— May 8, 2023
Before an auditorium filled with geologists, hydrologists, planners and representatives from state and federal agencies, educators, and students, a Native American storyteller stated simply the reason the conference attendees had gathered to discuss their common purpose. “What you’re doing is for the generations to come,” said Eldrena “Blue Corn” Douma, the keynote speaker for the New Mexico Water Data Initiative Workshop, held May 4, 2023, at New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center. The annual workshop, hosted by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, aims to be a connecting point for the scientists and government professionals involved in the effort to better quantify an increasingly scarce natural resource.
According to conference planner Stacy Timmons, associate director of hydrogeology at the Bureau, the conference educates and highlights the implementation of the Water Data Act, enacted in 2019. The Bureau is the convening agency for the efforts underway by the other directing agencies for the initiative: the New Mexico Environment Department, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. Among the agencies’ charges is to develop an easily accessible integrated data-information platform or portal to guide decision-making about water resources in the future – a task she compared to weaving a tapestry.
“By building improved access, we build trust,” she said. “With quick access to data, we can make quicker, informed decisions.”
Speakers throughout the daylong conference detailed how their organizations are collecting, sharing, storing, and reporting data about everything from groundwater levels and wells to streams and rivers, weather, water quality, and historic data. Making their data practices more efficient and eliminating paper are challenges and goals the entities share. Improved access to data will help involve more people in water planning in the future, especially as surface water levels decrease and the climate in New Mexico becomes more arid.
The conference’s highlight was the storytelling from Douma, a Laguna Pueblo member who now lives in Canyon, Texas. Douma related the story of Josephine Mandamin, a Wikwemikong First Nation member, survivor of the Canadian Indian residential schools, and cofounder of the Mother Earth Water Walkers. To call attention to water issues, she led a group on walks around the Great Lakes from 2003 to 2017.
“Just like Josephine, you walk the talk,” Douma told workshop attendees. “In seven generations from now the adults and children will be very appreciative. What you’re doing out there is very important.”