In 2004 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) launched the Border Environmental Health Initiative (BEHI), a major project encompassing the entire U.S.-Mexico border region. In 2009, a study of the Santa Cruz River Watershed (SCW), located in the border region of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, was initiated as part of the BEHI. In this borderland region of the desert Southwest, human health and the ecosystems on which humans rely depend critically on limited water resources. Surface water is scarce during much of the year, and groundwater is the primary source for industrial, agricultural, and domestic use.
In order to identify risks to water resources in the SCW, and the potential consequences to riparian ecosystems and ultimately human health, the USGS is using an interdisciplinary and integrative approach that incorporates the expertise of geographers, hydrologists, biologists, and geologists to track organic and inorganic contaminants and their effects from sources to sinks in sediment, water, plants, and animals. Existing groundwater and surface-water models are being used and modified to assess contaminant and sediment transport.