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August 1, 2002

Group tackles water issues along US/Mexico border
Sandian participates as Bi-National Lab team member in Rotary exchange with Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When you turn on the spigot in the US, you expect the water to flow and be clean and safe to drink. You don’t think about it. Not so in parts of Mexico where the recent drought means decreased water quality or even no water at all when you turn on the tap.

Gray Lowrey, a researcher at the Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories, recently spent a month as part of a Rotary International Group Scientific Exchange, looking at water issues on the US-Mexico Border and in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

His efforts tie in with goals of the new Bi-National Sustainability Laboratory (BNSL) initiative, which encourages the U.S. and Mexico to pursue their common goals for increased science and technology cooperation between the two countries and leverage this cooperation to improve the quality of life in the border region. The BNSL concept was conceived to tackle problems of widespread poverty and lack of basic resources such as public health, adequate supplies of clean water and technology-based economic growth.

On his 3,000-mile trek during the exchange, Lowrey saw numerous problems with how water is delivered and treated. In Ciudad Juarez, the fourth largest city in Mexico, there are two new water treatment plants, and effluent has only recently begun to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s minimum standards for US water. And some speculate that Juarez will run out of fresh water from the Hueco aquifer as early as 2004-2005. In other parts of Chihuahua there are no water systems at all and people get water from surface wells that are unprotected and often contaminated.

The team Lowery was part of included two New Mexico State University professors, a local geohydrologist, and a New Mexico Environment Department water quality specialist. They visited cities, villages, and rural areas in Chihuahua, which is one of the five states in Rotary District 4110. A similar Mexican contingent visited New Mexico and the El Paso area — which make up Rotary District 5520 — to learn more about ongoing water research and development programs and receive an update on the BNSL.

Albuquerque resident Clark Lovrien, a 20-year Rotarian and a former governor of Rotary District 5520 — which covers all of New Mexico and West Texas from Fort Stockton to El Paso — served as district chairman of this group exchange. He says the Rotary exchange Lowrey participated in had two firsts: it was the first exchance with an adjacent district (in this case Rotary District 5520 with District 4110 in Mexico), and the first time an exchange was done with a single scientific focus — water.

Lovrien was particularly pleased by the Sandia’s involvement in the project, which included both Lowrey’s participation in the exchange and a visit by the Mexico contingent to Sandia where they met with scientists who have been investigating water issues.

Lowrey says the group visited areas where drinking water was collected from shallow wells and springs going untreated and it was, most likely, contaminated. In a time of drought, pipes carrying water in one location were leaking thousands of gallons a day because of poor maintenance. Even in the large city of Juarez, people were using compost toilets because water wasn’t available to their part of the metropolitan area.

Among their stops in Mexico was a visit to drought-stricken Basigochi in the Sierra Tarahumara Region where native Indians performed a rain dance.

After the visits the US and Mexican groups met in Taos, N.M., to brainstorm about what can be done to improve water delivery and purity in the borderlands. In the end the two teams wrote a report outlining the issues and 15 projects that Rotary Clubs could help implement over the next few years.

The goal is for Rotary Clubs to adopt a project from these ideas and to carry it through to completion.

Lowrey was encouraged to participate in the exchange by Vipin Gupta, a member of Sandia’s think tank, the Advanced Concepts Group. As one of the people at Sandia involved in the BNSL, Gupta worked on the Rotary planning team that organized the Group Study Exchange activities.

Sandia Media Relations contact: Chris Burroughs,, (505) 844-0948

Sandia technical contacts: Vipin Gupta, , (915) 526-2753

Gray Lowrey,, (505), 844-7594


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