A public servant who advanced the role of earth science in public policy will be recognized at the New Mexico State Capitol on Jan. 23.
The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, in cooperation with the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, will present the Earth Science Achievement Award for 2023 to Dennis McQuillan during a noon ceremony in the Roundhouse Rotunda in conjunction with Earth Science/New Mexico Tech Day. NMT academic and research divisions and earth science-focused state, federal and private sector groups will staff tables from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The public is invited to visit the Roundhouse and attend the awards ceremony.
McQuillan graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in geology, minoring in chemistry, mathematics and physics. Early in his career with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), mentors Maxine Goad and John Hawley (two previous Earth Science Achievement Award recipients), trained McQuillan to be an expert witness, a skill that he used in administrative, legislative, and adjudicatory proceedings. As he became involved with the fields of public health, civil and sanitary engineering, public relations, and microbiology, Hawley helped to keep McQuillan firmly grounded in geology, which strongly influences the migration, transformation, and cleanup of groundwater pollution.
At NMED McQuillan developed new regulatory frameworks and programs aimed at advancing the health and safety of all New Mexicans through citizen engagement and education. Following recognition that private domestic well users were not protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, McQuillan created the “Water Fair” program in 1982, using portable field instruments to provide free screening of private domestic well water. McQuillan was instrumental in assembling a team of industry, citizen, and local government organizations to draft comprehensive regulations for the prevention and abatement of water pollution to replace the practice of negotiating legally binding cleanup agreements on a case-by-case basis.
Most recently, he played a central role in the emergency response to the Gold King Mine (GKM) spill, which impacted communities along the Animas and San Juan rivers. He recruited top experts among state agencies and universities to develop and implement a long-term program to monitor the effects of the spill. After retiring from NMED in 2020, McQuillan continued to serve as New Mexico’s expert in the GKM litigation, which resulted in $48 million in settlements for the state.
Nominations for next year’s awards, first initiated in 2003, are welcome from the general public and may be made directly to the director of the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.