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Environmental flows in the Rio Grande - Rio Bravo basin

Samuel Sandoval-Solis, Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, USA.; Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, Davis, USA.
Stephanie Paladino, MeroLek Anthropology
Laura E. Garza-Diaz, Hydrologic Sciences Graduate Group, University of California, Davis, USA
Luzma F. Nava, CONACYT, Centro del Cambio Global y la Sustentabilidad A. C., Mexico; International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria
Jack R. Friedman, Center for Applied Social Research, University of Oklahoma, USA
J. Pablo Ortiz-Partida, Climate and Energy, Union of Concerned Scientists, USA
Sophie Plassin, Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, University of Oklahoma, USA; AGIR, Univ Toulouse, INRAE, Castanet-Tolosan, France
Grace Gomez-Quiroga, University of California, Davis, USA
Jennifer Koch, Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, University of Oklahoma, USA; Data Institute for Societal Challenges, University of Oklahoma, USA
Jeri Fleming, Grand River Dam Authority, USA
Belize A. Lane, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Utah State University, USA
Sean Wineland, Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, University of Oklahoma, USA
Ali Mirchi, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Oklahoma State University, USA
Ramon Saiz-Rodriguez, Hydrologic Sciences Graduate Group, University of California, Davis, USA
Thomas M Neeson, Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, University of Oklahoma, USA

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-12944-270120

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Abstract

The Rio Grande/Bravo is an arid river basin shared by the United States and Mexico, the fifth-longest river in North America, and home to more than 10.4 million people. By crossing landscapes and political boundaries, the Rio Grande/Bravo brings together cultures, societies, ecosystems, and economies, thereby forming a complex social-ecological system. The Rio Grande/Bravo supplies water for the human activities that take place within its territory. While there have been efforts to implement environmental flows (flows necessary to sustain riparian and aquatic ecosystems and human activities), a systematic and whole-basin analysis of these efforts that conceptualizes the Rio Grande/Bravo as a single, complex social-ecological system is missing. Our objective is to address this research and policy gap and shed light on challenges, opportunities, and success stories for implementing environmental flows in the Rio Grande/Bravo. We introduce the physical characteristics of the basin and summarize the environmental flows studies already done. We also describe its water governance framework and argue it is a distributed and nested governance system across multiple political jurisdictions and spatial scales. We describe the environmental flows legal framework and argue that the authority over different aspects of environmental flows is divided across different agencies and institutions. We discuss the prioritization of agricultural use within the governance structure without significant provisions for environmental flows. We introduce success stories for implementing environmental flows that include leasing of water rights or voluntary releases for environmental flow purposes, municipal ordinances to secure water for environmental flows, nongovernmental organizations representing the environment in decision-making processes, and acquiring water rights for environmental flows, among others initiatives. We conclude that environmental flows are possible and have been implemented but their implementation has not been systematic and permanent. There is an emerging whole-basin thinking among scientists, managers, and citizens that is helping find common-ground solutions to implementing environmental flows in the Rio Grande/Bravo basin.

Key words

environmental flows, Rio Bravo, Rio Grande, social-ecological systems, transboundary basins

Copyright © 2022 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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