Down to Earth

Phoebe Suina grew up on Cochiti and San Felipe Pueblos in New Mexico, where she learned about land, water, and cultural values and practices from her extended family and community. With advanced degrees in engineering and management from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, she returned to New Mexico to found High Water Mark, a Native American, woman-owned project management and environmental consulting company with a specialty in water resources. She works with local, state, and federal governments and agencies, private entities, and industry to restore landscapes after disasters like wildfires and floods, and to do planning, management, and disaster prevention. What sets her company’s work apart is that they use a holistic approach that focuses not just on engineering solutions, but instead takes into account the entire landscape––including people. Favoring distributed, low tech solutions that communities can maintain over the long run, and working with the forces and flows of nature, they seek to foster resilient watersheds and landscapes, and to do so with the values of humility, respect, and cooperation. She uses and teaches consensus-based planning, a technique that involves deep listening and coming to agreement across differences of opinion and interests. And she works on legal and policy issues with tribal and state governments.
With her partner and children, Suina also farms seven acres, using no-till, traditional practices to grow food for her family and community––including the wildlife that in turn fertilize the land.

Landscape photo by Zack Smith on Unsplash

5’26 pueblo core values
7’21 what high water mark does with land restoration
9’29 engineering with a holistic mindset
12’00 pueblo people as the original scientists and engineers of place
12’30 central focus on water
12’51 the problem with concrete channels
15’07 getting pushback from those who don’t appreciate the holistic approach
16’21 listening to the landscape through close observation
17’17 that’s why
17’59 learning from our mistakes and having humility
20’43 designing more resilient and less expensive engineered systems
22’40 biomimicry is an understanding that people are part of the environment
23’45 balancing not only ecological but also social systems
25’26 our deep connection through water
27’06 the challenges of dealing with many different stakeholders and egos
29’31 disagreement is part of the process
32’19 the satisfaction of working with people from many different ideas and backgrounds
33’21 consensus-based planning is part of High Water Mark’s services
34’23 the connection between her water work and NM’s agricultural communities
37’48 structures that actually work
39’07 distributing risk and energy across the system–a one-point solution is potentially a one-point failure
41’54 there is no silver bullet, much as we might want it; the reality is you have to keep working to keep systems in balance
44’21 the problem with using a dam as a solution rather than multiple mitigation structures
48’14 cultivating a shift of attitude in agencies
50’10 Phoebe’s farm
51’38 using no-till and improving soil
55’13 addressing erosion
57’30 acequias and resilience
58’18 the importance of education
1:00’38 how ordinary people can get involved
1:00’57 mainstreamnm.org