Freshwater policy expert to deliver talk in Taos about restoring water cycle

Speaking of water

By Ariana Kramer
Posted 1/30/19

Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project, will speak Thursday (Jan. 31) at the Harwood Museum of Art.

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Freshwater policy expert to deliver talk in Taos about restoring water cycle

Speaking of water


Sandra Postel grew up on Long Island, New York. Surrounded by ocean, her community relied primarily on ground water for drinking and other use. Now, she devotes her time to the study of fresh water and its protection. She is director of the Global Water Policy Project, co-creator of Change the Course and author, among other titles, of "Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity."

According to Postel, only about 2.5 percent of all water on our planet is fresh water. Moreover, two-thirds of all of the fresh water is locked up in ice pack, now melting into the oceans. Less than one percent of Earth's fresh water is accessible to us, as it travels through the perennial water cycle - moved, stored and moved again between air, land and sea. Human interference with this natural water cycle has led to a global water crisis. Postel is examining ways we can fix it.

This evening (Thursday, Jan. 31), Sandra Postel gives her lecture "Replenish: How We Can Fix Our Broken Water Cycle" at 5:30 p.m. at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street, (575) 758-9826. The program is free to the public but seating is limited. Postel's lecture is presented by The Nature Conservancy, Taos Ski Valley Foundation and the Harwood Museum of Art.

After finishing graduate school, Postel worked in water policy in California and Arizona. When in her mid-20s, she took a position with the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. It was here that she began to work on global water issues.

"I was asked to take on the global freshwater portfolio," Postel recalled. "That was a steep learning curve for me, but I found the issues of water security, conflict over water, water needs for agriculture - all of that - to be so important and underappreciated. So I just stuck with it, and found that over time, society began to catch up with the idea that we really need to pay attention to water, that this is a condition that's going to affect our economic security, human health, food security, all of those things. Now, it's a high-priority issue."

Postel is now a resident of the Rio Puerco watershed in New Mexico, which feeds into the Río Grande; she lives on a mesa west of Los Lunas.

From 2009-2015, Sandra Postel served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society. Postel is author of "Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last?" and "Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity," which was made into a PBS documentary. Her work has appeared in Science, Natural History, and the Best American Science and Nature Writing.

In her recent book, "Replenish," Postel makes the case that we need to move from a "command and control" way of relating to water to one where we "repair and replenish" the water cycle.

"That is the only way, I think, we are going to have prosperity into the future," says Postel. "We're very connected. Water connects everything.

"If you look at how we've managed water over the past century or two - it's really been a command or control style of water management," Postel explained. "As we've gotten the engineering to build big dams and big diversions, and desalinization and so forth, we've really been able to bring water to wherever we need it. There has been a lot of benefit to that. It's hard for me to imagine a world of 7.6 billion people and $75 trillion in annual exchange of goods and services without this ability to control water and manage water. But, that style of water management has broken the water cycle. And, we're at a tipping point, now, I think, where those kinds of big projects are going to deliver more costs than they do benefits.

"Working in partnership with nature, rather than trying to further command and control, it is going to be a much, much better way going forward, especially with the impacts of climate change coming on, where floods are going to worsen, and droughts are going to worsen and wildfires are going to worsen and affect water quality downstream," said Postel.

One of the initiatives Postel discusses in "Replenish" is the Río Grande Water Fund, a collaborative effort to repair forested watersheds along the Río Grande. The Nature Conservancy started the initiative in response to the aftereffects of the Las Conchas fire of 2011. The fire burned more than 150,000 acres, and was followed by heavy rains that washed the loose soil and ash into the Río Grande. The Río Grande Water Fund is a collaborative effort to restore forests to a condition less prone to massive wildfire.

According to its 2018 annual report, the Río Grande Water Fund has treated 108,000 acres with thinning, controlled burns and managed natural resources since the 2014 launch of the project. To date, 74 private and public organizations have signed onto the Río Grande Water Fund. For access to the report, visit

"The Río Grande Water Fund is off to a promising start," said Postel. "It's a great example of taking the initiative to build more resilience in a watershed and get proactive."

Amigos Bravos, a river protection organization headquartered in Taos, is one of the signatories on the Río Grande Water Fund.

Rachel Conn, projects director for Amigos Bravos, said, "Climate change combined with deregulation efforts by the current federal administration is threatening many of our water resources here in New Mexico. In particular, Trump's proposed Dirty Water Rule, which would significantly roll back Clean Water Act protections, disproportionately impacts water here in New Mexico because so many of our waters are small and/or isolated."

For those looking to get involved in local water issues, Amigos Bravos is always in need of volunteers.

"Amigos Bravos and our partners are working to preserve our water resources by protecting and restoring headwater wetland systems. Wetlands provide many important functions including flood control, consistent stream flow and improved forage for livestock and wildlife. We are always looking for volunteers to help in our on the ground restoration efforts and we organize several watershed restoration projects each summer. We are also always looking for help with our water quality sampling efforts," said Conn.


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