For University of New Mexico graduate student Shaleene Chavarria, understanding stream flows and climate change is personal.
She’s from the Pueblo of Santa Clara which, like many of New Mexico’s tribes, relies on stream flows for irrigation as well as for ceremonies that are tied to the planting and harvest seasons.
“Knowing how much water there is and how to prepare for the future is important to my tribe especially, and to people in general in New Mexico,” Chavarria says.
She’s also witnessed the devastating and long-term impacts that climate change can have. The 2011 Las Conchas fire burned more than 150,000 acres, ripping through the Jemez Mountains above the pueblo. Since then, summer after summer, Santa Clara has been slammed by floods. With no more vegetation to anchor the soils, floodwaters have repeatedly rushed downstream, destroying the watershed as well as orchards, fields, and buildings in the tiny community.
“With the Las Conchas fire, we’re kind of in the middle of everything,” says Chavarria, who hopes someday to work for her tribe’s Office of Environmental Affairs.
As NMID reported in 2013, tribal communities can have an especially difficult time recovering from natural disasters, such as wildfires and floods. Even when the White House makes a disaster declaration, freeing up money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that money can get hung up within the state’s bureaucracy.