By Lauren Rule
While taking the Environmental Communications course in Taos, New Mexico, the issue of water becomes more and more prevalent. Being from California, I understand the vital role water plays in the region. Due to a lack of water, California may soon impose mandatory conservation measures. Here in northern New Mexico, our class interviewed different non-profit organizations and professionals involved in the issue of water conservation and/or contamination. We also sat in on a board meeting for a newly-formed group, Renewable Taos, where water issues top the agenda. What we’ve learned during our experience in Taos, is that water, whether we’re talking about issues of contamination or conservation, reaches beyond the Southwest. It’s a national concern.
In Taos, we met with the founders of the much-revered nonprofit, Amigos Bravos. Amigos Bravos started out 25 years ago as a small, local grassroots organization dedicated to protecting the water in the Rio Grande. The organization has worked to hold large companies responsible for polluting the river, and has forced action for cleaning waters of the Rio Grande. From the Chevron mine (formerly Molycorp) in Questa, NM, with its mining pollution, to the law suit against Los Alamos National Laboratory down the river, dumping toxic waste into the Rio Grande, Amigos Bravos has taken on giants, and won. Founder and executive director, Brian Shields told our class about the importance of protecting the watersheds in the mountains. He explained how the soil hardens from overuse, causing the water to stream down, rather than being absorbed into the soil, and the subsequent problems stemming from this. He also outlined the strategies involved in communicating the intricate issues around both the contamination and conservation of water in New Mexico.
We also met Bill Whaley, a Taos-based writer and activist, who touched on the vital impact of water in the region. He stated, “The biggest issue is maintaining watersheds in the Taos community.” He referenced the importance of acequias in Taos, which allow the water to flow through specific areas to irrigate the land, and he explained ways in which acequias remain a point of controversy among the Native Americans and other cultures in the region. Each March, diverse cultures and people of all economic levels come together to clean-up and dig out the acequias. This ancient practice allows the water to flow, irrigating the land. This community effort to maintain the acequias strikes me as metaphor for how Taos regards and deals with its precious environmental resources. The town attempts to embrace new advances and solutions, while never losing sight of the age-old traditions that help maintain that special something that makes Taos so uniquely Taos.