By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator
Border communities often face a conundrum in that they are linked together culturally, economically, and through many shared natural resources; however, they are also separated by very distinct—and in many cases, physical—geopolitical borders. 192 million crossings were made at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018, and nearly $600 billion dollars’ worth of goods and services flow through the 17 ports of entry, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. At the same time, political and historical developments create the reality of being on either side of two different countries.
This connected-yet-separate dual nature poses a unique set of challenges to these communities in areas such as public health, urban resilience, and the management of shared water resources. Recently, a convocation held in Washington D.C. on February 6, 2020 entitled, Data-Driven Discovery at the U.S.-Mexico Border brought together the Border Solutions Alliance. This consortium of universities and research institutions, including New Mexico State University and NM WRRI, presented an initial portfolio of data-driven, use-inspired research efforts to program sponsors and policymakers. Presentations converged around three topics: transformation of production, health and well-being, and regional sustainability.
As part of a “fireside chat” exploring regional sustainability focused on transboundary watersheds and aquifer resources, NM WRRI director Sam Fernald presented the case of the shared Mesilla Basin and Hueco Bolson aquifers between communities located at the border region of New Mexico, Texas, and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. While surface water is managed extensively in treaties between the U.S. and Mexico, ground water is really not considered at all. Sam emphasized that to study and manage those transboundary aquifers, we need more cross-border collaboration, including the sharing of seamless data across the border.
Last year, NM WRRI and New Mexico State University hosted a series of workshops with the Border Solutions Alliance to engage the research community along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border to begin identifying shared challenges that could benefit from the research being conducted by universities in border communities. The Border Solutions Alliance was launched by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate, through its Smart and Connected Communities program. The Alliance brings together universities from both sides of the border, including the University of California at San Diego, University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, University of Texas at El Paso, University of Texas at San Antonio, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, El Colegio de Sonora, Universidad Autónoma de Cuidad Juárez, Centro de Enseñanza Técnica Y Superior Universidad, and Tecnológico de Monterrey.
As a result of the convocation in Washington D.C., NM WRRI has agreed to work with the University of California at San Diego on a “digital twin,” which is a computer-based replica of a physical entity used to monitor and model certain aspects of a physical system. An open-source, multinational digital twin of the border region could be used to deliver water budgets with spatial visualization for end users such as farmers, cities, and agencies. Additionally, the NSF and non-partisan Wilson Center expressed interest in collaboration efforts to better understand water at the U.S.-Mexico border.