Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

What Lies Below: Options to Improve Sustainable Management of U.S./Mexico Transboundary Aquifers

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  • Globally, as surface water quality and quantity diminishes there is increasing reliance on groundwater to buffer water demands of growing populations. Today in many arid regions around the world aquifer pumping rates far exceed recharge rates. Often the groundwater is nonrenewable, or thousands of years old. Despite the known hydrologic connection between surface and groundwater, existing institutions and laws governing surface water are poorly equipped to manage groundwater. While there are more than 600 international treaties governing surface water, only one treaty worldwide explicitly addresses groundwater allocation. Like many other regions of the world, the treaties covering the Paseo del Norte region shared between Mexico and the United States allocate the quantity and timing of surface water deliveries, yet fail to regulate groundwater abstraction. The three transboundary aquifers shared by two countries and three states (New Mexico/U.S., Texas/U.S., and Chihuahua/MX) within Paseo del Norte study area present an ideal microcosm to closer examine water management institutions across the local, state, national, and international scales. This research assesses the United States and Mexico’s institutional capacity to manage groundwater across each scale. The problem is imminent since the Hueco Bolson transboundary aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for nearly 2 million people and the fresh water is predicted to be completely depleted between 2020-2050. The ultimate objective is to identify which future legal, scientific and economic options can best contribute to more sustainable management of transboundary aquifers without compromising water security in both countries. This research proposes three major paths to move forward: the first step is to increase public awareness of the aquifer exploitation problem; second, for water managers to accurately plan for future water demands there should be a binational groundwater model built by scientists on both sides of the border; third, an international treaty or regional joint agreement is necessary to legally support groundwater management efforts.
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