Conference Lunch Panel Showcases Young Leaders

Back to Spring 2013 Newsletter

By Becky Witte, WSP Graduate Outreach Assistant, University of Arizona

Experienced water buffalos were not the only speakers at the conference; the lunch panel provided an opportunity for students and young professionals to provide their perspective on current water issues. The panel included Ross Rayner, a UA Agribusiness Management and Economics and Plant Science undergraduate student; Jamie McEvoy, a UA Ph.D. candidate in the School of Geography and Development; and Lisa Snyders, a process engineer with Carollo Engineers. These speakers focused on the future of our water, with an emphasis on Arizona.

Guy Carpenter, Vice President, Carollo Engineers, moderated the panel. He noted that with many of the current water experts nearing retirement, these young individuals may have an important role in the water field. When he posed the question, “What do you think we are doing well in water management?”, the panelists responded from their different experiences. Rayner, who was born and raised in Arizona on a farm that his family has owned since 1914, thought that the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 was pivotal in establishing water rights. Also, effluent water use for agriculture has been important. McEvoy was impressed by long-term water resource planning and stakeholder involvement in the Tucson area. She also mentioned that public interest in xeriscaping and water harvesting has been a positive aspect of water management. As a young professional, Snyders has worked in the planning, design and construction phases of water and wastewater facilities. During her work, she has realized the unique challenges that the Southwest faces but believes that past leaders have managed surface and groundwater sources well, especially recharging water within the Active Management Areas.

The follow up question was “What are constraints and problems that need to be overcome so that water can be better managed?” McEvoy conducted extensive research for her dissertation on political ecology and the risks and hazards of desalination technology, so she is concerned with the water-energy nexus. Technology, like desalination, could help to supplement water supplies in some areas, but the energy necessary for this process is immense and water needed for power production is also high. This interconnection between water and energy is a problem that will need to be addressed in the coming years. Also, McEvoy was concerned with the equitable distribution of water and believed a greater voice for under-represented groups is necessary to ensure water is distributed fairly. The problem that Rayner saw was population growth. Continuing population growth could strain water supplies. For agriculture, he thought the perception that drip irrigation is always best is an issue because some crops and locations are better suited for techniques other than drip irrigation. Snyders thought that public awareness of water issues is a constraint. More public education on the future of water is necessary. She also said there is an insufficient sense of urgency in addressing water issues and was not sure if we are doing enough, fast enough. To see where the panelists thought reform is needed, Carpenter asked, “You are the future of Arizona water. What sacred cows do you think need to be slaughtered?” Both Rayner and McEvoy questioned the need for unlimited population growth. Growth may need to be curtailed in some areas, or at least managed so that it occurs where and how it is likely to be beneficial. Snyders believed that the prejudice against drinking reclaimed water needs to change. The public needs to learn to trust the treatment technology.

The lunch session ended with these young water leaders posing questions to experienced water buffalos, many of whomwere in the audience, in hopes of starting more conversations about the future of water in Arizona. They asked: Will there be water for agriculture in the future? Is there a need for a new ethic for water? To what degree should stakeholders be involved?