San Pedro River Aquifer Binational Report

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The United States and Mexico share waters in a number of hydrological basins and aquifers that cross the international boundary. Both countries recognize that, in a region of scarce water resources and expanding populations, a greater scientific understanding of these aquifer systems would be beneficial. In light of this, the Mexican and U.S. Principal Engineers of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) signed the “Joint Report of the Principal Engineers Regarding the Joint Cooperative Process United States-Mexico for the Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program" on August 19, 2009 (IBWC-CILA, 2009). This IBWC “Joint Report” serves as the framework for U.S.-Mexico coordination and dialogue to implement transboundary aquifer studies. The document clarifies several details about the program such as background, roles, responsibilities, funding, relevance of the international water treaties, and the use of information collected or compiled as part of the program. In the document, it was agreed by the parties involved, which included the IBWC, the Mexican National Water Commission (CONAGUA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Universities of Arizona and Sonora, to study two priority binational aquifers, one in the San Pedro River basin and the other in the Santa Cruz River basin.

This report focuses on the Binational San Pedro Basin (BSPB). Reasons for the focus on and interest in this aquifer include the fact that it is shared by the two countries, that the San Pedro River has an elevated ecological value because of the riparian ecosystem that it sustains, and that water resources are needed to sustain the river, existing communities, and continued development. This study describes the aquifer’s characteristics in its binational context; however, most of the scientific work has been undertaken for many years by each country without full knowledge of the conditions on the other side of the border. The general objective of this study is to use new and existing research to define the general hydrologic framework of the Binational San Pedro Aquifer (BSPA), to gather hydrogeological and other relevant data in preparation for future work such as an updated groundwater conceptual model and budget and to establish the basis for a binational numerical model.

The specific objectives are as follows:

  • Understand the current state of knowledge with respect to climate, geology, soils, land cover, land use, and hydrology of the aquifer in its binational context;
  • Compile and create a database of scientific information from both countries;
  • Identify data gaps and identify what data would be necessary to update, in a subsequent phase, the hydrologic model of the aquifer system, including surface- and groundwater interactions on a binational level.

The BSPB is one of the most studied basins in the region, and a database of publications has been compiled as part of this project. Previous studies include topics that range from geophysics and hydrogeology to biology and ecosystem services. The economic drivers on each side of the border are quite different. In the Arizona 4 portion of the basin military and tourism dominate while in the Sonoran portion, mining is the most important industry. Water management is also different in the two countries. In Mexico, primary authority for management of water resources devolves from the federal government. In the United States, primary authority rests with the states except in cases of interstate surface waters. Binational waters are not currently jointly managed by the two countries except in cases where treaties have been negotiated such as for the Rio Grande and Colorado Rivers. Thus, there is currently no binational coordination or treaty governing the management of groundwater.

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title San Pedro River Aquifer Binational Report
Year Published 2016
Language English, Spanish
Publisher International Boundary and Water Commission
Contributing office(s) Arizona Water Science Center
Description 164 p.
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