The Rio Grande River is one of the most endangered rivers on the planet. Rescuing it will require coordinating the two dozen organizations that manage its water. The World Wildlife Fund is launching a project to do just that.
The Rio Grande River is the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the three most biodiverse deserts in the world. Freshwater ecosystems underpin all of life in this arid landscape, including more than 130 mammals, 3,000 plants, and 500 bird species. Nearly half of all the species in this desert’s rivers, streams, and springs are found nowhere else on Earth. The Rio Grande also provides a narrow lifeline for the more than 13 million US and Mexican residents of the basin and contributes billions of dollars to the economies of the states through which it passes.
Water management in the basin is complex. The river’s flow is apportioned by a series of both international treaties and interstate compacts. In the US, water allocations are decentralized, and while both local and state water agencies have control over parts of the basin, there is no overarching entity that regulates the system in its entirety. The lack of a coordinating body means that upstream users often use and pollute the system without regard for those downstream.
With a two-year, $295,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the World Wildlife Fund proposes a groundbreaking approach to cut through the chaos and confusion with a new science-based tool that assesses an entire river basin and recommends smart responses to address its challenges. The tool, a Resilient Basin Report Card, is specifically designed to 1) leverage broad stakeholder engagement, academic contributions, and media partnerships; 2) clearly communicate the current state of a river system and potential future states; and, 3) advocate for substantive policy changes or direct interventions to achieve the best future scenario.
The report card provides a crisp and nuanced picture of a system’s health using clear concepts and fact snapshots to inform communities, managers, companies, government officials, and decision makers. The process encourages buy-in from basin stakeholders to ensure local legitimacy and credibility for actions. Together, these efforts will secure the region’s unique biodiversity, the livelihoods and cultures of its people, and the future for all in a changing climate.