Stanford University
Rachel Portillo and dog

Rachel Portillo

The fight for water

Rachel PortilloBS '21Earth Systems Program


New Mexico currently shares its surface water sources with multiple states, including Arizona, Texas, and Colorado. With recent droughts and inconsistent precipitation in the southwest, this has led these water sources to become over drafted – and hotly contested.

Being surrounded by these disputes growing up in Truth or Consequences (T or C), New Mexico, as well as having family working in the agricultural industry, for Rachel Portillo, BS ’21, the fight for equal water rights and water conservation is personal.

“A lot of the issues right now are dealing with how much water is allocated to each actor,” Portillo said. “Agriculture uses about 70 to 90 percent of the water in each state. It’s so intensive along the river, where we are seeing a lot of changes that the river can’t keep up with.”

Portillo is working with nonprofits near her hometown to help improve water management of traditional communal irrigation canals called “acequias” in her community. Portillo believes that she has “a place in fighting this fight and making sure that people have access to water,” and hopes to use her education at Stanford to help teach other people about water issues, secure sustainable access to water, and better prepare residents for climate change. As a next step, she plans to study law in order to pursue a career in water policy.

“I want to start to understand on a ground level what we are up against in the next decade or two decades,” Portillo said.

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