MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Voices from the Earth Volume 1 Number 1
Did you say "Groundwater Contamination?" What's That?

Just off the boat from the East Coast in 1975, searching for something scientific to say in a story I'd just been assigned for the small newspaper I then worked for, I wandered into Southwest Research and Information Center. Someone at Seers Catalogue, a ‘70s underground paper that was around for almost a decade, said I should look up a guy called Peter Montague. He might know something about feedlots in the South Valley, he said. All I knew was… the smell. Whoa! I had never smelled anything quite like that before. And I knew that a city hearing was coming up for something called a "groundwater discharge permit."

Wending my way through stacks and stacks of magazines, reports and then hoards of admiring architecture students, I finally made my way to Montague. In 45 short minutes he explained what groundwater contamination was, the dangers of nitrates (and nitrites) from agricultural operations, the intricacies of heavy metals (not yet a style of music), and the various waste treatment options at the South Valley Sewage Treatment Plant. He had to hold off on the complete story of sludge because he had to go testify somewhere.

I went home, combined his data with interviews from folks on the receiving end in the South Valley and handed in the story. They put it on the front page. And I began to think… maybe I could actually write about this stuff and it would make a difference. I might even be able to do something to preserve the unique cultural and physical landscape that is called New Mexico. So began my career as a journalist specializing in environmental issues. For the next decade I went to SRIC for information on subjects from the effect of boomtowns on women, to nuclear waste on wheels to whether it was wise for the Bokum Resources to put uranium tailings in an arroyo near Marquez, New Mexico (that one made the New York Times).

The folks at SRIC—Peter and Katherine Montague, Paul Robinson, Don Hancock and others gave me the courage to question the accepted sources of information on which journalists usually rely. Sometimes they even gave me the raw material for an alternative approach and directions to a lot of community leaders who I came to respect. I took it on my own from there— but I won't soon forget the help I got from SRIC.

Dede Feldman is now a New Mexico State Senator who represents Old Town and much of the North Valley in Albuquerque.

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"Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truththat the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamt would have come his way."
– W.H. Murray in The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

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