Public Affairs, The California State University

CSU Water Works

by Elizabeth Chapin

CSU East Bay professor Michael Lee presents at the WRPI Conference CSU water experts gathered to discuss sustainable water solutions for campuses, communities, and California at the Water Resources and Policy Initiatives (WRPI) annual conference in Long Beach June 20.

The conference highlighted some current and future initiatives that have formed thanks to WRPI’s prominence as a network of problem solvers. It was also announced that WRPI leadership will move from Fresno State to CSU San Bernardino in order to better align with expanding efforts to tackle urban water issues.

WRPI was created in 2008 with the aim to leverage CSU water expertise for the good of California.

Since then, the CSU affinity group has spearheaded a number of grants and initiatives—including a memorandum of understanding with the Environmental Protection Agency and a $2 million USDA internship program—that are already developing solutions for California’s water and environmental problems.

“These cooperative agreements help WRPI grow and create opportunities to demonstrate CSU’s capacity to solve our water problems,” said Boykin Witherspoon, director of the Water Resources Institute (WRI) at CSU San Bernardino.

Witherspoon will be assuming the role of WRPI executive director on July 1, as current director Dr. David Zoldoske will continue to support WRPI goals at Fresno State.

The leadership rotation to Southern California will not only increase state focus on urban water issues, but it also takes advantage of the strong track record CSUSB has had in obtaining external funding for WRPI.

In 2011, the campus helped WRPI obtain the aforementioned $2 million award from the US Department of Agriculture for hands-on learning internships for students attending one of the CSU’s 14 Hispanic Serving Institutions. The program is currently accepting applications for its third year, and by this fall Witherspoon says it will have placed 150 student interns.

“The greatest thing about this internship is that nearly all of the money goes directly to students.” Witherspoon said, adding that he hopes to expand the successful program to provide opportunities for all 23 campuses.

CSUSB’s success in garnering WRPI grants has also led to some new initiatives including a $150,000 USDA Rural Utilities Services grant that will go toward developing material for a CSU certification course, and a three-year $5 million agreement with the Department of Water Resources that will allow the state department to easily access a database of CSU water resources.

Witherspoon says he’s looking forward to strengthening these partnerships and programs, and creating more, especially those that focus on the state’s urban water crisis.

“We’re putting California dollars back into California to solve California problems,” he said.

Some of the CSU’s WRPI-USDA interns in action. The $2 million program provides internships for 200 students attending the CSU’s 14 Hispanic Serving Institutions.