California depends on water now more than ever. With a growing population, climate uncertainty, and aging infrastructure, issues surrounding water resources and policy are hard to ignore. The state faces many challenges—stemming from issues such as ecological problems in the San Joaquin Delta and growing pressure on our water delivery system.
When it comes to water, the California State University’s 23 campuses have vast expertise and wide-ranging resources. By collaborating with state agencies, these resources can be utilized to help solve the state’s water problems. The efforts also create learning and research opportunities throughout the CSU. That was the idea behind the CSU’s Water Resources and Policy Initiatives (WRPI) when the systemwide group was created in 2008.
How to strengthen and grow these state agency partnerships was the topic of discussion at the annual WRPI conference on June 7 at Sacramento State.
CSU water experts—faculty, staff and students—met with state agency leaders and discussed aligning their expertise with the state’s needs to tackle water challenges that include research, education, economic development, infrastructure, community assistance and preservation.
The conference included a roundtable discussion between CSU and state agency leaders. The agencies presented their priorities and needs and CSU water experts offered innovative solutions and resources—ranging from the research needed to make informed water policy to helping restore some of our state’s fragile watersheds.
For example, the Department of Public Health voiced concerns about new drinking water technology, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research indicated a top need was technical help with groundwater mapping and data.
“The CSU already finds and initiates solutions for these types of water problems,” a professor said during the discussion. “Now we need state agencies to help us take them to the next step.”
The meeting helped to facilitate that next step. It strengthened current partnerships and, with the discussion of future internship programs and research projects, ensured there would be new ones.
Channeling the Research
Since ground-breaking solutions begin with research, faculty panels presented some of their current projects and talked about how they could potentially benefit the state. CSU students also presented posters on their water studies. Both groups shared their struggles, as well as successes.
One of the faculty panels featured San Diego State water quality program director Matt Rahn. Rahn talked about the San Diego River Research Center, a successful community partnership he initiated when policy makers were in dire need of research.
“Our proposal was to reach out to people in the community and create an active beneficial relationship between the campus, the community and the state,” Rahn said.
The project has helped scientists, students and conservationists learn more about the San Diego River and boosted the profile of a long-running campaign to improve some of the waterway’s natural function in areas altered by heavy development. Rahn said the collaboration has also been very successful in providing local policymakers with research and SDSU students with internships.
“As the state universities are here to benefit the state, I applaud this opportunity to recognize the many ways CSUs are meeting its water needs,” Rahn said.
What Lies Downstream?
Researchers and officials voiced their concerns about funding in our current economic situation. However, they also offered solutions including new methods to get grant money. With limited state funds for research and programs, grants are becoming a more critical funding source. Sue DeRosa, director of CSU’s Special Programs, gave an update on AB20—legislation that if enacted, would streamline the process of applying for them.
The meeting also had a discussion about a proposed memorandum of understanding between the CSU and the Environmental Protection Agency. If enacted, the MOU would illustrate a collaboration that includes student internship opportunities, class projects and lectures, workshops, and the identification of research, curriculum and service opportunities with the EPA.
Participants at the annual WRPI conference read student research poster presentations.
CSU and state water leaders discuss options for strengthening partnerships between the state and the university system.
Attendees offer ideas for collaboration efforts between the CSU and the state.
CSU Stanislaus student researcher Aldo Garcia fields some questions about his poster presentation.
SDSU water quality program director Matt Rahn talks about the success of the San Diego River Research Center.