Perfect Fit

A Journalist Shares his Enthusiasm for Water and Learning with UNM Students

Longtime New Mexico science journalist John Fleck became an adjunct faculty member at UNM in 2013. By invitation, he began co-teaching a 4-credit interdisciplinary course, Contemporary Water Issues, in the interdisciplinary Water Resources Program (WRP). The class is co-taught with Robert Berrens, current WRP Director and a Professor in the Department of Economics, and Bruce Thomson, former WRP Director, and a Professor Emeritus in the Civil Engineering Department. The combination creates a unique interdisciplinary learning opportunity for the participating students working on their Masters in Water Resources (M.W.R.) degree.

As a journalist, including more than two decades' work at the Albuquerque Journal from 1990 to 2014, John grew to increasingly specialize in the water resource issues so critical in New Mexico and arid Southwest. His water-related writings and newspaper coverage have included important legal decisions as well as legislative activity, and spanned the state of New Mexico, as well as neighboring states, such as Arizona, Colorado and Texas. Important recent topics have included persistent drought, wildfire risk and watershed restoration, agricultural water use and trends, municipal water supply and demand, endangered species protections (e.g., the Silvery Minnow in the Middle Rio Grande) and ground water pollution (e.g., the Kirtland jet fuel spill in Albuquerque). His everyday work as a journalist, criss-crossing the state, created numerous connections in the water and policy community across New Mexico, including legislators, federal, state and local agency personnel, tribal and pueblo leaders, environmental and other NGO staff, prominent farmers and other community members, as well a variety of scholars in ecology, engineering, climatology, geography and economics.

In addition to his work for the Albuquerque Journal, John also maintains a popular water blog (, and is a frequently requested speaker, across the Southwest, about western water issues. He has also been a fellow and contributing editor at Stanford University's Center for the American West. He has previously published a book for middle school students about climate change, "The Tree Rings Tale,", and is now at work on Beyond the Water Wars, a policy book for Island Press about the future of water in the Colorado River Basin.

This combination of connections across the water community, and knowledge about both current and historical issues has made him a perfect fit for the Contemporary Water Issues class, part of an interdisciplinary core sequence in the MWR curriculum. Program students will be some of our water resource managers of the future. According to WRP Director Berrens, "John's insights and connections have been an invaluable addition to our interdisciplinary teaching team. But perhaps his most important contribution has been his enthusiasm for sharing and learning about water issues." In addition to office hours for students, John is also spending time at UNM working on his Colorado River book. "We've made him our 'Writer in Residence' in the WRP," added Berrens.

Interdisciplinary learning is critical in understanding numerous water problems and issues, as they are unlikely to be solved by any single disciplinary perspective. The journalistic perspective helps students see those linkages. "The chance to move beyond my journalistic audience and work directly with students who will be the West's future water managers, sharing what I have learned about the region's water problems and their potential solutions, is an extraordinary opportunity," Fleck said.