Transboundary water resources and public health in the U.S.-Mexico border region

R. G. Varady, M. D. Mack

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The 'Ambos Nogales Water Project' represents an interdisciplinary study of water management policy in a community straddling the U.S.-Mexico border. The project was a joint effort undertaken from 1989 through 1993 by the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) in Nogales, Sonora. Funding was provided by the Ford Foundation. Three key water management issues were the research focus: quantity (water supply), sewerage (water and waste removal), and quality. All three have inseparable linkages with public health. Regarding quantity, the study revealed that entire neighborhoods, especially in Nogales, Sonora, are unsupplied or undersupplied with running water, suggesting negative implications for the health of residents on both sides of the border. Sewerage systems do not reach many neighborhoods in Nogales, Sonora. Even sewered areas are problematic due to breaks in poorly maintained systems, resulting in leaks to the aquifer and threats to groundwater quality. A pilot, water sample survey to assess water quality of area wells revealed significant bacteriologic contamination due to wastewater, elevated nitrate levels, and detectable concentrations of volatile organic compounds, all of which have potentially deleterious health effects. The project database offers an opportunity to analyze environment-related health problems in Ambos Nogales. The authors were not involved in the primary water resources research or sampling surveys that are the background of this essay. They have employed the data generated to discuss previously unaddressed public health aspects of the work and reviewed some of the project's implications within the larger context of research on U.S.-Mexico border environmental health. The project itself contributes a model for cooperative, transboundary research on an important set of factors affecting public health. Project outputs are particularly valuable given that the newly created North American Development Bank (NADBank) and its sister institution, the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission (BECC), have identified water-related problems as their initial priority to improve quality of life in the border region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-14
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of environmental health
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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