Following a nationwide search, we are thrilled to announce that the Water Foundation has hired Nina Carranco as its newest Program Officer for Healthy Watersheds. Nina joins us having most recently served as Director for External Affairs for The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico. She also has extensive experience working in state government. In addition to her law degree, Nina has a master’s in geology. Her portfolio at the Water Foundation will initially include work in the Rio Grande and Colorado River basins, as well as developing work at the intersection of water and forest management.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Nina and asked her a series of questions to help us all get to know her better. Here’s what she had to say:

What is your favorite body of freshwater?

I grew up in Seattle, Washington, so I’m extremely fond of Puget Sound which, of course, is an estuary. Living here in New Mexico has deepened my appreciation for rivers. My favorite by far is the Gila River. The first time I hiked near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and in the Gila Wilderness, I was in awe that a place so isolated and remote was available to me to enjoy. It truly is a wild and special place.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing New Mexico when it comes to ensuring a resilient supply of clean water for people and nature?

The first thing that comes to mind is capacity. I constantly hear policymakers, government employees, conservation organizations, citizens, everyone bring up the issue of capacity. Part of this challenge stems from a lack of funding or resources to support water administration and infrastructure in the state, but I think there is a broader issue here about people too. Water is insanely complex. Do we have the people with the expertise and commitment to dig in and find solutions to the water problems that face New Mexico? We need to build that capacity at all levels of our governments and communities and I’m excited to help do that work.

What makes you hopeful about the future of water in the Rio Grande basin?

There is a rich culture of resilience in the basin. The indigenous communities and sovereign Nations that have lived in the Rio Grande basin since time immemorial have cared for these landscapes and waters, already having lived through climatic shifts. We are approaching a time in New Mexico where our driest years in memory may be considered our wet years in the future. I’m hopeful that as we start to discuss how to adapt to climate change in the basin, we will tap into a spirit of collaboration, and bring together state, federal, and tribal sovereigns along with civil society, to face this challenge together.

I also feel the discussion in the basin is broadening to include the dynamics and relationships between basins. More frequently I hear greater recognition about the connection between the Colorado and the Rio Grande Basin because of the San Juan Chama diversion. Many of the systems that govern water are confined by boundaries that are human made, like state borders. With the 100-year anniversary of the Colorado River Compact approaching, I think we are approaching a time where we can start to examine if the systems that govern our water still make sense given that climate change does not see these boundaries.

What brought you to this work? Where did you develop your interest in water?

Applying for this job made me realize just how much I love to work on water issues. This is a much more direct and concentrated water opportunity than I’ve ever had. Most of my prior studies and professional work were connected to water in some way, but it was not the primary focus. For example, my master’s thesis work focused on soil geochemistry, but my project was part of a larger comparison of two watersheds. Similarly, while in law school, I took the basic required courses like contracts and property law, but I also took electives that focused on natural resource management. Most recently, I was privileged to work on a water transaction in the San Juan River Basin. It sounds silly, but that project changed my life and solidified for me that if I had the opportunity I would work on water.

Who are your heroes?

My grandfathers.

My dad’s dad, my grandpa Gus showed me what is important in life—family, love, integrity, laughter. My fondest memories of my time with him are the simple ones, sitting on the front porch reading. He was the last of my grandparents to pass away and I’m extremely thankful I spent so much time with him.

My mom’s dad, my grandpa Frank. A veteran, a rancher, and a car lover. He passed away when I was young, but I vividly remember he bought me toy trucks. He also got me stuffed animals, but it’s the large toy trucks I remember the most. In an odd way, the memory of those toy trucks makes me remember to be strong.

Lastly, I have to ask you the quintessential question for all New Mexicans? Red or green chili? 

Green! Continuing with the theme of grandparents, my dad’s mom, my grandma was born in New Mexico. She made these amazing tamales that had green chiles inside them! She always made them for special occasions. And so, I have a fondness for green chiles and green chili.