On a general level, river basin councils are an essential component of an integrated water resource management (IWRM) strategy. IWRM is believed to lead to more environmentally sustainable outcomes, as water user sectors work together to find solutions and compromises on areas of conflict. The river basin councils in Sonora are only recently being formed, and because there is not a history of coordination and planning at the river basin level, implementation and agenda-setting has been slow. In addition, the composition of river basin councils is so comprehensive that even bringing the council together in a meeting of the full creates logistical problems, since some council members are rarely available for meeting attendance. The river basin councils also lack the formal jurisdiction within the appropriate legal frameworks to carry out recommendations, creating a major limiting factor in their ability to have a real impact on the issues under discussion. The lack of jurisdiction, in turn, makes council participants less willing to give time to a process which is likely to have only limited impacts on important issues.
Although in theory river basin council mechanisms seem to lend themselves to greater utilization of climate science to guide their mid-long term planning and coordination, the Sonoran cases do not provide evidence to support this idea. Sonoran river basin councils in the early stages have not called for use of climate science for the agenda items they have discussed. And even though the river basin councils ostensibly have a longer-term focus, in reality the Sonoran river basin councils have focused on finding resolutions to current issues rather than engaging in long-term planning or sustainability discussions.
River basins successfully engage water user sectors in participating in council deliberations, coordination, and planning, as set forth in the legal frameworks governing the river basin council composition. River basin council participation is based upon one-representative-per-sector; however this apportionment is not reflective of actual societal water use and is believed by some to be skewed and unfair. Government representation is also disproportionately high on river basin councils, compared with very limited representation allowed from the citizens’ sector. Marginal groups, such as the urban poor or the ejido farmers, are not represented on river basin councils.