By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator
This month for Meet the Researcher, we had the pleasure of interviewing Crystal Tulley-Cordova, Principal Hydrologist for the Water Management Branch at the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources in Ft. Defiance, Arizona (2018). The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation in the United States, and is located in the southwestern Four Corners Region. According to Crystal, the most important aspect of her role as Principal Hydrologist is to protect and manage water resources across the Navajo Nation to ensure Navajo residents have access to safe water. She currently mentors students interested in STEM related fields through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and also regularly presents on Navajo Nation water-related research projects.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Crystal has devoted a large portion of her time working with the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Water Access Coordination Group to help Navajo residents obtain access to safe drinking water. Crystal has stated that the primary focus of the group was to develop 59 transitional water points in Navajo communities in areas that do not have a permanent watering point, and to help educate Navajo residents about safe water collection and water storage programs. More information about this effort can be found here.
Crystal earned her BS in Earth and Planetary Sciences (2007), and Master of Water Resources degree in Hydroscience (2011) from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, under Laura Crossey and Bruce Thomson as her advisors respectively. She received her Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability (2018) under the guidance of Brenda Bowen, and earned her PhD in Geology (2019) under the advisement of Gabriel J. Bowen from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Tulley-Cordova has over 18 years of research and professional experience. She was a Think Globally, Learn Locally Fellow, and helped integrate science curriculum into both elementary and middle school classrooms in Salt Lake City, Utah, and diligently studied as an intern and Graduate Research Assistant for several institutions.
For several years, Tulley-Cordova has been an important collaborator with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI), and has participated in both the 64th and 65th NM WRRI Annual New Mexico Water Conference Tribal Working Groups. Crystal feels these opportunities have allowed her to thoroughly share her perspectives and ideas to help with conference planning. She would additionally like to express her appreciation to the NM WRRI for their successful Animas and San Juan Watersheds conferences, as they were beneficial to not only her graduate studies but also to her work as a Principal Hydrologist.
In her latest publication for the Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education (2018) entitled, Navajo Nation, USA, Precipitation Variability from 2002 to 2015, Tulley-Cordova’s research focused on investigating precipitation variability throughout the Navajo Nation. Crystal explains that Navajo people are quite familiar with bimodal precipitation patterns, but this research allowed her the opportunity to study different techniques used to quantify inter- and intra- annual precipitation variability. For those interested in this research, please click here for more information.
In addition to her research responsibilities, Crystal is a Sequoyah Fellow in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and a member of three professional affiliations, which are comprised of the Geological Society of America, Colorado River Water Users Association, and the Association for Women Geoscientists. Crystal has also undertaken several leadership roles to support her community and has served as a mentor and representative for graduate students of local societies, science fair judge, camp instructor, and has volunteered her time to promote the learning of future researchers at college events within her area.
Tulley-Cordova’s research and expertise has been featured in several media and science outlets, including documentaries, magazines, technical reports, podcasts and newspapers. She has been interviewed for several issues of Indian Country Today, and the Navajo Times. Currently, Crystal and her colleagues have a manuscript in preparation to be published entitled, Stable isotopes in precipitation and associated waters: Recording the North American Monsoon in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
Throughout her career, Crystal has been invited to speak at a wide variety of conferences, research centers, and higher education institutions. One of her most recent presentations entitled, Addressing water challenges in the Navajo Nation, was given virtually for the Native Waters in Arid Lands COVID-19 Meeting in 2020. To accompany her official invites, Crystal also volunteers to give presentations on her current research findings, and personal experiences to locations all around the country. At this time, she has offered her expertise to over 50 events.
Crystal has been the recipient of 14 honors and awards throughout her career. In 2017, she was presented the American Indian Science and Engineering Society Graduate Student Poster Award in Water Management, and the Graduate Student of the Month Award for the American Indian Graduate Center. Tulley-Cordova has also been recognized for her efforts by earning several fellowships and travel grants. Recently, she was awarded the Native American Natural Resources Research Scholarship (2018), Cobell Graduate Scholarship (2017), and the American Chemical Society’s Women Chemists Committee Travel Award (2017).
When asked about her future goals, Crystal stated that she would like to be a vocal, and well-informed water advocate committed to solving the southwestern United States’ most pressing challenges in innovative and collaborative ways. She has many research projects in the works for the upcoming year, which will be seeking the collaboration of several federal, state, tribal, and other academic partners. These research opportunities will be centering on a wide variety of topics including a study on desalination, watersheds, and the COVID-19 nexus with water. As a parting message, Crystal would like to emphasize the importance of the Navajo phrase, “Tó éí iiná áté”, which means water is life.