In 2004 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) launched the Border Environmental Health Initiative (BEHI), a major project encompassing the entire U.S.-Mexico border region. In 2009, a study of the Santa Cruz River Watershed (SCW), located in the border region of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, was initiated as part of the BEHI. In this borderland region of the desert Southwest, human health and the ecosystems on which humans rely depend critically on limited water resources. Surface water is scarce during much of the year, and groundwater is the primary source for industrial, agricultural, and domestic use. In order to identify risks to water resources in the SCW, and the potential consequences to riparian ecosystems and ultimately human health, the USGS is using an interdisciplinary and integrative approach that incorporates the expertise of geographers, hydrologists, biologists, and geologists to track organic and inorganic contaminants and their effects from sources to sinks in sediment, water, plants, and animals. Existing groundwater and surface-water models are being used and modified to assess contaminant and sediment transport.
A consortium of federal, academic, and nongovernment organization (NGO) partners have established a collaborative research enterprise in the San Pedro River Basin to develop methods, standards, and tools to assess and value ecosystem goods and services. The central premise of ecosystem services research is that human condition is intrinsically linked to the environment. Human health and well-being (including economic prosperity) depend on important supporting, regulating, provisioning, and cultural services that we derive from our surrounding ecosystems. The AGAVES project is intended as a demonstration study for incorporating ecosystem services information into resource management policy and decisionmaking. Accordingly, a nested, multiscale project design has been adopted to address a range of stakeholder information requirements. This design will further facilitate an evaluation of how well methods developed in this project can be transferred to other areas.