Thinking about rural water

In the time of pandemic, I’ve been thinking a lot about small rural community water systems. This is in part because of work one of our University of New Mexico graduate students was doing in the Time Before, which seems super relevant now. Tucker Colvin just defended his thesis in UNM’s Geography and Environmental Studies program (I was on his committee, it was one of our university’s first Zoom defenses of the new era).

Tucker, working with UNM Water Resources Program student Amy Jones and Geography faculty member Ben Warner, spent oodles of time interviewing rural New Mexico water system managers to better understand the challenges they face. It was fascinating to me, as someone who’s spent most of his time talking to big municipal and ag system operators, a window into a world I’ve not thought enough about.

UNM’s Graduate Studies folks did a nice writeup on Tucker and his work:

By interviewing managers of drinking water systems, he discovered “that water systems face numerous issues including deteriorating infrastructure, limited funding, overly burdensome regulation, and perhaps most importantly, not having enough engaged people to manage their water systems.” Additionally, Tucker explains, “The state is also promoting regionalization as a blanket policy to promote sustainability of water systems. This research finds that this can be a useful tool in some cases, but for many communities it is perceived as taking away local control of a vital community resource and giving responsibility to a distant entity. This process can resurface historical political tensions and interactions between communities and government agencies. Many communities are in fact already organically and informally cooperating and sharing resources with their neighboring communities. Some policies and institutional structures created by the state seem to be innocuous and were likely created with good intent, but they are sometimes reinforcing power structures and keeping underserved communities marginalized.”

Once we come out the other side of our current predicament, I look forward to helping Tucker in his goal to share his findings with folks who can help move his insights into the policy world.