$4.9 Million UTEP Grant Preps Region for Climate Change, Water Shortage

EL PASO, Texas – Researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso are preparing for water shortages in the Paso del Norte region in the face of climate change.

To address this critical water issue, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded the University a five-year, $4.9 million grant to study climate change scenarios and their impacts on the Las Cruces, El Paso and Juárez regions that surround the Rio Grande basin.

“Average temperatures are increasing; there’s not much doubt about that,” said William Hargrove, Ph.D., who will co-lead the project and serves as director of UTEP’s Center for Environmental Research Management (CERM). “As temperatures get hotter, there will be less snow in the Rockies, meaning there will be less snow melting and less water that reaches our portion of the Rio Grande.”

Using the funds, Hargrove and co-leader Josiah Heyman, Ph.D., who directs UTEP’s Center for Inter-American and Border Studies, will guide a multi-institution team in the project.

The first phase will focus on modeling climate change scenarios and predicting the implications they will have on the region’s already strained water sources.

After developing the models, the researchers will share the findings with stakeholders like El Paso Water Utilities, agriculturists and local homeowners. The stakeholders will have input during the model development process, too, and will be able to request specific future water scenarios that they are interested in learning about.

“The most important part of this is that we’re going to create something that the public can use to make decisions,” Heyman said. “This will not just be scientists making projections. We’re going to engage the stakeholders so that they can help address the issues.”

After seeing how climate change will affect the region, stakeholders will work with the researchers to identify and create potential solutions. Some of these could include swapping out the area’s crops for more sustainable foods, improving water efficiency and conservation, and implementing further desalination technologies.

“This is a really great community-based research project,” Heyman said. “We’re going to work with the public to share scientific knowledge that will help them start thinking about the future as it pertains to them.”

The grant also will support the education of water resource professionals at UTEP with the goal of improving the University’s capacity to train experts that can tackle water management issues.

UTEP will distribute the $4.9 million among the participating institutions, which include New Mexico State University, Texas A&M University – El Paso, the University of New Mexico, Michigan Tech and the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juárez.