2016 Earth Science Achievement Award Celebrates Dr. Fred Phillips and Trudy Healy

By: Bill Whaley
1 February, 2016

At the Roundhouse Rotunda in Santa Fe on Thursday, Jan. 28, I wandered into an unusual but very New Mexico scene: familiar folks in the public and political sector celebrating contributions to science. The highly respected New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources presented the 2016 New Mexico Earth Science Achievement Awards to Dr. Fred M. Phillips for “outstanding contributions advancing the role of earth science in areas of applied science and education” and, Taos’s own mayordomo daughter, Trudy Healy for “outstanding contributions advancing the role of earth science in areas of public service and public policy.”

Dr. Phillips, just published a book, co-authored with Emlen Hall (the latter an old friend of John Nichols) Reining in the Rio Grande (UNM Press 2015). Described as a study that examines human interactions with the Rio Grande from prehistoric time to the present day, the book explores what possibilities remain for the desert river. In his remarks the candid Dr. Phillips said the Rio Grande was a “dwindling resource” that would retain only half its “value” by the end of the Century.

At first it seemed strange to find Trudy, the face of philanthropy for the Healy Foundation that funds advocates of water and cultural issues in New Mexico (and especially Taos) among scientists, though not politicians. But the former treasurer of the Water Trust Board under Governors Richardson and Martinez helped allocate some $300 million in state revenue to districts and municipalities, acequias and watersheds. She and Ed, her husband and Healy Foundation maven, also funded the Taos County Aquifer Mapping project, which delves into the mysterious and world-class geo-hydraulic complexity for which the Taos area is famous.

Senator Carlos Cisneros introduced Trudy, as “one of our own,” saying “we love her to death” and Rep. Bobby Gonzales, a Taos High classmate, mentioned all Trudy’s “hard work that had gone into water research, calling the Healys “champions of New Mexico water and water protection.”

Both Carlos and Bobby were taking time out from floor duties and committee meetings, while reflecting the hospitality one sees from the hometown legislators when visiting the Roundhouse during session. I sat next to Batman, the well-known political fixer, who is lobbying the legislature on behalf of the Town to try and secure some $150,000 in funds for a new animal shelter. As bat humor emerged, we shared several laughs during the ceremony.

I’m going to pass on Trudy’s list of names. She graciously mentioned and thanked  just about everyone who affected her rise as the New Mexico water mistress, including family, friends, colleagues, enviro restoration gurus, and the occasional ranch hand, cocktail waitress, bartender and artist. Unlike the academy awards there was no limit on time. Then we adjourned to lunch at the Rio Chama, where the conversation was so brisk and stimulating I forgot to check on the menu and taste what was set in front of me.

New Mexico Acequia Association associate and attorney, David Benavidez sat on my left. We discussed various historic and current issues, involving northern New Mexico acequias as well as comparing and contrasting briefly the Aamodt and Abeyta Settlements. David was an old friend of TVAA’s Fred Waltz (RIP), father of Trudy’s gallerist, Alicia, who has a master’s degree in geo-hydro science. D.L. Sanders, an attorney, formerly of the Office of the State Engineers office, sat nearby. Along with former State Engineer John D’Antonio and the ISC’s Estevan Lopez, D.L. met and worked together with Trudy during the Richardson years on legislation, etc. On my right sat Commissioner Candyce O’Donnell. Healy friend, Lorene Mills of Mills Communication and hostess of the politically unique Broadcast show, “Report from Santa Fe” was nearby.

The Geo-Hydrologists, Paul Bauer and Peggy Johnson, sat across the way and discussed the speculative nature of decision-making, regarding well locations in the Taos Valley, one of the world’s most complex geological sites. Both Paul and Peggy whose data collections and studies have benefitted from Healy Foundation grants for aquifer mapping since 2005, said the complex and fragmented nature of the underground geological formations meant more information needed to be collected on the underground by drilling wells before definitive decisions could be confirmed. Apparently the definitive answer to questions about a well is another well and another well.

Below ground among the basalt layers of Taos there is a kind of juxtaposition of postmodern conceptual geological effects in process. It’s as if a coterie of 20th Century artists, working under the influence of 20th Century art manifestoes, Geometric Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism, Pop-ism, Minimalism, Appropriationism, “Dada,” “Surrealism,” “Cubism,” “Fauvism, or so-called “Fluxonism” were all taking turns creating small imaginative sections of vertical and horizontal geological layers and setting them up in Mother Nature’s underground caverns as juxtaposed configurations, sort of like sculptures set on stands in a Hank Saxe show.

Peggy also mentioned how the quality of water drawn from a 1500-foot well, needed analysis, layer by layer, prior to human, irrigation, or livestock use. The chemical content of the water changes as it passes through or over rocks at adjacent levels. So water drawn from the same hole could vary enormously, depending on its origin whether at 200, 500 or 1000 feet. There are no guarantees.

For the layperson, Paul Bauer has written and published a book, called The Rio Grande, a river guide to the Geology and Landscape Northern New Mexico (Socorro, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, 2011). Bauer’s wire-bound and waterproof edition can be purchased at Brodsky Books in Taos. The author combines the acute insight of a scientist and the passion of a river rat for the Rio Grande. Fittingly he dedicates the book to Steve Harris, Pilar resident and local advocate of the fourth longest river in North America.

Later, over double lattes and chocolate Cappuccinos, Ed and Trudy discussed plans for the HealyPad in Hondo, a potential drone or chopper headquarters and adjunct for the “eye in the sky” part of the Allan Savory Annex, a research station named after the African restoration guru. Conceptually, the “eye in the sky” could quantify and synthesize weather data while measuring the “ground” effects of livestock, vegetation and the way Mother Nature responds in kind. Trudy said the concept “reminds me of a Wagner painting in motion.” She paused. “That’s why we hired Alicia, a geo-hydrologist, to run the gallery. You know Ed. He’s always thinking.” Ed said they might train Hondo fire fighters and EMTs to fly the chopper for emergency care flights, time and talent permitting.

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