Nov 11, 2008

water border-el paso/juarez

Third Nation: Michael Dear talks about a clear gradation from frontier spaces (of the Spaniards), to the delimitation of the boundary or “La Linea”, to the idea of a border spaces where US and Mexico seek control, later leading to the idea of fortification and enclave (“connecting the dots”). We must note that with this hyper-border and heightened security, segregation and hegemonic behavior, also comes the idea of integration and interpendence. We refer to Michael Dear’s “Third Nation”, a psycho-geography that overlooks the border in the everyday… As such, the border exists only as images, symbols and signs, Baudrillard’s symulacra. It’s polices and existence deterritorialized from time and space, defined from a disconnected place, solely based on foreign strategies, signs and symbols of fortification and enclave… a clear contrast to the de facto and everyday life at the border.
Clear aspects of interdependence transcending the border are evident in the politics of these spaces. As the fortifications grow so do bilateral and binational approaches. Economic integration and urban growth were key factors n the modernization of the borderlands and in the facilitation of bilateral agreements between the two countries, giving birth to a new era of collaboration. Chiefly among these were the 1892 International Border Commission (IBC) and the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).

Troubled Waters: An arid landscape and climate as well as a rapid population and urbanization growth characterize the region of El Paso-Ciudad Juarez. NAFTA (1994) has accelerated the growth of manufacturing industries and has sparked a rise in export-oriented agriculture. As such, water shortage and the distribution of water have become serious issues shared by both cities. In the Ciudad Juarez- El Paso area, it has been predicted that groundwater will run dry in 20 years.
Shortage: With environmentalists and water experts becoming more vocal about the endangered aquifer, El Paso has cut its use back to 50 percent and is biding time by exploring other options. It has begun to develop water rights in rural counties to the east (Antelope Valley aquifers), has increased its dependence of surface water taken from Rio Grande, and began to plan strategies in order to bring water from more distant places and damns (Mesilla, NM). The latter would consequently increase the cost water by a substantial amount.
Juarez's position is more difficult; though the city uses half as much water per person as its neighbor, at 1.2 million Juarez has twice as many people. Juarez pumps aquifer water all year-round (Hueco Bolson) - even though researchers say at that rate fresh water will run out within as few as five years.
Inefficiency and degradation:
Municipal and irrigation systems canals are inefficient as they are open air and not lined with concrete resulting seepage and evaporation.
In addition, blackish Water from irrigation returns drains in the area and has degraded the water quality in the Shallow Rio Grande alluvium aquifer. “Below El Paso/Juarez, the flow in the El Paso/Juarez primarily consists of treated wastewater from EL Paso, untreated wastewater from Juarez and irrigation return flows”.

Proposal: An aqueduct. A network shared by both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, physically demarcating space by directly addressing the essential pragmatics of the area. As such, the aqueduct replaces the border, paralleling to the Rio Grande, at points branching out into the cities and connecting to existing systems and infrastructures.
The proposal then deals with the collection and water (production, rainwater recycling and perhaps even grey-water treatment), its storage and its distribution.
Collection of water: The collection of water is done through various interconnected systems. The first one deals with the collection of rainwater through a specific roof membrane directly linked to the aqueduct and potentially other membranes that are placed in the cities’ already existing structures.
The second system focuses on the production of water. Seeing that deals with the cities cannot tap much more into the river, a system of production of water is then proposed. The roof membrane emulates the Namib beetle’s water condensation system through hydrophilic and hydrophobic skins and is based on the material research done by MIT with the regards to the potential of this water condensation and production technique.

Storage: Water is stored into bladders that are connected to the roof membrane and hang vertically from a created infrastructure. The bladders fill and empty becoming a temporal reading of the environment and ecology, while at the same time becoming a water screen that fluctuates, screening, blocking or opening between the two sides. As the bladders grow, their weight pulls on the roof membrane, creating more tension, sectional differences and thus allowing for an aerial reading of the ecology. In addition, specific physical interventions in the infrastructure and ground direct, sculpt and manipulate the shape of the bladders giving way to other readings and spatial potentials. The different relationships that arise allow for new uses and interpretations by humans, fauna and flora.

Distribution: Due to the inefficiency of the existing system, this proposal seeks to replace the irrigation canals and create a new, more efficient and healthier network that links the cities together, not only dealing with crop irrigation but having the potential to tap onto water purification systems, etc. for domestic use.
Border Water Infrastructure: As implied previously, the infrastructure that is established has a specific metering and rhythm that allows for aggregation, additions and clustering. It consists of a roof membrane supported in tension by vertical steel posts, which with the help of a cabling system also support the water bladders. Pipes weave in and out taking and distributing the water while at the same time helping sculpt the bladders. The sculpted ground as well as a secondary structural system that attaches to the primary system of posts and cables, enhances the manipulation of the water storage and as such create and allow for permanent and temporal spaces for circulation and other uses.

Site-specific locations: The first and perhaps main physical manifestation of this water border network will be located next to the river, below the Franklyn mountains. In addition to this being the location where the Rio Grande becomes the border between Mexico and the US, the proximity to the Franklyn mountains give it a higher elevation thus facilitating the transportation or movement of water (due to gravity) and giving a lower temperature to the area. Winds, running perpendicular the mountain chain, create temperature changes between the East and West side of El Paso, achieving up to a 20 degrees in difference. This temperature change is necessary in the condensation of moisture.
The network, in its majority mimicking the river, branches out into specific locations, thus disintegrating the border into the surrounding urban and rural landscapes.


Subtopia said...

Hi Adri,

Interesting proposal. I dig it, and appreciate your emphasis on the border as a shared site, and one that must be addressed fundamentally as a unitary space rather than two spaces left to resolve their issues respectively. I do have a couple of questions however.

Despite past cooperation, the production of border space today along the US/Mexico boundary in my view suffers considerably from a lack of bi-national approach, which is very well your point, I gather. Sadly, it seems with the current US’ fortification strategy previous joint efforts are being thwarted, overrun, unemployed, or just flat ignored to a very large extent. I am more concerned about the unilateralism being practiced along the border with the securitization than the notion that “As the fortifications grow so do bilateral and binational approaches.” Perhaps it is in the way you phrased this, because I don’t mean to suggest future cooperation is impossible, but I don’t think the way it is practiced now that the kinds of cooperation I’m interested in seeing are or will be the fruits of fortification.

So, with a proposal such as this, I’d be interested in hearing not only about the infrastructural plan for solving a shared water crises along the border as you have laid out, but what kind of mutual political agency could such a project also form? By whom and how would this project be managed, or ideally, how should it be managed? If water shortages represent a key concern in the future of geopolitical conflict, how might this project fit into a larger international strategy for solving water issues? While it is great to consider these issues in infrastructural terms, I also think there is probably a lot to be considered here in terms of the hydropolitics of the region and how such a project would impact that condition. How would the water distributed from this system be allocated across the borders, not just physically but politically? Does this offer a political solution as well as a hydrological solution, or might this project be susceptible to triggering new water wars? I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate, I hope you don’t mind.

I love the notion of a new hydrologic skeleton spanning the border irrigating these connected bodies via a floating neutral water bank that derives water more sustainably and ecologically. But, my main concern is how such a project would help enforce a certain equilateralism about how the water is fairly distributed. I appreciate this attempt to bring more water resource to a dyer region, but can architecture, in such an instance, through project design, also help tackle the hydropolitics of the context to ensure the water is shared justly, proportionally, and in a way that ensures against exploitation?

In a sense, all we have created here is an airborne aquifer, or a kind of colossal border gutter, that could potentially be siphoned unevenly by one side or the other again. Could this project bring an infrastructural level of distribution enforcement to the table? How could this aqueduct bring to bear new more responsible practices of water consumption? I think the culture of over-consumption is half the problem with the water crisis, so while it is obviously useful to design projects which can respond to the issue of allocating more needed resource, is it possible for them to also help tame or reform the culture of over-consumption in the process?

I am just tossing that out there to see how we can think about architecture as a form of political and cultural reform, not just content to solve the physical or infrastructural components of a crisis but to also illustrate solutions to the thorny political contentions that underwrite them.

There is also, of course, issues of this project standing up to the climate conditions of the region, from desert heats in the summer to disaster prone conditions in the winter; or, even for that matter considerations that would in all practicality have to be taken for securing and protecting the system. Might something like this find itself prone to water poachers, terrorists, or other assorted hydrologic hackers? How much would this actually cost, do you think? Or, do you see this project inspiring a new local economy in any way?

Also, do you think that by ostensibly raising this aquifer to the surface with such structural visibility will reinforce a sense of a border between US/Mex or help that notion to disappear? I worry a little bit about this inadvertently cementing the notion that a border does exist, and the potential cultural negativism of that. Might the goal of this be more suited to help making the border divisions less visible than more visible? The way it is proposed here, while the project serves both sides it also kind of announces itself as border-defining structure. I don’t know, just considering the visual effects of this on border perceptions, I suppose.

This is hardly discouragement, but quite the contrary. I think you could sell this a little better, if you don’t mind my saying so, as practical or impractical a project like this may be. Of course, all of my thinking here may be way off base, as I am hardly an architect o architectural critic, and so be of little use to you and your studies, but I’m just curious about the other socio-political angles we might consider around a project like this, the architectural side effects, as well as the by-productive potential it may have in helping to solve some of the more systemic problematics of territorial water management in addition to resource development.


David Zetland said...

I just found this post through a friend. As a water economist, I am interested in the imbalance between supply and demand under current conditions.

Your proposal is "futuristic" but it needs to include at least a footnote on water rights, pricing and other institutions for managing existing or future infrastructure.

I'll blog on this soon.