Bureau Scientist Wins N.M. Public Service Award

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. December 8, 2010 – New Mexico Tech hydrogeologist Peggy Johnson was among 12 public servants honored with a 2010 Distinguished Public Service Award in late November.

Johnson, who has been employed as a hydrogeologist at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology since 1995, accepted the award from former Governors Toney Anaya and Garrey Carruthers at an awards banquet in Albuquerque.
Peggy Johnson
Bureau of Geology senior hydrogeologist and winner of a 2010 N.M. Distinguished Public Service Award

“Public service is the motivation for my work,” Johnson said. “Scientists need to apply their knowledge to solving social problems and that’s what I try to do. That’s important to me as an individual and it’s the mission of our agency.”

Johnson won the award primarily based on her comprehensive groundwater studies across New Mexico as part of the state-funded Aquifer Mapping project. She is responsible for administration, management, planning, and project development of hydrogeologic programs at the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, which is a division of New Mexico Tech. As the principal investigator of the Aquifer Mapping Project, Johnson has been able to craft the methodology and develop results that have a direct impact on development.

Bureau of Geology director and State Geologist Peter Scholle said, “Peggy Johnson’s hydrogeologic studies have made an incredible impact on the effective management of our groundwater in critical area. Because she understands both the science and the politics of water she produces exceptional reports that are useful and applicable both by water managers and the general public.”

Johnson said she is driven to do science to help make New Mexico leaders make more informed decision.

“I develop a study approach for the state’s aquifers that, in the large picture isn’t unique, but no one else is doing it,” she said. “This methodology integrates geology, hydrology and geochemistry to characterize how much water we have, where it is and how long it will last. Our products provide tools that people can use – something that non-scientists, decision-makers, can pick up and understand and see the value of that information.”

Johnson has a history of public involvement and volunteerism. She has continuously served in her professional capacity since the mid-1990s, starting with the Socorro County Planning and Zoning Commission. She was a member of the Interstate Stream Commission committee on regional water plans for four years. Most recently she was a commissioner on the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission from 2005 to 2009.

Johnson has overseen water studies for high-growth communities, such as Taos, Placitas, the Española Basin and the Sacramento Mountains. Scholle said Johnson also serves as an outstanding mentor for less-experienced staff scientists.

“Peggy is always an advocate for protecting the state’s water supplies in fiscally and hydrologically realistic ways,” Scholle wrote in his nomination packet. “She does a remarkable amount of advising local communities on the management of limited water supplies while at the same time producing substantial data used by the State Engineer’s Office for such management."

Johnson has also played an integral role in running four of the Bureau’s Decision Maker field conferences, which caters to state elected officials, legislative staff members and other policymakers.

“Peggy is a role model for how a state employee should perform,” Scholle said. “I believe that she very much deserves the New Mexico Public Service Award and in a state as dependent on adequate water supplies as this one, I that that award would be fully justified.”

Johnson began her work at the Bureau in 1996 and was awarded tenure in 2000. She was promoted to senior hydrogeologist in 2005, and then was named the Associate Director for Hydrogeologic Programs in 2008.

Johnson earned her bachelor’s in geology from Boise State University in 1987 and her master’s in hydrology from New Mexico Tech in 1990. She spent five years working for consultant firms before returning to Socorro to work at the Bureau.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech