Comparative approaches to environmental governance of transboundary water resources along the USA-Mexico border

Luzma Fabiola Nava Jiménez, of the Water Program, is examining the water governance regime in river basins which cross the USA/Mexico border. The results show that in order to improve water resources sustainability and management both countries need to agree to adapt the water resource regimes.

Luzma Fabiola Nava Jiménez

Luzma Fabiola Nava Jiménez


The transboundary water resources framework between Mexico and the USA serves mainly to allocate international watercourses and to approach limited environmental issues within a fragmented governing structure. This structure itself is characterized by the presence of one binational boundary water organization and a multitude of emerging stakeholders, water managers, and decisions makers dealing with allocation and timely environmental issues. Water allocation terms are rigid despite the vulnerability of the transboundary water resource and the socio-economic development of border regions. Management—access, allocation, use — and protection of transboundary waters are intrinsically political.


Given the size of the Rio Grande/Bravo Basin (RGBB) and the Colorado River Basin (CRB), the research area has been downscaled: in the case of the RGBB, the focus will be given to the Paso del Norte Region (PdN); and in the case of the CRB the Lower Colorado River Basin (LCRB) will be studied. I use qualitative research methods to assess stakeholders’ concurrent perspectives and to build potential policy directions based on their insights. A survey has been applied to key stakeholders in the PdN Region. The survey I have developed is deeply rooted in 1) the Water Governance in OECD Countries, A Multi-Level Approach report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2011, and 2) the Water Governance Twin2Go Project endorsed by the Global Water System Project. In order to assess water governance in these river basins, I have built also a set of Indicators rooted on 1) the Twin2Go Guidance for Water Governance Database, 2) the OECD Existing Frameworks for Assessing Water Governance Inventory, and 3) the OECD Principles on Water Governance.

Preliminary results

Based on the survey conducted with key stakeholders in the PdN Region, it is possible to say that the US – Mexico water regime has given good results in terms of quantitative water allocation in the past. However, the system could be improved if both countries agree on the need to adapt the RGBB water resources regime, and to jointly advance water resources sustainability and management in order to better respond to current and future needs. The potential to move forward with a new institutional arrangement within the current allocation framework already exists.

Preliminary conclusion

The US-Mexico water resources framework is subject to broad interpretation and may be adapted to the circumstances taking the fullest advantage of its flexibility. In the particular case of the RGBB, the PdN region needs major transformations, specifically in considering environmental, economical, and socio-political vulnerabilities, as well as the use of surface and groundwater, and key stakeholders’ insights. Moreover, political will is still necessary to achieve change.


Luzma Fabiola Nava Jiménez is a Mexican citizen, and a Colosio Fellowship Postdoctoral Scholar (Oct 2014 – Oct 2016).

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Last edited: 24 October 2016

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