Q & A With Commissioner Salmón, Mexico-US IBWC

Back to Summer 2009 Newsletter

Roberto Fernando Salmón Castelo was appointed in April the new Mexican Commissioner on the Mexico-United States International Boundary and Water Commission. The IBWC is charged with fulfilling Mexican commitments to the 1889 Border Convention and the 1944 Mexico-U.S. Water Treaty. He replaces Arturo Herrera who died in a plane crash last fall with his U.S. counterpart, Carlos Marin, while flying over flooded areas near Ojinaga, Mexico. Roberto Fernando Salmón earned both an undergraduate degree of  science in agriculture and a master of  science in agricultural economics from the College of  Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of  Arizona.

Following is information from a questionand-answer email exchange between Commissioner Salmón and Joe Gelt, editor of  the Arizona Water Resource newsletter

JG: What experiences have you had working with water issues?

RFS: Prior to 2002 I did consulting work modeling aquifers and groundwater flow, mainly in the state of  Sonora, Mexico. In 2002, I was appointed the Northwest Regional Manager of  the National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua, or CONAGUA), covering the state of  Sonora and part of  the state of  Chihuahua where the Yaqui and Mayo river basins originate. CONAGUA is the federal institution dealing with all aspects of  water in Mexico. It acts as a technical adviser and also funds drinking water and sanitation projects that are within the realm of  municipal and state governments. CONAGUA administers water rights; constructs, manages, operates and maintains reservoirs throughout the country; manages irrigation districts and units; organizes and tutors watershed councils; plans drought mitigation; and monitors hydrometeorological emergencies (hurricanes) and flooding.  CONAGUA also is involved in the extensive negotiations occurring among the many stakeholders and interest groups concerned with water issues.

JG: How will your past experiences assist you in your new job?

RFS: I believe my work with CONAGUA provided me the opportunity to view things at a broader scale, at the watershed and state level, and work at a long-term framework, but at the same time maintain the sense of  urgency that short-term problem solving requires. As commissioner, the level of  negotiation I will be involved in will be more refined since it involves two countries, ten states (four in the USA and six in Mexico) and a great number of  municipalities and irrigation districts on both sides of  the border. This will require exercising a great deal of  creativity, organization and forward thinking.

JG: How would you characterize the level of  cooperation between Mexico and the United States on water issues?

RFS: There is a great deal of  communication, on a daily basis, between the Mexican and US Sections of  the International Boundary and Water Commission. The IBWC dates back to the 1944 Treaty between Mexico and the USA, but its origins go back 120 years when it was just the International Boundary Commission, making it one of  the oldest, if  not the oldest, binational institution. Although there have been rough times in the relationship, the IBWC has been able to succeed, to the benefit of  both countries, and there is an accumulated knowledge and methodologies developed for dealing with delicate issues that have worked in the past, and still work in the present.The borderland, however, is dynamic in nature, and the challenges are many. And as the IBC evolved to become IBWC and included water issues between both countries, it is perhaps time for the IBWC to be transformed once again to address issues such as the environment, border infrastructure long-term planning, and transboundary aquifers, to name a few.

JG: What has been your involvement with the Colorado River Joint Cooperative Process? What kind of  progress will you seek as Commissioner?

RFS: Both sections (Mexico and USA) of  IBWC are coordinating this historic binational cooperative effort. There have been several meetings on both sides of  the border, and several projects have been identified. It is my perception that we are working in the right direction, and although sometimes we seem to be moving slowly, it is a reflection of  the complexity of  the issues being discussed as well as the complexity of  the coordinating task that has been undertaken by the IBWC.

JG: In what way do you think the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program will make a positive contribution to the management of  the Santa Cruz and San Pedro aquifers?

RFS: I believe that the first positive contribution will be the better understanding and knowledgethat we will have of  our transboundary aquifers. With this information, each country can establishmanagement policies which can lead to a sustainable use of  the aquifer. 

JG: Your University of  Arizona connection will interest many of  our readers along with others involved in U.S.-Mexico water affairs. What is your connection to the UA? How has it prepared you for the work you do?

RFS: Back in the 80s, I was enrolled in the doctoral program in the Department of  Hydrology and Water Resources with Drs. Nathan Buras and Thomas Maddock III as advisors. Sharon Megdal, the Water Resources Research Center director, also was my teacher. I gained much knowledge and insight from my UA instructors. I am grateful for my experiences, in particular, and as I mentioned before, the encouragement to view water resources as a large-scale system and to consider its subsystems and the positive or negative interactions among them. I also was encouraged to discover new, different and better ways of  doing things. Also, I learned to considerthe distant future and to attempt to foresee the future impacts of  decisions made today.