tl;dr – We’ve got a bunch of really interesting interdisciplinary work underway at the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program. If you know someone finishing their undergraduate work or early in their career, interested in water work beyond the solely sciency/engineering paths, send them our way!
It’s weird, but now that I’m no longer the director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program, I actually have more time to think about the academic and intellectual task of water management.
And, for a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about the task of interdisciplinarity in water management.
The biggest reason is a pretty intense ongoing conversation with one of our students who’s just finishing up their degree, and who has started working for a very progressive water agency that understands that the task of managing water extends far beyond the physical science and technical questions involved.
In my transition to work at the Utton Center, a natural resource group at the UNM School of Law, I’m continuing to work with a bunch of Water Resources Program students, and I’ll still be teaching the fall introductory course with my colleague and collaborator Bob Berrens.
My new life, shorn of administrative responsibilities, gives me more time to think about this stuff, and engage in the deeper conversations with our students that are the most treasured part of the gig. Bob and I seem to have inadvertently assembled a critical mass of really talented students helping us think about the core question we pose in our fall course:
There’s less water. What do we do?
This is not solely, or even primarily, a technical question.
In an interview earlier this month in Vox, geographer Edward Carr said this:
There are going to be certain situations we can’t just throw money at or build infrastructure for. We’re going to have to make decisions about what we want to preserve and what we’re willing to give away, what’s essential to us, and what do we keep? That’s a social choice and that’s a political choice. Our political systems, the way that we interact with each other, and the way that we identify problems and solutions — all of that becomes central to how we will function in the face of climate change.
The stuff our students are working on now is super exciting:
- Tax policy (who knew tax policy had such important implications for how we use irrigation water in New Mexico? Stay tuned, much more on this soon….)
- The benefits and costs and implications of water use transfers from rural irrigation to municipal use
- The environmental and cultural implications of land fallowing – whether because of transfers, or because the water just ain’t there
- Some unexpected agricultural crop-shifting responses to climate change
- The community and cultural value of non-commercial irrigation (and the risks to these values posed by climate change)
- A re-evaluation of ecosystem goods and services of the Rio Grande and the irrigation systems around the river here in central New Mexico
Some of this is funded through UNM’s participation in the South Central Climate Adaptation Center, some of it’s now supported through my work at Utton, and some of it’s just the stuff that we do as part of the degree-granting process.
Underpinning all of this is a recognition that “water management” is not solely a technical question, to be left to engineers and physical scientists, and is why I so treasure the interdisciplinary nature of the Water Resources Program.
If you know some bright young person interested in an interdisciplinary perspective on water management, encourage them to contact me. I’m no longer the director, but I can talk about the stuff our group is working on, and connect them with the current program leadership.