U.S.-Mexico Border:

Despite Some Progress, Environmental Infrastructure Challenges Remain

NSIAD-00-26: Published: Mar 3, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 3, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the status of the U.S.-Mexican border environmental infrastructure and the performance of responsible institutions and programs, focusing on the: (1) nature and extent of environmental infrastructure problems along the border; (2) programs and funding levels in place to address these problems; and (3) impediments to improving the environmental infrastructure.

GAO noted that: (1) despite binational, federal, state, and local efforts, communities along both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border continue to face environmental infrastructure problems; (2) according to a binational assessment completed in 1999, 12 percent of the border population did not have access to potable water, 30 percent lacked access to wastewater treatment facilities, and 25 percent needed access to solid waste disposal facilities; (3) it estimated that $3.2 billion is needed to correct existing water, wastewater, and solid waste infrastructure shortfalls on both sides of the border and that about 77 percent of this amount is needed for wastewater treatment; (4) most incorporated communities on the U.S. side of the border have environmental infrastructure in place, however, in some communities, it is inadequate and in need of upgrading or expansion; (5) small, unincorporated U.S. border communities such as colonias settlements, generally lack access to potable water and wastewater treatment; (6) on the Mexican side of the border, the problems are more acute, where only 34 percent of wastewater is treated; (7) in a few areas, raw or insufficiently treated wastewater eventually flows into drinking water sources that are shared by both countries; (8) since 1994, the United States and Mexico have provided approximately $3.1 billion to address border environmental infrastructure needs; (9) the United States has contributed nearly 80 percent of this amount; (10) the leading source of U.S. funding has been the Environmental Protection Agency; (11) during this same time period, Mexico has contributed $648 million of the funding provided to address border environmental infrastructure needs; (12) there are numerous impediments to meeting the environmental infrastructure needs of border communities; (13) key among them is the lack of human capital to plan, implement, and maintain environmental infrastructure and the limited ability of communities to obtain affordable financing for the construction of needed projects; (14) the Border Environment Cooperation Commission and the North American Development Bank were created to address these impediments; (15) these organizations' roles are likely to continue to be limited unless there are changes in its loan rates; (16) binational efforts to address communities' needs are hampered by a lack of a strategic plan; and (17) given the existing infrastructure needs and the expected population growth, environmental infrastructure improvements on the border are likely to be limited unless some of the key impediments are addressed.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: To enable the North American Development Bank to more effectively fulfill its mission, Congress might wish to consider directing the Secretary of the Treasury to work with Mexico's Treasury Department to amend the Bank charter to allow it to create lower-cost financing mechanisms that make funding more affordable to border communities for environmental infrastructure.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On July 11, 2000, NADBank's Board of Directors approved resolution 2000-5 instructing Bank management to (1) identify and support additional financing options and (2) consult with decisionmakers (i.e., legislatures and key government entities). As a result, in November 2000, NADBank approved several initiatives, including a program to extend loans for infrastructure projects at lower interest rates.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to more effectively address environmental infrastructure problems and the associated impediments on the United States-Mexico border, the Secretary of State and the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, should work jointly with Mexico's Secretariats of Foreign Relations and Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries to recommend to the Board of Directors of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission to develop a Border Infrastructure Strategic Plan that should include: (1) a needs assessment along the border; (2) strategies for addressing impediments to infrastructure development; and (3) a statement of measurable goals with milestones so that progress can be assessed.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The U.S. State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Mexico's environmental agency (SEMARNAT), have recommended to the Border Environment Cooperation Commission's Board of Directors that it develop a Border Infrastructure Strategic Plan. The BECC has taken some preliminary steps over the past four years that would be necessary to develop a strategic plan, however, actions to date have not been sufficient.

    Recommendation: In order to more effectively address environmental infrastructure problems and the associated impediments on the United States-Mexico border, the Secretary of State and the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, should work jointly with Mexico's Secretariats of Foreign Relations and Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries to recommend to the Board of Directors of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission to develop a Border Infrastructure Strategic Plan that should include: (1) a needs assessment along the border; (2) strategies for addressing impediments to infrastructure development; and (3) a statement of measurable goals with milestones so that progress can be assessed.

    Agency Affected: Congress

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The U.S. State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Mexico's environmental agency (SEMARNAT), have recommended to the Border Environment Cooperation Commission's Board of Directors that it develop a Border Infrastructure Strategic Plan. The BECC has taken some preliminary steps over the past four years that would be necessary to develop a strategic plan, however, actions to date have not been sufficient.

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