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Related Link: The U.S. - Mexican Border Environment:, Sustainable 2020, SCERP, 1999 


A Call to Action Is Needed at U.S.-Mexico Border, Report Says

By Ken Ellingwood
The Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1999

 Environment: Better land use planning is urged in dealing with rising
population,pollution and water shortages.

SAN DIEGO--The United States and Mexico will need smarter land use planning along their shared 2,000-mile border during the next two decades to avoid being overwhelmed by an expected population explosion, expanding trade and a stew of related environmental troubles, according to a new report by a group of U.S. and Mexican universities.

     Fresh planning entities will be required, as will solutions tailored to the cities and towns sharing cross-border air pollution and dwindling water supplies, said the report by the San Diego-based Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy, a consortium of nine universities.

     "Currently, the environment is at risk. The situation will deteriorate significantly in the future if population and economic growth continue at present rates without significant changes in regional development," the report says.

Border Population Boom

The number of people living along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border is expected to boom during the next 20 years, raising worries about the future health of the region's environment. A new report cites those concerns in calling for better binational planning for the use of land and natural resources.


Border Area


Both sides:





U.S. side:





Mexican side:





* Researchers' highest projections

Source: James Peach and James Williams, New Mexico State University


     The report, summarizing the findings of researchers, government officials and business representatives who met in December to plot the region's future, is described as the first broad attempt to forecast growth and shortages along the fast-changing border. It will be issued this week at an Ensenada conference of officials from the United States and Mexico who oversee the border environment.

     The problems envisioned are not unlike those facing growing communities elsewhere, but are more complex because they span an international boundary.

     Government officials concerned with the border are typically "putting out fires and addressing immediate problems and emergencies," said Paul Ganster, who runs a border program at San Diego State University and is one of the authors. "We're trying to get communities and border stakeholders to start thinking ahead. . . . It's a wake-up call."

     The researchers depict a border region that has some of the poorest communities in the United States and an expanding industrial zone in Mexico that is even poorer. In one of the most striking findings, researchers predict that the combined populations of the 25 U.S. counties and 35 Mexican municipalities hugging the border could nearly double by 2020 because of migration and reproduction.

     That would be far faster than the growth projected for other areas, such as the city of Los Angeles, whose population is expected to rise by roughly a third by 2020. A forecast last year predicted a 43% jump for six Southern California counties, excluding San Diego.

     A drastic jump in the number of border dwellers--to as many as 24 million from 12 million now--would burden water and energy systems and worsen ecological headaches, they say.

     "These population trends portend serious problems for border communities in terms of infrastructure deficits, availability of water and energy, and negative environmental impacts on water, air and natural resources," according to the report.

     Population growth will depend in part on the border's continued role as a magnet for Americans drawn to Sun Belt counties on the U.S. side and Mexican workers lured by foreign-owned assembly plants on the south side of the border, the report said.

     If trends continue, the border region will absorb another 5 million people by 2010 and 12 million by 2020. Growth will be faster in Mexico, where a bigger share of residents are entering child-bearing age. The largest increases are expected in Baja California and, on the U.S. side, along the Texas border. The populations of San Diego and Imperial counties could rise as much as 1 million, to about 3.9 million, between 2000 and 2020, according to projections that assume the current pace of migration continues.

     Poverty remains a concern along the binational belt, which, except for San Diego, generally suffers from low wages and high unemployment. Too many communities are rushing to grab a piece of growing cross-border trade without considering the long-term effects on the environment and the quality of jobs, the report notes. Some of the poorest areas of the United States sit alongside Mexico, where factory jobs are abundant but pay little.

     The scramble along the border for more industry also threatens the natural environment and water supplies that are scarce in the mostly arid zone, the report says. That squeeze will be felt acutely in San Diego and Tijuana and around the twin cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Both urban areas face impending water shortages. Small but fast-growing communities in Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora face dwindling supplies and increasing tension among ranchers, mining companies, developers and others, the report notes.

     The researchers suggest diversifying local economies with new industries, such as nature-based tourism, and greater efforts to reuse water and waste. Although a new binational loan program has been slow to fund border improvements, local officials have begun collaborating across the border in such areas as transportation planning and recycling, the report said.  

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