Findings and lessons learned from the assessment of the Mexico-United States transboundary San Pedro and Santa Cruz aquifers: The utility of social science in applied hydrologic research

J. B. Callegary*, S. B. Megdal, E. M. Tapia Villaseñor, J. D. Petersen-Perlman, I. Minjárez Sosa, R. Monreal, F. Gray, F. Grijalva Noriega

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Study Region: This study region encompasses the Transboundary San Pedro and Santa Cruz aquifers which are shared between the states of Sonora (Mexico) and Arizona (US). Special regional considerations include a semi-arid climate, basin-fill aquifers with predominantly montane recharge areas, economic drivers in the mining, trade, and military sectors, groundwater-dependent cities with expanding cones of depression, interbasin groundwater transfers, ground- and surface-water contamination, and protected aquatic and riparian habitats that act as significant migration corridors for hundreds of species, including some that are threatened and endangered. Study Focus: We focus on lessons learned from the hydrologic assessment of the Transboundary San Pedro and Santa Cruz aquifers. We conducted the work, in two phases: (1) laying the groundwork and (2) implementation. The “laying the groundwork” phase consisted of binational meetings with stakeholders and key actors (agencies and individuals), and the development of an understanding of the physical, institutional, historical, and socio-political context. This led to signing of the binational Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program (TAAP) agreement in 2009 and detailed the process for cooperation and coordination in the assessment of shared aquifers. The implementation phase began with an agreement to proceed with the study of four “focus” aquifers (Santa Cruz, San Pedro, Mesilla (Conejos-Médanos in Mexico), and Hueco Bolson (Bolsón del Hueco in Mexico)) and development of associated technical teams. Though we do include a brief discussion of the lessons learned from the physical science portion of the study, the results have been described and published elsewhere. The bulk of the paper instead focuses on the findings and lessons learned from the integration of social-science perspectives into a largely physical-science based program, since there is a growing recognition of the need for this type of approach especially in the management and assessment of transboundary aquifers. New Hydrological Insights for the Region: The Sonora-Arizona effort succeeded because both countries were adequately represented, and because of flexibility of skills and ability of teams comprising both university and government scientists. Teams included social and earth scientists. Including the social sciences was critical to research design and implementation, and to addressing the cultural, institutional, and socio-political contexts of transboundary aquifer assessment. Significant components of the continuing implementation phase include strategic planning, data compilation and analysis, cross-border integration of datasets, geophysical and geochemical surveys, and internal, peer, and stakeholder engagement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-73
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Hydrology: Regional Studies
StatePublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • Groundwater
  • Hydrogeology
  • Socio-hydrology
  • Transboundary aquifers
  • US-Mexico


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