The Rio Grande/Río Bravo Basin Coalition: A Multinational Organization Dedicated to the River
by Greg Bloom, FNS Editor

 

Established as a non-profit organization in 1996, the Rio Grande/Río Bravo Basin Coalition (RGRBBC) is a novel multinational organization that seeks to coordinate NGO's in their attempts to better the Rio Grande/Río Bravo basin.

Born out of a series of Ford Foundation-sponsored conferences and meetings in 1994 and 1995 that involved hundreds of people from the length of the Rio Grande, the RGRBBC was created specifically as a multinational organization with a board of directors drawn from Mexico, Native American pueblos and the United States. The RGRBBC's multinational character was no after thought either but was an organizational goal that is reflected in the fact that the group is run by codirectors Gabriela Vale, located in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and Bess Metcalf, based in El Paso, TX.

A Multinational Group

Proof of the group's ability to work effectively in many of the nations located along the river is its Día del Río event which is used to draw attention to the river as both an ecosystem and a quality of life concern. Last year's Día del Río was held on October 21 and saw significant commitment from many groups and communities. While the RGRBBC serves to coordinate the day throughout the basin, local groups fashion their own schedules that include such things as habitat reconstruction, picnics, and raft-building contests. Last year's Día del Río event had the participation of more than sixty groups from the various nations taking part in the day's activities.

In 1999 the following sites or communities participated in Día del Río: Del Norte, CO, Taos, NM, Las Vegas, NM, Santa Ana Pueblo, Sano Domingo Pueblo, Cochiti Pueblo, Albuquerque, NM, Bosque del Apache NWR, Carlsbad, NM, Brantley Lake State Park, Bitter Lakes NWR, Roswell, NM, Las Cruces, NM, Doña Ana County, NM, El Paso, TX (two sites), Cd. Juárez, Chih (sites), Chihuahua City, Chih, Aldamas, Chih, Ojinaga, Chih, Big Bend National Park, Kickapoo Reservation, Eagle Pass, TX, Laredo, TX, Nuevo Laredo, Tam, Piedras Negras, Coah, Falcon State Park, TX, Harlingen, TX, McAllen, TX, Reynosa, Tam, Río Bravo, Tam, and Monterrey, NL. While such a list may seem a bit long to publish in this form it is important to see the number and nationality of communities that are actively involved in river work.

In that same year's Día del Río, 22,000 volunteers picked up over 650 tons of garbage from along the river and planted 20,000 native plants and trees in addition to other activities. Every year news media from all over the basin covers the day's activities.

NGO Coordination

The RGRBBC was initiated with the idea that it would serve to coordinate and help fund the efforts of the numerous pro-river groups throughout the basin. Many groups along the river have a predominantly local focus that is limited to a city, county or region. Groups upriver and downriver of each other often do not know what other groups are doing in the river basin. There have also been moments when Colorado and New Mexico groups, for instance, have had adversarial relationships with each other. In response to these realities the RGRBBC seeks to further communication among groups and advocates for long-term solutions to the river's problems.

To address the issue of communication among the river's many groups, the RGRBBC has provided computer equipment to over 40 organizations through the provision of minigrants. In Mexico, where many groups have almost no budget, the RGRBBC has found it beneficial to set up NGO Support Centers so that a number of groups can share office space and rent, telephone lines and expenses and computer and fax machines. This has already been done in Cd. Juárez and a similar support center is already underway in Río Bravo, Tamaulipas. Another is being considered for Chihuahua City, Chi.

In its efforts to bring together river groups the RGRBBC also organizes conferences where advocates for the river can come together and work on issues. In November, 2000 the RGRBBC held the "Uniting the Basin 2000 Congress" in Cd. Juárez. It was a three-day conference that brought together over 150 people, many of them US citizens that had never been to a Mexican border city like Cd. Juárez. Many Rio Grande/Río Bravo subjects were examined at the meeting and attendees developed recommendations for sustainable-water use in the basin.

All these RGRBBC accomplishments are even more impressive when one considers that the group has only been in existence for approximately five years and operates with a staff of just five people.

Challenges

US codirector Bess Metcalf states that one of the most difficult aspects of being a multinational organization is that each nation requires individual attention. Just as citizens, government workers, NGO's and politicians expect to be treated and consulted with in certain but different ways in the US and Mexico, the Native American pueblos have their own expectations as well. Metcalf says that for an organization as small as the RGRBBC it is logistically difficult to work with the approximately 20 pueblos on the river. While at least three of the river pueblos participate in the Día del Río there are many that do not and they need to be met with and drawn into river projects. Finally, it should be known that the pueblos have senior, undetermined water rights that need to be quantified before water apportionment issues can finally be resolved within the region.

River activism and interest in the river also takes different forms in the basin's different nations. In many parts of the US habitat restoration and the protection of endangered species is of the highest importance. In contrast, Mexican groups tend to be interested in the river as a community resource for families, children and youth, according to Metcalf. Another large part of what Mexican NGO's do around the river is environmental education and conscience-raising through such things as workshops and native tree planting . Future goals for Mexican organizations also include the establishment of ecoparks along the Río Bravo. Of high importance in some of the pueblos is the reestablishment of riverside forests known as bosques. However, for this to happen, overbank flooding is a necessity because of the cottonwood tree's growing cycle. This of course could be seen as a waste of water by more commercially-oriented river users.

Another challenge for the RGRBBC to avoid being seen as a paternalistic donor agency by Mexican groups. While the ability to give away a few thousand dollars a year in technology and communication grants to Mexican organizations may not seem like much to a US group, Metcalf states that even those sums can be an impediment to the RGRBBC's desire to be seen as an equal by all its partners.

Looking toward the future it will be the RGRBBC and only a few other organizations that will advocate and work for environmental and quality of life concerns along the entire length of the Río Bravo/Rio Grande basin during the time its water becomes an ever more significant object of dispute in the fast-growing river basin.
 

The RGRBBC can be reached at: www.rioweb.org

To see 11 interesting, river-basin facts go to: www.rioweb.org/BasinFacts.html

--
Frontera NorteSur
On-line news coverage of the US-Mexico border
To see our site or subscribe for free to our daily news service go to:
http://www.nmsu.edu/~frontera/

FNS is an outreach program of the Center for Latin American Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Email address: frontera@nmsu.edu
(505) 646-6817