WWF’s Enrique Prunes on healthy rivers

Enrique in a river with measuring equipment

Enrique Prunes, Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Manager and Freshwater Lead Specialist

Born in the desert

I was born and raised in the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico and wandered in pecan orchards and swam in creeks and rivers as a child. I would see fish, birds, frogs, and turtles in the river bends. Today, stretches of those waterways dry up for parts of the year, stressing wildlife, orchards, ranches, and even cities. And many of the river bends have been straightened out to control floods, destroying natural habitats.

Engineering with nature

After studying civil engineering with a specialization in hydraulics, I got a job in the construction industry. Eventually, I did my master’s in hydrogeology to further specialize in water resources management.

In 2009, I knocked on the door of WWF’s office in Chihuahua and spent the next 10 years working in the Rio Conchos watershed. At first, I was in the field monitoring endangered fish, analyzing water flows, and working with farmers and Indigenous communities. Then I zoomed out my focus to help develop a regional watershed management plan. In 2019, I moved to WWF-US in Washington, DC, where I lead the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo program.

Restoring the Rio

The biggest issue in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo basin is overuse of water, mainly for agriculture. Climate change exacerbates the problem with increasing temperatures and unpredictable rain patterns. And the river’s management is fragmented because it traverses multiple states and the US-Mexico border.

My team is first trying to preserve the river’s functioning ecosystems and restore others wherever possible. At the same time, WWF is bringing together decision-makers and stakeholders to improve water management and is working with farmers to reduce demand.

Nature’s seat

We are trying to share the idea that a healthy, flowing river with functioning ecosystems is the best indicator that the rest of the system is working—and that it will continue to provide water for human use. Being from the Chihuahuan Desert, I know how difficult farming and water scarcity are, which helps me find common ground with the multiple stakeholders who depend on the river.

A sustainable future for a river that crosses so many boundaries requires unprecedented collaboration and compromise—among states, countries, and the people who live on the land. My goal is to bring everyone together and help them understand that putting water back in the river for ecosystems will help provide for farms and communities as well.

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