Without water, life can’t survive. Emilie Schur, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, spent three weeks with
us in Palomas in the Summer of 2016 and additional weeks in Columbus, NM doing water research. Her goal was to learn how the border affects people’s access to safe drinking water. Now, her findings are complete. What did she learn about water security and how to improve access to water?
Water security—that means having an adequate supply of reliable, affordable, good quality water for a healthy life. Emilie’s research on water security studied the situation in Columbus and Palomas, where our border community shares a common underground water (aquifer) source. The Mimbres Basin Aquifer is large enough to serve us, but it’s contaminated by arsenic and fluoride.
Water research: Case Study
Her research showed that each local water utility adopted a distinct approach to dealing with that contamination. The different approaches developed due to their differing financial and social resources. They also reflect the various national and bi-national water policies that govern the two municipalities.
Through the years, household water security improved in both places, at least regarding water access and reliability. But, centralized water filtration technology made water harder for residents to afford in Columbus. Meanwhile, decentralized water filtration technology only partially solved the water supply contamination problem in Palomas. Thus, even though the technology improved in both places, households still remain unevenly exposed to water contamination. Emilie’s research raises concerns about issues of water equity that leaders need to consider.
One of the most significant challenges facing water policymakers, providers and users is: how to equitably provide access to clean, reliable, and affordable drinking water in communities reliant on contaminated groundwater.
Emilie’s research found two important supports to address this concern:
- Funding from NAFTA’s environmental side agreements
Although infrastructure improvements alone aren’t enough, she says that’s still a significant aspect of water security. It needs to be coupled with initiatives that build local capacities and promote environmental awareness about water quality concerns.
- Community networks
Awarding more grants to local initiatives and NGOs, like Border Partners, can improve water security, Emilie asserts.
Her research uncovered that the Palomas promotoras were very effective at educating the households on the harmful practice of boiling tap water, which actually concentrates heavy minerals. Our local health promoters encouraged households to use water from the water purifying stations for cooking.
In Columbus, Emilie found local NGOs working to build community spaces to bridge the divide between historically marginalized Hispanic residents and Anglos.
Even with small grants, local networks could work in partnership with water utilities to address residents’ concerns about water rate changes. And, translating educational material into Spanish would help it reach a broader audience.
Border Partners, with the help of staff at NM State University, has developed a low cost, water filter suitable for home use that is in the final stage of testing. It will provide a family with safe drinking and cooking water from their tap for 6 to 12 months (depending upon volume of use) and will cost only about $30.00.
We’re proud that Emilie’s research highlights the contributions that Border Partners and other groups like us make. We’re proud of the work our promotoras are accomplishing within the Palomas community. And, we’re pleased that we were able to facilitate Emilie’s research last summer. Her borderlands research reflects her desire to create for a better future for all living beings.
Emilie’s research was made possible through research grants and fellowships from the NOAA affiliated Climate Assessment for the Southwest, The Tinker Foundation, the University of Arizona Institute of the Environment, the University of Arizona Graduate and Professional Student Council, the University of Arizona Peace Corps Coverdell Fellowship, and the Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers.