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Michigan Tech-UNISON Linkage: Training a Core of Water Resources Experts

Principle Investigator: Alex Mayer
Sponsor: Association Liaison Office/US Agency for International Development
Award Amount: $299,860
Project Duration: 02/2003 – 08/2006
MTU Reference Code: 020311
 

Abstract

The primary goal of the project is to train professionals in water resources via MS degree programs. We will train at least four MS students and place them in public and private positions in the state of Sonora that are relevant to water resources decision-making. Michigan Tech will sustain the program by offering PhD support for a minimum of one additional student from the MS program. The PhD student will join the UNISON faculty upon completion of the degree program.

Statement of Development Problem to be Addressed
Rapid growth and development in arid and semi-arid lands in Mexico are placing a strain on water resources. If water resources are mismanaged, water quality and quantity will deteriorate to the point of limiting development. We are focusing on the state of Sonora, where water quality and quantity are already compromised by a combination of agricultural and municipal activities.

Agriculture has formed the traditional economic base of Sonora. However, in some areas, most notably the Guaymas and Coste de Hermosillo basins, the rate of irrigation greatly exceeds the natural recharge rate. The consequence of this imbalance is that seawater has intruded tens of kilometers inland, rendering the overlying agricultural land useless. In other areas, such as the Yaqui River Valley, excess water is available. Here, however, application of agrochemicals has resulted in environmental degradation. High levels of nitrates have been detected in groundwater and surface water. A recent, internationally-known study suggests that the neurological development of children living in the Yaqui River Valley has been impaired by exposure to pesticides.

In the last decade, the state of Sonora has encouraged development in other economic bases, including mining and manufacturing. Water of appropriate quantity and quality must be available for Sonora to attract a wide range of industries. Recently, however, several manufacturing industries have chosen to not locate their plants in the region, due to the lack of reliable water supplies. The city of Hermosillo has lost the potential for 140,000 jobs associated with automotive and electronics production because of water supply problems. Semiconductor production and other high-tech industries demand especially high purity water. In these cases, advanced water treatment systems must be designed, constructed and operated.

Industrial development also carries with it the potential risk of drinking water contamination by industrial chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and waste materials. For example, cyanide wastes from gold mining and extraction operations in the Sonoran mountains threaten to severely impact the underlying groundwater. .In addition, personal care and pharmaceutical products used by consumers can find their way into drinking water sources. Reliable dilute, aqueous system data will be tremendously important for regulatory support in Sonora so that allowable chemical concentration levels are set appropriately to protect the environment without creating an unnecessary financial burden on chemical manufacturers.

The state of Sonora also desires to expand ongoing fishing activities in the Sea of Cortez and to further develop aquaculture industries, such as shrimp farming. To sustain fishing, the water quality of the Sea of Cortez must be maintained, in addition to developing forward-looking fisheries management policies. Wastewater emanating from coastal communities must be carefully controlled. Aquaculture not only requires high water quality, but the wastes resulting from these activities also must be carefully managed. Tourism in the state of Sonora is almost exclusively focused on the coast of the Sea of Cortez. Sonora enjoys a reputation for clean, swimmable beaches and a thriving deep sea-fishing business. To sustain the touristic resources, water quality management along the coast is critical.
Management of Sonoran water resources is further complicated by U.S.-Mexico border issues. The border between Sonora and Arizona is central to Mexico’s outstanding maquiladora assembly-plant development. However, the extremely rapid growth of Sonoran border cities (San Luis Rio Colorado, Nogales, Sonora, and Agua Prieta) is straining river and groundwater resources for local populations and industries. The maquiladoras need supplies of pure water, but they are also in many cases significant water polluters, requiring careful monitoring and management. The border itself presents complex scientific and public policy water issues, since both surface and ground water cross the international boundary; this is exemplified by the emerging binational management of the San Pedro river which originates in Sonora (in an area of major mining industry) and flows into Arizona. Water is stimulating important innovations in binational environmental management, as seen in the project certification process of the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission, including several major projects in Sonora; thus, although water is a development challenge for Sonora, it is also an outstanding opportunity for innovation and progress.


Development Hypothesis
Our hypothesis is that training a new generation of bi-national, multi-disciplinary water resources experts will result in sustainable water resources decision-making in Sonora. The proposed training will take place in Master’s programs in Environmental, Chemical, Geological and Civil Engineering; Environmental Policy; or Forestry at Michigan Tech. We will offer a unique combination of technical and policy studies, so that graduates will have a broad array of decision support skills, from design of engineered systems to critical analysis of water policy. The training will include coursework and field experiences in the U.S. and Mexico, through partnerships with private concerns and public agencies in the two countries. In addition to the MS training, we will support a PhD candidate under this program who will agree to return to the University of Sonora to educate additional students in water resource engineering and issues. The partnership between Michigan Tech and UNISON builds on a decade-long relationship and established expertise in the engineering, scientific, cultural, and political aspects of water resources management.


Program Goals and Objectives
The primary goal of the program is to train professionals in water resources via MS degree programs. We will train at least four MS students and place them in public and private positions in the state of Sonora that are relevant to water resources decision-making. Michigan Tech will sustain the program by offering PhD support for a minimum of one additional student from the MS program. The PhD student will join the UNISON faculty upon completion of the degree. The development of the program will rely on state of the art information technology, including advanced communications required for distance learning and training in the use of geographic information systems (GIS).

Objective 1: Develop a curriculum for MS degrees with a focus on decision support and engineering in water
resources.

Objective 2: Recruit, admit, and graduate four MS students and one PhD student.

Objective 3: Place the MS students in positions in public and private concerns that are linked to water resources development in Sonora. The PhD student is expected to join the faculty of UNISON upon completion of the degree.

 




 

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