This year’s participants in the 28th Annual Alabama Water Resources Conference, www.aaes.auburn.edu/water/alabama-water-resources-conference were treated to a presentation on the phenomenal success of Global Water Watch (GWW) in Mexico. GWW a program based at Auburn University, and GWW, Inc. an incorporated nonprofit organization, promote community-based watershed monitoring throughout the world, see www.globalwaterwatch.org
Longtime Alabama Water Watch staffer and Associate Director of GWW, Sergio Ruiz-Córdova gave an overview of how an AWW training at Auburn ten years ago has evolved into a community-based watershed stewardship program encompassing a major portion of Mexico (12 of 30 States).
The effort was primarily supported through a five-year grant (2009-2013) from the USEPA Gulf of Mexico Program. The project, titled Fostering Environmental Stewardship of the Gulf of Mexico: A Trans-Boundary Network of Water Education and Monitoring for Animal Producers, Classrooms and Community Volunteers, was funded through the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program’s Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GoMA) Grant Program, and nick-named the GWW-GoMA Project (much easier to remember!). Primary goals of the GWW-GoMA Project were to foster awareness of Gulf of Mexico water quality issues, to expand water monitoring by training and certifying volunteer monitors, and to promote community-based watershed stewardship through various ‘data-to-action’ strategies. Project efforts focused in coastal river basins, including the Mobile River Basin in Alabama, and La Antigua Basin in Veracruz, Mexico. La Antigua Basin extends inland from the Gulf westward to 5,000-meter high mountains, and includes intensive agricultural lands, cattle farming, and upland forests. It is a major drainage into the Gulf of Mexico.
Workshops conducted using GWW training manuals and materials in English and Spanish, resulted in certification of over 2,500 volunteer monitors, empowering them to pursue stewardship activities in their local watersheds. Workshops with educators and teachers in Mexico helped to adapt AWW manuals and materials into Spanish versions. An online Directory of Environmental Centers in states in Mexico and the US that border the Gulf was also compiled, and is available to the public (see http://www.globalwaterwatch.org/GOMA/EED/EECD.html).
The GWW-GoMA Project has yielded thousands of water data records that volunteer monitors submit to the GWW database, which are accessible at the GWW webpage. Data have been used to remediate pollution problems and influence watershed management plans and water policy in both Alabama and several areas throughout Mexico.
Project participants, including policy makers, educators and the general public, learned about the importance of taking a watershed approach to solving the complex problems in the Gulf of Mexico. In Mexico, GWW-GoMA leveraged projects that linked the community-based watershed stewardship activities with payment for environmental services. This paved the way for the participation of GWW- Mexico in other projects focused on watersheds draining to the Gulf of Mexico, including PROGRAMME FOR THE INTEGRAL RESTORATION OF THE NAOLINCO RIVER MICROCATCHMENT, VERACRUZ (lead by Universidad Veracruzana and funded by the National Council of Science and Technology–CONACyT), INNOVATIVE MECHANISMS FOR A COOPERATIVE PROGRAM FOR THE CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION AT THE SIERRA MADRE AND COSTA OF CHIAPAS (lead by INIFAP and funded by the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation–GIZ), and COASTAL WATERSHEDS CONSERVATION IN THE CONTEXT OF CLIMATE CHANGE (lead by the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change–INECC in collaboration with the Mexican Fund for Nature Conservancy–FMCN and other institutions and funded by the World Bank).
- the challenges of protecting and restoring the Gulf of Mexico, and for that matter, any waterbody or watershed, are impossible to solve solely through research and regulation,
- community involvement through standardized water monitoring (like methods employed by AWW and GWW) along with promotion of environmental awareness is effective in mobilizing thousands of people from numerous stakeholder groups, and should be a component of any coastal or inland watershed management strategy, and,
- environmental education projects, like this one, help students to acquaint themselves with water and watershed issues; instilling behavioral attitudes and skills to become responsible citizens that will play a vital role in achieving full sustainability in the near future.