Water crusader wants allies

  Perry R. Wilkes Jr. has been quietly working to change Albuquerque's water policies for 25 years. An aeronautical engineer, Wilkes may lack formal training in water, but he reads, goes to meetings and in the last year, he's gotten organized. He and his wife, Bette, founded the nonprofit Citizens for a Rational Water Policy. What most piques Wilkes is Albuquerque's open-sewer system of concrete ditches, which he calls "Band-Aid," and "very, very expensive." The ditches consume tax dollars and create death traps when people are swept down them during summer storms. What's more, Wilkes says, the ditches prevent rainfall from helping to recharge the city's aquifer, which has dropped 140 feet in some places over the past three decades and as much as 40 feet between 1989 and 1992 (HCN, 12/26/94). So far, he's having trouble getting developers and engineers to listen. "I'm really up against the Cadillac Desert mentality here in Albuquerque," he says, referring to Marc Reisner's book about Western water. Even though he's printed 3,000 brochures about the problem, most of his fellow citizens seem unconcerned. "We can have a meeting on water and we might attract 100 people. On the other side of town we might have 20,000 people watching a guy bounce a ball." His organization was born of frustration, he says, and a growing sense of urgency. "I'm 78, and this is my swan song. If the younger folks don't take up on it, I don't know what's going to happen."

For more information, contact Citizens for a Rational Water Policy, 5147 Jennie Road SW, Albuquerque, NM 87121 (505/873-3239), or e-mail: [email protected]

*Karen Mockler

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