Taos, New Mexico
As Projects Director for Amigos Bravos, Rachel works to provide hands-on support to impacted New Mexico communities and watershed groups, reviews and comments on state and federal water policy issues, and conducts Clean Water Act trainings. Rachel is a leader in the ongoing campaigns to hold Los Alamos National Lab accountable for pollution, restore river otters to New Mexico, protect the Red River from degradation caused by mining and unwise off-road vehicle use, monitor Taos County watersheds’ water quality, and an advocate for strong water quality standards throughout the state. Prior to joining the Amigos Bravos staff in 2001, Rachel worked on mining and water contamination issues in San Luis, Colorado and for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in Boston.
Amigos Bravos is a statewide water conservation organization guided by social justice principles and dedicated to preserving and restoring the ecological and cultural integrity of New Mexico’s water and the communities that depend on it. While rooted in science and the law, their work is inspired by the values and traditional knowledge of New Mexico’s diverse Hispanic and Native American land-based populations, with whom they collaborate.
This interview was published on July 12, 2019.
How did your career with Amigos Bravos begin and what is your role in the organization?
I started with Amigos Bravos in 2001 as the clean water circuit writer. I worked a lot on mining issues and assisted individuals and communities in New Mexico that wanted to protect their rivers, providing a lot of training and technical assistance. Now, I am the projects director and work on a wide variety of projects at AB.
You’ve been with Amigos Bravos for a long time! How has River Network impacted your work since you started in 2001?
When I started, I became a part of the trainers’ cohort that River Network put together, led by Gayle Killam. The cohort was designed to train members on the Clean Water Act through River Network’s Clean Water Act Course. The goal was to teach people how to teach other people about the CWA. Through that program, I really got my feet wet with the CWA and have implemented a lot of projects following these guidelines. Through this training, I was also able to train others in New Mexico. I still hand out the Clean Water Act Course to new employees and interns on their first day!
How did your personal journey to conservation begin?
My parents were very involved in anti-nuclear activism when I was a kid. I grew up licking stamps and holding signs at protests, so I was raised with the ethics of an advocate. In the ‘80s, when I was in school in Boston, the Boston Harbor was really polluted, and I was very engaged in cleaning it up. My high school organized river cleanup field trips and I was involved in environmental groups throughout my high school years. I then went to Colorado College, studying environmental biology, which blended hard science and environmental policy. This track also provided a lot of field classes to get me out into the natural environment of the Southwest. Since then, I’ve held a series of jobs in Colorado and New Mexico working in conservation.
I see on the Amigos Bravos website that you hosted a few events this summer. What has been your experience with community engagement surrounding citizen science and clean-ups?
We had a bunch of stuff going on! We held our 13th Annual Taos River and Lands Cleanup on June 22 – a trash cleanup of rivers and arroyos across the county. On May 29, we have our annual training on water quality sampling, which we’ve been doing since 2006. At these trainings we collect data with volunteers and send it to the state environmental department for consideration in their reporting. As a result of these trainings, the efforts of volunteers, and the data we’ve sent, we have had numerous streams listed as “impaired.”
As far as community engagement, we have a core group of folks that come out every year, in addition to new people joining us each year for trainings and cleanups. We put out a PSA and collect RSVPs through a partner organization called the New Mexico Acequia Association.
So many organizations are consumed by mobilizing against the Dirty Water Rule. What other initiatives are at the forefront of your focus these days?
The Dirty Water Rule is definitely the big one! The arid Southwest, as a whole, is severely impacted by this rule and New Mexico would be the most negatively impacted state in the country. We have so many ephemeral and intermittent waters in the state and when you combine that with the fact that we don’t have our own NTDS primacy, if there isn’t federal protection, no program at the state level will be able to fill this major gap.
Amigos Bravos is a long-standing member and partner of River Network. What has been your experience as a member of River Network and how has this partnership been useful to your organization?
The technical skills River Network provided through the Clean Water Act Course gave us tools we can use as a statewide organization. There has been so much organizational development assistance over the years as well, including opportunities to have conversations between leaders. The contacts I’ve made through River Network programs, cohorts, and River Rally have been incredibly useful in our work. For example, we hired consultant Barry Sulkin, whom we met through River Network, to testify at hearings when we sued Los Alamos National Lab for Clean Water Act violations.
What kind of impact would you like to see your organization make in your community over the next 10 years?
We have this grand vision, which is part of our mission, of being able to bend a knee to the water, cup your hands, and drink without fear. We are about to go into our next round of strategic planning, where we will focus on resilience, watersheds, and strong communities that are able to respond to our changing water situation here and across the arid Southwest.