The Rio Grande region, which includes three US states and five Mexican states, is currently facing a drought. El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, the cross boarder urban giant, is the largest urban center in that region, with a combined population of 2.1 million people. Many surrounding farms and ranches are affected as well, and the presence of “thirst crops” such as pecans and cotton, which require a lot of water, makes the situation even worse. The Rio Grande is so low that the region is basically only receiving a trickle of water currently.
Attempting to solve that problem is an interdisciplinary, international, cross-institutional team of engineers, hydrologists, anthropologists, economists and others. The team is also bringing in local decision makers, community members, and non-profit organizations. It’s all hands on deck to try and solve the problem, and they’ve been awarded a grant of $4.9 million by the Department of Agriculture to tackle this problem.
They want to study the effects and, especially, the cause of such a drought, in order to better understand and, if possible, prevent such problems in the future. But they also want to figure out ways to deal with the drought that’s happening, developing tools and plans to adapt to and deal with future droughts. The team realizes that human activity is partly to blame, as climate change is making water scarcer in areas like this. But human activity is also making the drought worse, as humans can be notoriously wasteful with water. Large populations in water scarce areas make things hard enough, but the addition of thirst crops makes that situation even worse.
They have a few tricks up their sleeves from dealing with previous droughts though. Desalinization plants can put seawater to use, while installing drip irrigation on farms can help to reduce water use. These are only stopgap measures though, and the team’s goal over the next five years is to develop better solutions.