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10 Who Made A Difference - 2020-12-02

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Putting her experience to use for the environment

DALE DOREMUS

STORY BY TONY RAAP | PHOTO BY GABRIELA CAMPOS

Dale Doremus spent her childhood exploring the rivers and marshes of coastal Georgia, where her family lived on an island near Savannah. There was a dock in their backyard, and she and her siblings spent every moment they could in the water. “That was where I grew up,” said Doremus, who devoted 30 years to water quality and water supply issues as a hydrogeologist for the New Mexico Environment Department, the city of Santa Fe and the Interstate Stream Commission. “There’s no doubt that [my] childhood influenced where I put my efforts as a professional and as a volunteer.” A former member of the Santa Fe River Commission, Doremus, 66, has remained active in environmental advocacy since retiring in 2016. She serves on the executive committee of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, which has pushed for stricter regulations on wastewater produced by the oil and gas industry and more funding for water quality protection programs. Her public service has made her one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference for 2020. Doremus became an advocate for the environment at a young age. By the time she was 12, she was collecting signatures to fight the dumping of toxic waste into the Savannah River by paper mills and other industries. In high school, she started a student organization that worked on environmental issues such as the near extinction of the brown pelican from the chemical DDT. Her father, Ogden Doremus, was an attorney who pushed for legislation that helped preserve Georgia’s coastline. He also pressured pulp and paper mills to reduce their odor emissions and was active in land conservation groups. “That was definitely a big influence on me,” Dale Doremus said. After earning a bachelor ’s degree in geology from Georgia Southern University, she worked for the state of Georgia before moving out west, where she earned a master ’s degree in hydrogeology from the University of Wyoming. While in graduate school, she did fieldwork in New Mexico and was impressed with its groundwater protection programs. “That’s what drew me,” she said. In 1986, she moved to New Mexico and began working in the state Environment Department’s Superfund program, which deals with the cleanup of toxic waste and groundwater pollution. She went on to manage the state’s groundwater protection and cleanup programs. After working for the city of Santa Fe for a couple of years, she went back to the state Environment Department to work on interstate salinity and other water quality issues. She later managed the abatement program for brownfields. Doremus finished her career at the Interstate Stream Commission, where she again worked on interstate salinity issues. “I really had a great career,” she said. While serving on Santa Fe’s River Commission, she helped gain passage of the city’s Living River Ordinance. Under the measure, up to 1,000 acre-feet of water is released annually into the Santa Fe River from reservoirs in the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed to enhance the river and its wildlife habitat. “Over the past decade, there’s been a lot of river restoration efforts by the city and county. And those efforts, together with these living river flows, have dramatically improved biodiversity within the river corridor,” Doremus said. “If you walk along the river trail below Camino [Alire] … you’ll now see lush areas with willows and grasses and cottonwoods. Ten years ago, that [area] was really somewhat barren. “That 1,000 acre-feet, which isn’t a whole lot of water, really has done a world of good for the river ecosystem,” she added. Doremus also volunteers at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, where she helps prune and maintain the orchard. Marcy Leavitt worked with Doremus for close to 20 years at the state Environment Department and lauds her former colleague’s commitment. “Of those of us who have retired from public service, Dale is the person who really stands out for continuing through volunteer work to serve the community,” Leavitt said. “Most of us have moved on to our own stuff, but she’s really out there working on environmental projects as a volunteer.” “She knows New Mexico water as well as anybody ever has,” said David Coss, a former mayor of Santa Fe who also worked with Doremus at the Environment Department. “She spent her professional career and now her retirement career helping people understand how to protect the water.” Doremus joked she volunteers so much because she “failed at retirement.” “I’m super honored and humbled to be recognized as someone who has made a difference in my community,” she said. “There’s so many remarkable people who contribute and volunteer to our community who deserve recognition and especially during these difficult times. “I think this is a great program,” she said of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference, “because it shows people there are a huge variety of ways to use their knowledge and expertise to contribute to their community and to get involved.”

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