Water-Resources Management in the San Pedro Basin: Building Binational Alliances

Article excerpt

Transboundary water management poses difficult institutional and cultural challenges for U.S.-Mexico watershed initiatives, yet current and past experiences can offer useful lessons for other transboundary water managers and policymakers attempting to use coordinated resource management to better address water allotment and quality issues. While acknowledging that transboundary watershed initiatives in this region are relatively new and "their operational scope, mode of decision-making, and linkages amongst participating actors vary considerably by area and project throughout the border region" (Mumme 2002: 6), the potential for transboundary watershed initiatives to build on the experiences of others points to the value of a comparative case study. At the same time, generalizing about organizational structure and process of these initiatives is much easier than evaluating performance and productivity. Effective governance structures generally reflect specific local or regional contexts, yet if we base our discussion on the premise that "building local initiatives can advance regional cooperation on water resources" (Brown 2000), we must ask, What makes local initiatives successful? While it is too early in the development of U.S.-Mexico transboundary watershed initiatives to evaluate outcomes comprehensively, we can draw from the literature on watershed initiatives in the western United States and Mexico the following analytical criteria (Kenney et al. 2000: xii, 403; Born and Genskow 2000; Barba Pirez 1998; Barragan 1999: 550-57; Canto 1998: 77-97; Leach and Pelkey 2001; Olivera 2001: 53-64; Schuett, Selin, and Carr 2001; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1998):

1. historical setting and current water resource issues;

2. organizational constraints, including clear identification of mission and focus with long-range vision and goals, monitoring and assessment, well-defined process rules, decision-making style, strong leadership, and consistent funding;

3. representation of all interests: state and municipal agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and private stakeholders, with the development of trust and mutual understanding; and

4. linkages between science, policy, and local stakeholder interests, and the education of participants and public in science and policy.

This case study examines two watershed initiatives in the upper San Pedro River basin, located in northeastern Sonora, Mexico, and southeastern Arizona. The basin was selected on the basis of our collective multiyear experiences working as participant-observers, policy analysts, program managers, and community collaborators. We begin with a brief account of the methodologies used in the case study and descriptions of the two watershed initiatives, stressing their similarities and differences. We then examine both initiatives in terms of (a) historical setting and current water resource issues, (b) organizational structures and processes, (c) representation of stakeholder interests, and (d) linkages between policy and science with basin stakeholders. We also compare their relative successes and problems. We anticipate that the scale of the basin and specifically, the level of government at which resource-management problems are addressed and policy implemented will be important in terms of effective management. We also expect national governments to have a stronger role in the policy debate than will the states, despite decentralization playing an increasingly important role in the rise of regional watershed groups. We conclude with a look at the implications of these differences in the two portions of the basin for coordinated binational resource management and with a discussion of the significance of this case study for potential transboundary collaboration.


Surveys are frequently used to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of western U.S. watersheds (Born and Genskow 2000; Buffalo River Stewardship Foundation 2000; Leach 2000; Kenney 2000), as are case studies involving interviews, text analysis, participant observation, or some combination thereof (Imperial and Hennessey 2000; U. …