Rio Grande Research Center


Staff Contacts


Alpine, Texas, and Sul Ross State University stand at the gateway to the Big Bend and Rio Bravo ecosystem. Encompassing Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park and protected Santa Elena Canyon and Maderas del Carmen in Mexico, this nearly three million acre area represents one of the largest protected biospheres on earth. A 2011 bilateral agreement signed by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Mexican Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada recognizes continued binational cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico.

The Big Bend/Rio Bravo is unique in the world for field research. Students and faculty affiliated with the Rio Grande Research Center, under the direction of Prof. Kevin Urbanczyk, are engaged in numerous research projects to advance understanding the complex ecology of the transboundary corridor.

Background and Objectives

Far West Texas demographic trends clearly indicate an escalating competition for all natural resources, specifically water. Developing a transboundary water management plan for the sustainable use of the Rio Grande remains an elusive goal with significant economic and ecosystem implications for both the United States and Mexico. The scientific, professional and policymaking communities are engaged in serious discussions about the combined impact of the engineered flood/drought cycle infrastructure which has radically altered watershed ecology in the Rio Grande Basin. In addition, significant concerns about the consequences of observed climate change on water quality and quantity must be addressed.

Water use practices and priorities are a trigger for social, political and economic conflict. The Rio Grande Research Center's research program is intended to foster international and intergovernmental collaboration and has focused on the development of a diagnosis framework, the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis, that will be useful in the development of a basinwide water management plan. This plan will address sustainable agricultural, social, economic, environmental and urban water use.

The center has four primary objectives:

  1. Create a basin-wide perspective for the sustainable use of water resources within the bi-national Rio Grande watershed utilizing the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis Framework developed by Prof. Walter Rast for the Rio Grande Basin.
  2. Foster intergovernmental, academic and stakeholder collaboration.
  3. Conduct outreach and education about the sustainable use of natural resources.

"A comprehensive management program for this important transboundary water system would consider how elements, such as the use of groundwater and surface water resources for agriculture and other purposes, land use and vegetative cover throughout the drainage basin, and the biological, chemical and hydrological aspects of the river itself, are linked and interacting...." 

—Dr. Walter Rast






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Rio Grande Research Center • Sul Ross State University • Alpine, TX 79832 • (432) 837-8648