Building Bridges, Wetlands, and Water Sustainability: Lessons from an Arizona-Baja California Sur Partnership
by Jamie McEvoy, Graduate Student, UA School of Geography and Development, and Plácido dos Santos, WRRC Analyst
There is a lot of buzz about working with stakeholders to improve water sustainability. But what does this look like in practice? A recent four-day educational exchange between water managers and urban planners from Arizona and La Paz, Mexico provides an excellent example. Seven dignitaries from the capital of Baja California Sur spent four days touring water facilities and interacting with practitioners and researchers in Phoenix and Tucson. Notably, the group included the Director of the Municipal Water and Wastewater Utility, the Director of Urban Development and Ecology, Chairman of the state’s watershed advisory board, two city councilmen, and two representatives from key non-governmental organizations, The goal was to discuss common challenges, exchange information and examine a range of water management options that might be applied to achieve water sustainability in their desert city.
La Paz, Phoenix and Tucson share similar challenges, including low annual rainfall, rapid urbanization, and concerns about groundwater overdraft. Aware of these similarities, the San Diego-based International Community Foundation supported the engagement and contacted Plácido dos Santos at the UA Water Resources Research Center for advice and assistance to implement the program. To optimize opportunities for the La Paz group, the WRRChosted tour was timed to coincide with a meeting of the InterAmerican Development Bank and 17 Latin American and Caribbean nations at ASU.
In the last four decades, Arizona has made significant financial investments in water infrastructure (e.g., the Central Arizona Project) and created new legislation (e.g., the Arizona Groundwater Management Act) to promote the delivery of renewable water supplies and reduce the reliance on groundwater in critical areas. Decision-makers in the municipality of La Paz are currently considering options for interbasin water transfers, sea water desalination, wastewater reuse, and transferring water rights from agricultural to urban users as ways to address water shortages and overexploitation of groundwater resources. While there are many similarities, there are also important differences in the institutional structures that shape water management in the two regions.
This four-day exchange resulted in an increased technical understanding of various infrastructure projects, as well as an increased appreciation for the long-term vision and commitment to water sustainability that is exemplified by these projects and the water experts who manage them. At the conclusion of the visit, the La Paz representatives said they intend to pursue concepts that were not previously considered. Artificial recharge and reuse of reclaimed water, the incorporation of constructed wetlands and the use of native vegetation in multipurpose facilities are now prominent concepts for La Paz’s water resources planning. The engagement of our visitors and all the host organizations in Arizona made for a rich binational dialogue.