Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

New Mexico State Rep. Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe County) told attendees at the recent 28th Annual Water Dialogue that she jumped into water policy two years ago and found the best scientists and folks who have been caring about water for years. “The water crisis is here, and we have the perfect cast to talk about the things that we’re facing right now. I call it the “Don’t Look Up Crew,” Romero said. The Water Dialogue’s focus this year was “An Unprecedented Water Crisis: A Time to Act.”

“Because water is so important, it is a very emotional discussion [and] a very hard topic to address. It’s our work, it’s our play. It’s our lives and our livelihoods, and it’s also our history. It’s our present and it’s our future,” Romero said.

Because water is “constitutionally owned by the people of New Mexico, legislators must find the right ways to be able to look at what they’re doing in the future,” Romero said. All legislators now have water at the top of their list because their communities are desperate for answers.

She believes New Mexico has the expertise to be able to create a drought adaptation plan.“While I think our state has really looked at climate change from an energy perspective, I think now’s the time to create that space for water in this transition,” Romero said. “I’m hoping that this ‘Don’t Look Up Crew’ can create the same sort of momentum for this most precious resource.”

Romero said she noticed that in the Water Dialogue poll of attendees there was no one under the age of 25. She’s hoping to see that younger group get involved for the kind of political action and activism she believes water transition requires.

Romero will be working in the legislative session to update the job description for a new head of the Office of the State Engineer to include expertise in water. “With that vacancy there is an opportunity to look at the future,” she said.

Sen. Liz Stefanics’s (D-Dist. 39) ‘role’ as one of the “Don’t Look Up Crew” was to give attendees a reality check, noting that water issues are a complicated process not just policy-wise but through personal values. “It is ultimately the individual values of the state legislature that are going to determine if we, in fact, change things for the future.”

Stefanics said that if we cannot ensure that people have safe drinking water from a public source, we need to be looking at what is wrong with New Mexico and our communities. “Even with all the infrastructure dollars that are coming through, even though we are talking a good talk, it’s not going to happen. And it’s not going to happen quickly.” She told attendees some of the reasons why.

Stefanics has a small town in her district that has very few people living in it and their water lines have asbestos and lead. “Because it only has a few 100 people living and drinking water from that water system, it has not been deemed important enough to spend a few million dollars to put in new water lines,” she reported.

“We have contaminated wells all over the state. We have communities that don’t even have water lines going near them. And even if there’s money to get water lines out through reservation areas, is there the political will to do it?” Stefanics said.

New Mexicans are very diverse in their opinions, and that diversity is reflected among the 112 legislators. “If we’re looking to the future of our state, we do in fact need to change the ‘use it or lose it.’ We need to change the priority list. We need to think about whether fallowing land is good or not,” she said.

“You need to get involved politically if there’s something that comes out of this water plan in terms of recommendations that you really want to see happen. You need to start talking not just with your friends in the legislature, you need to start talking all around the state to all legislators. There are many of us who want to make sure that our state continues to thrive and that all populations in our state are considered.”

Stefanics cautioned: “We need to make sure that we bring reasoning, not emotion, not anger, but reasoning to the table as we convince legislators to adopt some of the recommendations that will be coming out of the final plan about the changes needed in our state based upon the climate.”