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Researchers conduct watershed vulnerability assessment of the Paso del Norte region

In recent years, the communities along the U.S.-Mexico border have been experiencing water stress. Water resources are often not available in the quantity and quality needed, and the future of the region's water supply might reach a critical point if enhanced water management strategies are not put in place, researchers recently said.

from New Mexico State University, San Diego State University (SDSU), el Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) and la Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez (UACJ) will conduct an assessment of watershed vulnerability of the Paso del Norte region of the Rio Grande watershed. The Paso del Norte is the area that lies between the Elephant Butte Reservoir and Fort Quitman, a ghost town 16 miles southwest of Sierra Blanca.

"The goal of the project is to take previous research done by Dr. Brian Hurd, an approach that was done at the national level, and modify it to the local level at a greater spatial resolution," said Christopher Brown, an assistant professor of geography at NMSU. "I think this project is timely and very appropriate. We are going to focus our research effort in the cities of Las Cruces, El Paso and Ciudad Juarez."

The Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy recently awarded the binational team grants totaling approximately $137,000. The team consists of Brown, Hurd, an assistant professor in the agricultural economics and agricultural business department, and Janet Greenlee, a geographic information system specialist in the geography department. Other researchers include Richard Wright and Harry Johnson from SDSU, Jose Luis Castro from COLEF and Alfredo Granados from UACJ. SDSU and COLEF are currently working on a similar project in the Tijuana River Watershed, a binational basin in the San Diego/Tijuana region.

For the next year, researchers will examine geographic information system (GIS) data to determine the binational hydrological framework that will be used in the project, convene an experts panel to determine which indicators of watershed vulnerability are best suited for arid river basins on the border, compile indicator data within a binational seamless watershed framework to generate maps of vulnerability of the watershed and develop policy suggestions to reduce the vulnerability of watershed.

"The end result of this project includes a series of geographic information system map products that indicate which portions of the watershed are most vulnerable, according to certain variables," Brown said.

Vulnerability assessment is the degree of risk that a particular element may have relative to other variables. In this case, variables include fresh water supply, renewability of fresh water supply, ground water depletion and the amount of urban development, just to name a few.

"I think that we face a wide range of challenges including depletion of the ground water resources to varying degrees in the region," Brown said. "As urban population grows in Ciudad Juarez, El Paso and Las Cruces, urban water demand will increase. If you have increasing urban water demand and a finite supply of ground water, then municipal water suppliers will need to look at other sources."