can be used in a variety of different (and possibly nontraditional) ways. Another participant mentioned that mining is a big industry in northern Mexico. While extracting minerals can be an aggressive process, certain energy-intensive measures can actually improve the way resources are managed and therefore yield net benefits. The Nile River community is another example of how a local group was able to intelligently use a resource to bring productivity to a very arid land, said a participant.
Café participants stressed that the notions of scarcity and abundance and the choices made around them are culturally and regionally defined. When attempting to entice individuals and communities to participate in sustainable behavior, one must consider the economic climate of an area and the social importance of various resources (cultural, scientific, recreational value), as well as safety, security, and possible inequities within the communities. As such, the goal may not be creating a single agenda, but instead making an effort to coordinate local agendas or consider multisector initiatives that address these variabilities.
One participant asked: What are the factors that drive sustainability efforts, and how are they prioritized? Another responded that there are thresholds or trigger points at which the lack of a resource will create conflict or spark change. These thresholds might be different for different communities and community types: for example, rural populations may have a higher capacity to adapt to change than urban populations. Developing a better understanding of those thresholds is key, the person noted, and will help to create targeted research strategies that may catch the attention of foundations and corporations invested in the drylands region.
Facilitators Jorge Morán Escamilla (El Colegio de San Luis) and Doug Liden (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]) reported on this café session.
Liden started by discussing some examples of effective U.S.-Mexico cooperation on environmental management, including the International Boundary and Water Committee (encompassing the 1944 Water Treaty), and the long-standing cooperative efforts between the EPA and the National Water Commission in Mexico (CONAGUA). He noted a few of the prominent environmental and socioeconomic stressors in the region: disease resulting from lack of sanitation infrastructure; asthma and other respira-
tory effects from dust and air pollution; and economic concerns, such as the cost of having to buy bottled water. There are, however, several less obvious stressors that affect people in the drylands region. Examples of environmental concerns include major erosion problems from inadequate storm water drainage systems in vulnerable areas and a heavy concentration of corrosive pollutants that shortens the lifespan for wastewater infrastructure. Socioeconomic shocks include strong odors from wastewater that affect residents and discourage tourism, fights between the United States and Mexico over water quality and quantity issues, and perennial rivers that now flow sporadically due to water overuse.
Fortunately, Liden said, there are practical solutions for many of these problems: conserving water can be helped by fixing leaking and broken distribution systems, installing low-flow toilets and showerheads, using zero-scape methods for lawns, and lining agricultural canals. For more efficient use, solutions include changing the designated use for key water supplies, expanding the use of green infrastructure, and reclaiming wastewater and “gray water” (runoff from sinks and household appliances). He noted that ocean water desalinization is an option but is significantly more expensive than other solutions.
Morán started by noting how researchers tend to look at issues from a silo mentality, despite the fact that the problems do not occur in isolation in nature. He emphasized the need to study and understand the stressors and how they interact at the landscape level—the “bird’s eye view”—which allows researchers to see patterns and changes more broadly. That landscape view includes stresses related to land use changes; changes in economic activities and productive processes; intensification in the use of natural resources, and in air, water, and soil pollution; changes in consumption patterns; loss and migration of endemic species; and ecosystem deterioration.
Morán noted that because of their breadth, landscape-scale studies need to solicit input from a variety of stakeholders, such as government representatives, industry, the public, and, depending on the scope, international agencies. He believes it is helpful to frame complex problems in terms of their relation to “human security,” which he defined as being free from fear and free from need. Although decision makers cannot guarantee people’s security or eliminate all risks, the framing allows them to look at both environmental and social concerns and find solutions for a specific context. Morán said that security issues that can pose threats to people living in complex ecosystems include
- poverty (economic security);
- hunger (food security);
- infectious diseases, unsafe food, malnutrition, and lack of access to basic health care (sanitary security);
- environmental degradation, depletion of natural resources, disasters, and pollution (environmental security);
- violence, crimes, terrorism, and child labor (personal security);
- ethnic or religious tensions and other community problems (community security); and
- police abuse and violations of human rights (political security).
Morán talked about “natech” disasters—natural hazards that trigger adverse technical outcomes. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan is a primary natech example: it started as a natural disaster, but it led to the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Cascading events such as these force people to face multiple risk events simultaneously. He said that because local citizens understand the reality and context of their specific location, they should be empowered to understand the risks they face, be encouraged to articulate their needs, and be included in the dialogue on design interventions.
In summary, Morán noted that cumulative conditions resulting from changes to the landscape, production processes, and how society makes use of the nature and resources in a given ecosystem can affect human security. The vulnerability and risks seen in the drylands area are a result of this complex dynamic. A natural phenomenon can generate scenarios of multiple threats with highly disruptive effects, although for many societies those threats and vulnerabilities are progressively assimilated into daily life, negating the seriousness of the risk. As the cost of dealing with natural disasters is increasing, there should be heightened effort to coordinate interventions, promote sustainable development, and preserve the quality of life.
The facilitators asked the café session participants to identify shocks and stressors that are of major concern in the drylands region, as well as to consider existing interventions—including those that may no longer be relevant—and strategies to improve sustainability in the future. They noted that it is particularly hard to address stressors that result from relatively slow, irreversible changes, such as climate change and biological species invasion. For these stressors, one needs to understand the nature, rate, and probability of the change. Managing such changes requires foresight that can be enhanced by scientific intervention.
Participants listed stressors common to urban areas, including rapid migration and settlement into previously nonurban areas. They used the San Diego metropolitan area as an example: people are attracted to the area for careers and quality of life, but because the city is expensive they move into peripheral areas, like Tijuana. The influx of residents can lead to increased pollution, wastewater, and demands on energy—with huge
impacts on the region’s infrastructure. In addition, some participants noted, increased construction and related activities, such as waste collection, zoning, and pollution permits, are managed at the city level; both federal governments have little influence on many things at that level, and the regulations can be unclear. The question then becomes: Who should bear responsibility for mitigating the effects? Several participants noted the importance of including the local community and end users in decision making to generate efficient and relevant sustainability interventions and promote community buy-in.
The participants then discussed stressors that are unique to rural areas along the border. One common problem, it was noted, is that when things get too difficult for farmers, either due to environmental or market changes, they abandon their land or engage in practices that lead to overuse and degradation of the soil. Several participants suggested it would be helpful to develop strategies for resilience in the face of these stressors. The establishment and maintenance of natural protected lands could also be reconsidered as environmental conditions change.
Toxic pollution from mining and other industries was another stressor listed by some participants. Not much is known about the nature of certain pollutants or how they affect organisms. In addition, participants noted that wastewater containing heavy metals and industrial pollutants requires different treatment than bacterial contaminants and that many of Mexico’s water treatment systems were not designed to cope with those types and volumes of waste. Yet another growing stressor is fracking, which is expanding into Mexico, because of the waste it produces and the water it consumes. One participant noted that Mexico’s “safe exposure” levels for pollutants are higher than the EPA’s limits, which would need to be addressed during any binational coordination.
The café discussion next turned to the challenges of anticipating and dealing with major shocks and the cascading events that may follow. In the case of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, the irreversible damage to the sea wall and the nuclear disaster were two unexpected consequences. Participants mentioned two examples in the United States: As the market for beef increased in the 1970s, deforestation also increased to create room for more cattle. The second example offered was how economic shocks, like the 2008 recession, can alter migration patterns and have been tied to increased violence. Participants emphasized the need to learn from past events, paying attention to the way critical systems responded, and to use this information for future planning. They noted that potential future activities, such as the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico, could shock environmental and social systems and strain connections between the two countries. Many participants stressed that it will be important to continue strengthening and supporting the institutions and platforms that
allow ongoing dialogue among scientists, academics, and policy makers in both countries.
Following up on that point, several participants noted that moving forward with effective solutions will require adaptive planning that builds resilience, as well as continuous review to ensure that interventions are serving their intended purpose. One participant noted that the EPA has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in funding wastewater infrastructure in the border region, but as growth in the area steadily continues, one might wonder whether the investments are solving problems or perpetuating them by enabling more growth.
Participants noted that effective governance is also key, and one noted that the capacity for good governance directly relates to the capacities of civil society; in some cases the proper frameworks are in place but they are devoid of appropriate supervision and execution. One participant suggested that the Border Mayors Association can provide a space to work together on common binational problems and solutions and actively help advance an environmental agenda.
Facilitators Jurgen Schmandt (University of Texas at Austin) and Ismael Aguilar Barajas (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey) reported on this café session.
Schmandt began with a brief overview of how the Rio Grande has been engineered over the past century and the issues around sharing its water. The first dam on the Rio Grande, and the first structure of its size in the world, Elephant Butte, was completed in 1916 in New Mexico to satisfy water distribution guidelines set forth in the 1906 Convention between the United States and Mexico. Today, the river is heavily engineered, with several dams and diversions from Colorado to Nuevo Leon, Mexico (see Figure 3-1). The area now faces several challenges, Schmandt said, such as population growth, climate change and variation, decreased storage due to less instream flow, and reservoir sedimentation. He listed possible options to respond to the challenges, which included more efficient water use in agriculture, repair leaking distribution systems, and conservation and rain harvesting. Sediment removal will increase storage volume but may not be cost-effective.
Schmandt said that the interaction between surface and groundwater is critical and has been a point of contention between different jurisdictions for over a century. The Rio Grande Compact, adapted in 1939, apportioned the water among Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, prior to its delivery to points in Mexico (below Ft. Quitman in Texas). In 1944, the United States and Mexico signed a treaty that regulates how each country will manage
and share water resources in the Colorado and Rio Grande basins. In spring 2013, Texas sued New Mexico and Colorado in the Supreme Court (court opinion in 2018) over their interpretation and implementation of the Rio Grande Compact, complaining that the way Colorado and New Mexico were managing and siphoning off their water negatively affected the amount of water that ultimately travels to and through Texas and on to Mexico.
Water management in the shared border region continues to evolve as the area changes. Schmandt explained how the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and its Mexican counterpart, Comision Internacional de Limites y Aguas (CILA), established a Minute system that provides a way for modifications to the 1944 treaty. There are currently 324
Minutes. Minute 308 (2002) called for the creation of an advisory council and the development of a basin-sustainability plan in the face of severe drought. He said that such an advisory council was never established.
Schmandt offered proposals for requirements for future Minutes on sustainability: be cognizant of data collected to date about sustainable development; provide a detailed assessment of work completed to date and lessons learned; put IBWC and CILA at the forefront; include flexibility for future change; and establish subcommittees for specific regions to address particular issues. He emphasized the importance of taking proactive, realistic measures. For example, he said, a sustainability plan for the Rio Grande should be based on dependable yield—the amount of water the river delivered during the worst drought. As that yield changes, the guidelines could change accordingly.
Aguilar described a joint project he coordinated between Tecnológico de Monterrey, El Centro del Agua, and los Servicios de Agua y Drenaje (water and drainage service) on the state of water in Monterrey, the capital of the state of Nuevo Leon in northeast Mexico.4 As a major city, Monterrey sees a heavy flow of resources and people, and its urban area has more than doubled in the past 40 years. It is located in the San Juan River basin, an area Aguilar said is at the center of major climate change and variation. He added that while the average rainfall in the area has decreased and the average temperature has increased, the main issue is how the water is managed in the area. Urbanization has created major challenges and raised concerns of scarcity.
More broadly, Aguilar noted that reallocation of water has been a major concern on both sides of the border. The dams create a complex network of water flow in the lower Rio Grande, and each dam subsequently creates its own smaller water system. Proprietorship is still a major gray area: Who funds the water treatment plants—the local or federal government? Who owns the water? What happens when it crosses state or international borders? Water that passes through multiple jurisdictions automatically becomes a political issue, he said. Most areas have their own rules for water management (how to handle abundance and scarcity), but what happens when conditions change? Aguilar said that in their report, they note that 30 percent of the water that flows through the Rio Grande basin is unaccounted for.
Aguilar noted it is also important to factor risk management into plan-
4 Aguilar-Barajas, I., Sisto, N.P., and Ramirez-Orozco, A.I. (2015). Agua para Monterrey: Logros, Retos y Oportunidades para Nuevo Leon y Mexico. Cento del Agua para America Latina y el Caribe. Agencia Promotora de Publicaciones S.A. de C.V. N.L. Monterrey, Mexico. Available: https://www.sadm.gob.mx/PortalSadm/Docs/aguaparamonterrey-media.pdf [July 2018].
ning, including natural factors that are out of human control. He called events such as hurricanes a “blessed curse” because although they have the potential to cause major damage, they also replenish diminishing water supplies. Climate change should also be considered, he said, as projections show a decrease in precipitation, humidity, and overall environmental stability in the long term. He referenced a 2014 report done by the World Bank5 that addresses managing risk and opportunity at varying levels, from the household to the international community, using water improvement and transfer between urban and rural areas as a primary example.
Aguilar offered a multifaceted “formula” for sustainability that would include planning, infrastructure, and financial backing by local, state, and federal officials; academic research and institutional support in such areas as geohydrography and climate; and the use of quality management, data, and technical experience throughout the process. He added that local buy-in and key stakeholder involvement are both important in managing risks and having successful mitigation plans. He concluded with a quote from R.M. Bird:6 “ . . . little can be done unless countries incorporate into their local government systems, institutions that motivate the exercise of foresight, imagination, effort and prudence, which are the key ingredients of good governance anywhere.”
In the discussion, many café participants agreed with the proposition that the challenges and conflicts of governance between states or between states and the federal government are common. One noted that in some cases, a border state like Arizona is able to collaborate more easily with Mexico than with its neighbors (e.g., California). Several participants raised the need to look at binational issues in a way that could also potentially align with and bolster efforts for interstate collaboration. Collecting different experiences and methods would help provide insight into these situations.
Schmandt noted that one shortfall of IBWC and CILA is a provision in the treaty that requires commissioners to be professional engineers. He said that political personnel and other key stakeholders ought to be given increased opportunities for contributing to the drafting of new Minutes. The Minute system does not allow for major changes to the 1944 treaty, which requires approval by the U.S. and Mexican senates.
One participant asked Aguilar what made the city of Monterrey such a unique case. What happened to cause it to reach this level of complexity?
5Risk and Opportunity: Managing Risk for Development. Available: https://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTNWDR2013/Resources/8258024-1352909193861/8936935-1356011448215/8986901-1380046989056/WDR-2014_Complete_Report.pdf [October 2018].
6 Bird, R.M. (2001). Presentación del escenario: Finanzas municipales e intergubernamentales, pp. 108–123, in M. Freire y R. Stren (Eds.), Los Retos del Gobierno Urbano. Washington, DC y México, D.F.: Banco Mundial y Alfaomega.
He responded that the city itself has a tradition for innovation. Monterrey’s governors have seen the need for change and have taken actions, including providing financial backing, which led to the promotion and construction of a second dam in Monterrey to manage water supply. He added that finances have a lot to do with water management. Several participants noted that not all cities are able to afford dams and other water management tools. Large cities like Mexico City and Monterrey also have strict regulations regarding water use. Such regulations, along with the efficient use of treated wastewater, are important aspects that need to be carefully considered when discussing sustainability, they suggested.
Regarding natural disasters and risk management, a participant from San Luis Potosí said that while that city does not see hurricanes, it did have a water overage that caused management issues, primarily due to a lack of communication.
In response to a question about working with meteorologists to manage the risk of hurricanes, Aguilar said his university has scientists who build climate scenarios and others who view scenarios from a political or economic perspective. They are trying to reinforce the interdisciplinary nature of the work.
Aguilar noted that Mexico has basin councils (Consejos de Cuenca) throughout the country. They are collegial bodies of government officials, users, and others that consult and provide support to CONAGUA, the government, and key stakeholders. The café participants talked about how these councils can be leveraged to operationalize laws around water use. They noted, however, there are financial limitations to that level of stakeholder engagement, which could create challenges in certain areas.
Participants noted that since large advances in sustainability and resource management tend to happen during or after some type of crisis, regarding the region as dynamic and highly variable might actually be the context in which problems get solved. They suggested that the key would be to address the full complexity of the transboundary region: What is it about this region that would allow breakthrough innovation to occur? The participants noted that while there has been development in drylands areas, it needs to happen faster and to include better disaster response and adaptation planning.
The discussion turned back to urbanization, which is causing rapid change and growth in the cities and placing added pressure on resources. The challenge in Monterrey, as with other cities, is the availability of water. The participants discussed what would be necessary to develop a water agenda, to include the use and management of treated wastewater. An agenda of that nature would necessitate city ordinances and programmatic policy guidelines. In addition, they said, common use and regulation not only require effective communication but also financial backing.
Several participants noted that there are other issues outside of water governance that also need to be taken into account. They acknowledged that there have been some successful sustainability efforts, and wondered at which level of management or government these efforts were more successful and effective. How can the context of successful opportunities be replicated? One participant emphasized the importance of looking at international experiences outside of this region, such as in Australia, where they now use public funds to maintain environmental flow (the quantity, timing, and quality of water flows required to sustain ecosystems and human well-being).
Another issue raised by some participants is that when there is analysis of systems, governance is often not the focus, and the data that could support it do not exist. The connections among institutions, governments, and the education sector are inconsistent or lacking. Other topics that participants identified as needing attention were education on the issues and the history of change, and adequate planning. That is, decision makers need to consider the history, the context, the stakeholders, and the capacity for public engagement. Sustainability improvements will require flexible governance, carried forth by charismatic and change-driven leaders.
When considering the issue of funding, participants had several opinions on who might be responsible. One said the support ought to come from the top down, but that will require public support and pressure, essentially, from the bottom up. This could be an opportunity to create a coalition of foundations to help move the efforts along. Another participant mentioned the need for evaluation of current environmental processes and the need to put pressure on the change makers to implement new ideas. Some participants identified both the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as agencies that could do more in terms of project implementation. They also said that government turnover sometimes stagnates the process, which underscores the importance of facilitating communication between networks to maintain consistency. One participant noted that the EPA’s U.S.-Mexico Border 2020 program7 receives approximately $1 million per year in funding and provides a bottom-up approach for local involvement by engaging people through public meetings; this initiative has facilitated collaboration by nonprofit organizations on both sides of the border.
The café participants ended the session with a discussion about the importance of considering the part that political interests play in effecting change in the region. Many projects wind up displaced or hidden because they do not align with the then-current political climate. Some participants stressed that scientists tend to approach sustainability from an academic
7 See https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/border2020summary.pdf [November 2018].
perspective, but when talking about issues such as water movement, contamination, and fracking, it is necessary to think about the economic and political ramifications, as well as the effect they will have on civil societies.
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