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New Mexico

Q&A: Rosemary Romero

Rosemary Romero’s roots are in her community. In fact, the Romero family traces 14 generations in Northern New Mexico. She can even see her childhood home from where she lives now.

During her childhood, she spent weekends working on a family ranch near Otowi Bridge. That positive, hard-working, live-off-the land ethic runs deep within her. She is a professional facilitator who has managed meetings and strategic plans on forest restoration, water supply and the environment. Her passion for protection and neighbors earned her a Santa Fe City Council seat that she recently vacated.

Nature.org talked with Romero about her connection to New Mexico’s waters, why protecting forests is important and how her life as a city councilwoman impacted the community.
“If we don’t do something now, we risk millions of dollars and devastation for years to come.”

-Rosemary Romero on the Santa Fe Water Fund

Nature.org:

The Cerro Grande in May 2000 devoured 235 homes and scorched 40,000 acres near Los Alamos. You watched the fire from your home. Take us back to that day.

Rosemary:

Watching the fire and smoke gave me a sick feeling of dread. Ash was drifting for miles and cars in Santa Fe were covered with it. The Jemez Mountains are directly west of my home in Santa Fe, about 18 miles as the crow flies. I thought about the people and pets that were going to be displaced and the loss of the surrounding ecology. I remember thinking about the harsh reality of the actual cost of the fire and what it would take to restore the area once the flames were out.

Nature.org:

The devastation with the Cerro Grande Fire didn’t end when the flames were extinguished. Two months later, torrential rains poured ash sediment from the burned area into the Los Alamos water supply. At the time, what went through your mind?

Rosemary:

It was a terrible situation. It was very clear that if it happened in Los Alamos it could happen in any watershed, and we were all at risk. Tens of thousands of people rely on drinking water sources connected to the Santa Fe National Forest. Mostly due to drought and lack of thinning, these forests are not in good shape. I was very concerned.

Nature.org:

Eight years after the Cerro Grande Fire you were elected to the City Council in Santa Fe. Forest health and protecting the water source were priorities for you. What action did you take?

Rosemary:

As a councilor, I initiated the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Management Plan that secures water for more than 30,000 households and businesses and is responsible for treating over 5,000 forested acres in the watershed. I also supported a sustainable effort affecting overall drainage in the city that was put on the ballot for voters to approve. On March 6, it was approved!

Before I was elected to the council, I facilitated workshops bringing a variety of stakeholders together, in an effort led by Senator Jeff Bingaman, to create legislation known as the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). This model lead to legislation for landscape scale restoration projects.  I’m very proud of this work and continue to support the CFLRP effort by organizing and facilitating annual workshops.

Nature.org:

Your passion for water conservation goes way back. Shed a little light on that history.

Rosemary:

Water conservation was engrained in me as a child. I remember my mother collecting water in the sink and using it to water the plants. She saved every drop. I do the same. So do my children. My grandparents made their living from farming and as children we intimately knew the connection between our food and water.

Nature.org:

The Nature Conservancy’s Laura McCarthy advocated for the Santa Fe water bill which asks people to pay into a fund that supports forest thinning to protect the watershed—the City’s water source. How did you view the Conservancy’s role in this?

Rosemary:

The Nature Conservancy is viewed as a neutral entity and Conservancy staff like Laura are highly regarded in the community and known for their willingness to listen and share. People trust the Conservancy. Personally, I’ve been a fan for years and believe in the work you do across the state. The Conservancy has modeled good partnerships with diverse populations, and this is important in New Mexico.

Nature.org:

What are your thoughts on the water fund? Is it a good idea?

Rosemary:

To me and many people I know, $2 is a cup of coffee. Paying a couple bucks a month as part of my water bill makes the most economical sense. If we don’t do something now, we risk millions of dollars and devastation for years to come. I think communities have become very aware of the emotional, ecological and financial harm that can come if issues such as forest restoration and thinning aren’t done in a timely way. We are helping future generations to not be saddled with unnecessary debt if there is a devastating fire.


Rosemary Romero spent 16 years as partner at Western Network, a nonprofit organization focused on environmental mediation and public involvement. She also spent eight years as a self-employed consultant. She has facilitated controversial issues with various federal, state, local governments and nonprofit organizations and lead strategic planning efforts for numerous entities. Ms. Romero completed four years as an elected City of Santa Fe Councilor and in that capacity served on several regional boards including the Chairmanship of the North Central Regional Transit District. She is a recipient of the Vice Presidential Al Gore “Hammer Award” for outstanding public involvement processes in a natural resource arena.

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