STEM Shoutout: Heather Himmelberger

UNM researcher leads multimedia efforts on NM water sustainability and resource awareness 

Heather Himmelberger, the director of the UNM Southwest Environmental Finance Center, is leading multimedia efforts to spread awareness of New Mexico’s water resources as part of the UNM Grand Challenge on water sustainability. 


As the principal investigator of the pilot project Online Learning Academy to Improve Knowledge of New Mexico Water Resources, Himmelberger aims to educate the general public as well as elected officials on New Mexico’s water resources and challenges through a variety of online activities, podcasts, and videos.


“We based this idea off of the Khan Academy which is aimed at educating students, parents, and teachers about math and science. We believe there is a critical need for this same type of resource related to water issues,” Himmelberger said. 


Himmelberger says one of the goals is to reach elected officials with important water related information in the hopes that they can make more informed decisions when it comes to our state’s water resources and challenges.


Elected leaders have to make difficult decisions around water, decisions that affect the type of service, the amount of money paid for the service, how and when asset renewals take place, and many other important facets that impact the lives of the people they serve. It is vitally important that they have key information about water and have a sound information source they can access to learn more about water. We would like to be one of those sources,” Himmelberger said.


Himmelberger said people can get neutral, fact-based information on New Mexico’s water issues in an easy-to-follow fashion on the group’s website and social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram.


“Water is the foundation of life. Without it, we couldn’t exist. However, it is a subject that most people take for granted. On the one hand, that’s good. We want people to just use water and not think about it. On the other hand, we need people to value water so they pay their bills and support the utility. We want people to know they can find good information about water from us and we hope they will use this resource in the future to learn more about water,” Himmelberger said.


To launch this initiative, Himmelberger and her team collaborated with students and faculty from the Film and Digital Arts Department to create a series of videos. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Himmelberger and her team had to detour from their initial plan and in the process came up with the idea to recognize New Mexico’s water utility workers who Himmelberger says have always been essential, but even more so now.  


“We think that water operators are somewhat the unsung heroes in the pandemic. They have to be out there every day working hard to keep the water flowing and don’t get much credit for that. They didn’t miss a beat when the pandemic started. At no time, did the water stop nor was it unsafe. We believed it was important to recognize their efforts,” Himmelberger said.


Below you can find a video from the series featuring water treatment professionals from The Buckman Direct Diversion Water Treatment Plant:

Video by Felina Martinez / Advance at UNM


Himmelberger said the next step is to create additional online content specifically examining issues related to the choices people make regarding bottled water and tap water and to educate them on the differences between the two.