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Protestors hold a water is life sign at the front lines near the Oceti Sakowin camp on Standing Rock Reservation Dec. 5, 2016. 

Protestors hold a water is life sign at the front lines near the Oceti Sakowin camp on Standing Rock Reservation Dec. 5, 2016. 

Column: Water is life, and clean water is a responsibility

Water is life, according to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Water Protectors and the astronomers who found seven potentially habitable planets in another galaxy (why are they potentially habitable? The distance between them and their star means water could exist on their surfaces).

My week had a theme: I covered a NoDAPL crash course, a talk on water quality protection in an era of uncertain environmental regulation and I paid a visit to the Edward Skeats exhibit at the UNM Art Museum.

Skeats was an English geologist who came to New Mexico in the 1890s to document native plants (if you need a pick me up, check out his happy cacti watercolors) and...wait for search for water wells.

At the water conservation talk, I learned about the pollution that comes from letting rain run down roads into the river, which blew my mind.

You’d think, having lived in New Mexico my whole life, I would’ve given the issue of river pollution a little more thought.

To be fair, coming from southern New Mexico makes the river pollution seem inevitable, as by the time the river reached us, it was more trickle than “grande,” and I never questioned the fact that it was polluted, or thought there was much I could do about its pollution.

I understood it was used for farming, but I didn’t understand that it was relied on. I didn’t understand that the river is the land’s lifeblood and without it the people are in trouble.

I never questioned where it went when it left us. I never asked what water Texas demanded.

Sidenote: Texas and New Mexico are headed to the Supreme Court to settle disputes over water rights, and Texas has a strong case that New Mexico is sending less water than agreed upon in the 1938 Rio Grande Water Compact.

The solution, according to Bill Fleming’s mantra, is to keep the water on the watershed (we’re in the Rio Grande-Albuquerque watershed, which stretches from Sandoval to Socorro county).

This doesn’t solve the Texas-New Mexico legal problems, but it does (begin to) address the pollution problem.

Collecting rainwater in barrels or diverting it to water plants keeps poop-contaminated rainwater out of the river, and plants help clean the water before it soaks its way down to the aquifer. I think we can all agree: less poop equals better water.

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Poop is not life - water is.

What came up tangentially time and time again last week were the Isleta Pueblo’s water rights, as the community depends on the Rio Grande’s water for both farming and religious ceremonies.

Directly downstream from Albuquerque, Isleta gets water that leaves Albuquerque a lot dirtier than it came in.

There’s Albuquerque and Rio Rancho waste management that may be sending out water contaminated with e. coli and estrogen, there’s the rainwater runoff that picks up heavy metals and poisons fish (and possibly people), and there’s the Air Force base which (legally) dumps lead into the water.

Water is life.

“We can’t drink oil, leave it in the soil.”

“The seven planets could have some liquid water and maybe life on the surface.”

“How are we treating water — with reverence or as a pollutant?”

If we don’t care for the river — make sure no feces and no metals find their way into our lifeblood — then we could be like Skeats (minus the happy cacti): searching the land, or even the galaxy, for new sources of water.

We owe it to ourselves, to our children, to everyone down river, from the Isleta Pueblo to Texas, to be good stewards of the land and of the water.

Cathy Cook is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily. The opinions expressed in this column are her own.

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