Argentine Fulbright Scholars Recommendations for New Mexico’s Water Future

Twenty of Argentina’s best and brightest young scholars spent three weeks at UNM in June evaluating two water case studies through the Peace Engineering framework, which seeks the reduction of violence through policymaking. Violence in the water problem context is broadly construed to include harm to each other, water institutions, public health, equity and diversity, and cultural values, for example.  Their theme was Peace through Policymaking.  One of their case studies was the Middle Rio Grande. The other was in Argentina.  

Their insightful policy recommendations focused on sustainability, inclusion, equity, research, alliances, water governance reform, and public education and incentives.  They characterized New Mexico’s water problems as community problems that require community-driven solutions through collective action.  Politicians and decisionmakers roles are to measure and govern.  Urban and suburban communities must be aware of and reduce excessive water consumption.  Rural communities must transition to low consumption crops and efficient irrigation. They outlined a public campaign with this slogan:  Water is Life! Do your Part.  The Argentine Fulbright scholars recommendations are summarized in the slides they presented on June 23, their last day in New Mexico.   Their report and a short campaign video will be available in the coming months.  

The 2023 cohort of Argentine Fulbright scholars was selected from over 400 applicants that met academic and achievement criteria. All graduated recently and are practicing professionals in public policy, law, or are studying for advanced degrees. 

UNM Engineering and Global Programs faculty and administrators invited Norm Gaume, a retired New Mexico water resources expert and President of the Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates, to present the Middle Rio Grande Case Study. He used these slides to introduce the Argentine scholars’ presentation of their recommendations on the final day of their three weeks in New Mexico. The Argentine scholars really engaged in the Middle Rio Grande case study, including asking questions with elected and appointed officials and people they met. They concluded that New Mexico’s water governance is not rational.  Their recommendations are worthy of our careful consideration.  

Early on, the scholars took note of the scientific poll of New Mexico voters that had been commissioned by the Thornburg Foundation and the Water Foundation.

“In late 2021, Research and Polling, Inc., conducted 706 phone interviews of registered voters from a representative cross-section of rural, suburban, and urban parts of [New Mexico].” The voters were asked to name the state’s top problems. Very few mentioned water. They were then asked, ‘what about water?’ A vast majority agreed that water is a major New Mexico problem and requires urgent attention because “drought and lack of water supplies threaten our way of life in New Mexico.”  

The scholars asked the same questions of the officials they met in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.None of the officials named water as a major New Mexico problem, yet all agreed, after being reminded by the second question, that it is. All said they didn’t know much about water and that someone else was working on it.  

The Argentine scholars worked hard to understand the water problems we face in the Middle Rio Grande. Initially, they recommended economic approaches, including escalating charges for water and economic disincentives for excessive uses.  As they began to understand New Mexican’s deep cultural water values and the conflicts between those values and water as a market commodity, they changed their focus to education and incentives. Their campaign slogan captures this focus: “Water is Life!  Do your Part.” 

The Water Advocates provided the Argentine scholar’s case study recommendations and the Peace Engineering framing to Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) water planning staff. We hope ISC will consider the perspective of brilliant young Latino scholars–who looked at our systemic problems with fresh eyes and trained policy-oriented minds, unencumbered by our biases—as the ISC puts in place the rules and guidelines for the new statewide regional and community water resilience planning program. 

Enforcement against illegal water uses was the only punitive approach the scholars recommended. They couldn’t believe that in New Mexico, the most arid of the 50 states, we do nothing about consistent illegal water use. They believe that is not rational. Of course, they are correct.  

We will do our part, together, asking the New Mexico Legislature, our Governor, and our state water management agencies to step up and do theirs. In the words of the Argentineans, our governments’ part is to “measure and rule this problem.” Progress is incremental. Let’s work together to respectfully demand the 2024 Legislature authorize and fund the next, substantive increments.