International officials must work together to research and conserve shared groundwater supplies, experts from New Mexico, Texas and the Mexican state of Chihuahua said during a virtual conference this week.
Sam Fernald, director of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, said that how the countries choose to use water now will influence the border region’s environment and economy for the next 1,000 years.
“Our shared aquifers are more important than ever in the face of diminished surface water supplies due to drought and climate change,” Fernald said.
The “Two Nations, One Water” conference featured university and government presentations about acequias, water quality and measuring agricultural water use.
Luis Carlos Alatorre, an engineer with Mexico’s National Water Commission, said the two countries need to improve wastewater systems to protect common water supplies.
“There is a lot of opportunity here,” Alatorre said. “But, we have to put these projects into play at the government-to-government level.”
The Mesilla Basin aquifer system serves Las Cruces, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s latest report on the aquifer states that “declining water levels, deteriorating water quality, and increasing use of groundwater resources by municipal, industrial and agricultural water-users on both sides of the international border have raised concerns about the long-term availability of this supply.”
Maria-Elena Giner, U.S. commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission for the U.S. and Mexico, urged groups to share data that can help politicians advocate for funding regional water infrastructure.
The commission is headquartered in El Paso, and manages water treaties, and international reservoirs and treatment plants.
“The science piece and the technical piece seems to always work well,” Giner said. “It is in the case of actual transboundary work where I’ve noticed that there has been challenges is in the legal frameworks. So, it’s about how we get beyond just talking science and modeling.”
The conference will conclude Thursday.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.