UMB-WEST: First Week in Mexico

Hola amigos!

Gone are the days of excessive humidity and siestas as the Arizona State students return from their two week campaign in Sonora, Mexico. Though both weeks were intensive, they were challenging in different ways.

The first week began with lunch at Elba in Santa Ana, Sonora. The restaurant deserves mention because it is home to the famous milonesas, a chicken-fried steak the size of a sombrero. Not only was this an introduction to Mexican cuisine, it was a test to the students. Several of them tried to finish an entire one, but only two succeeded: Rud Moe and Danny Che. Honorable mentions go to Huntington Keith and Jiachuan Yang.

ASU Group eating milonesas in Santa Ana

After the hefty meal and a night of sleep, students began their week of excursions and lectures in Hermosillo with Dr. Christopher Watts from the University of Sonora (USON) and Dr. Enrico Yepez of the Technological Institute of Sonora (ITSON). Both gave a detailed overview of the meteorological and ecological drivers of hydrology in Sonora. Dr. Watts was the first to expose the infinite amount of variables that influence water availability, resolving that the effort to solve water problems is an interdisciplinary one. Dr. Yepez spoke about the role of scales in space and time, leading into a discussion about ecosystem services and the role science plays in the support and regulation sectors of those services. Afterwards, students were taken to the College of Sonora (COLSON) to hear a lecture by Dr. Nicolas Pineda regarding the challenge of urban water management in the city of Hermosillo. His lecture mentioned the role politics and economics play in infrastructure development. Students were briefed on Mexico’s governmental system and learned the jurisdictional boundaries of the federal, state and city governments in regards to water management. Furthermore, participants were given a full summary of Sonora Sistema Integral (Sí).

Sonora Sí is a multi-faceted effort by the federal government to bring water from the surrounding regions to the city of Hermosillo, the capital of state. Though many projects are planned, the most controversial leg of this venture is the Independencia aqueduct, which aims to funnel water from the Novillo reservoir in the Yaqui Valley river system.

Sonora Sistema Integral Headquarters

The main complaint comes from Ciudad Obregon, the agricultural hub of the state, which procures all of its water from the Yaqui Valley river system. Though debates have pitted Hermosillo and Obregon residents against each other, the project continues and pieces of the aqueduct have already been installed.The argument in spotlight surrounds the amount of water Hermosillo will funnel from the reservoir. Currently, it is set to a small percentage of the total volume, but discussions with officials in Hermosillo reveal that this may not remain the case for long. With more water available, Hermosillo will appear more lucrative to industry which may spur exponential population growth. With this knowledge, UMB-WEST participants realized that their work in the field of science may have political repercussions; ones that they may not be able to control regardless of the scientific data they provide.

Dr. Enrique Vivoni (ASU) explaining the filtration process at the wastewater treatment facility in Hermosillo.

Nearby the Agua de Hermosillo headquarters, students were granted access to a wastewater treatment facility. The site visited was one of the few in the city because currently less than 20% of wastewater is treated. The facility utilizes filtration, activated sludge, chlorination and sedimentation to treat the wastewater.

UMB-WEST group and federal and state representatives in front of Molinito Reservoir, the current main source of surface water available to Hermosillo.

To finish up in Hermosillo, students took trips to the Rodriguez and Molinito reservoirs and a table grape farm. Behind wheat, table grapes is the most lucrative crop in Sonora. Students were given the chance to speak to Inj. Alberto Preciado Martinez on a 220 hectare farm that provides grapes to the United States, select countries in Europe, Japan and China. Management of the farm is heavily influenced by technology, so much so that every tree is distributed water based on its needs decided by a computer. There was also an on-site wastewater treatment facility and two reservoirs that store water during dry seasons.

Table Grape Farm in Pesquiera, Sonora

Drip Irrigation on Grape Trees

Though the organization behind the crops is impressive, the amount of migrant workers the farms in the city attracts during the harvest season is astounding. During harvest season, the town balloons from about 10,000 inhabitants to 40,000 inhabitants. Migrant workers come from southern Mexico, especially from the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.

Once the Hermosillo half of the week came to an end, students ventured two hours south to Ciudad Obregon to receive more on the agriculture of the Sonoran region.

A visit to the Alvaro Obregon or Oviachi reservoir and its corresponding hydroelectric plant defined where farmers in the Yaqui Valley obtain their water. Dr. Jose Luis Minjares spoke about the practices farmers use to conserve and preserve their water.

Students also got the chance to see the facilities of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center CIANO, home of the Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug (father of the Green Revolution). Presentations were given by Dr. Pedro Figueroa and Dr. Juan Manuel Cortes regarding wheat production and various methods of sustainable cultivation. M.C. Ortiz discussed efficient irrigation methods, highlighting that the main problem was not developing the technology but figuring out a way to make it available to all farmers.

Talk with Dr. Juan Manuel Cortes regarding agricultural conservation.

Talk with Dr. Jose Luis Minjares at the Oviachi Reservoir

Sunset at Oviachi Reservoir

Activities were wrapped up in Obregon with a visit to the Yaqui Valley irrigation offices, where students viewed grids of operating wells within the Yaqui Valley river system and heard more formal opposition to the Independencia aqueduct.

This wraps up the first week of adventure. Stay tuned to read about the second week in Mexico where students tended to field work in the small town of Rayon.

Until next post,

Sarah Cronk
SESE Geological Sciences Undergraduate
Barrett Honors College

For more information on the hydrology program at Arizona State, check out the webpage.