WRRC Conference Inspires Environmental Science Students

Back to Spring 2012 newsletter

In January, students in the Introduction to Environmental Science class, offered to undergraduates by the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, attended the WRRC’s Annual Conference, “Urbanization, Uncertainty and Water: Planning for Arizona’s Second Hundred Years.” As an extra credit assignment, they were to write about what they learned and hold their own panel discussion to talk about the conference topic. Panelist explained to the class the key concepts raised during the conference and led a discussion in which the student’s grasp of the complex issues was impressive, given their limited formal education in water resources. While not always exactly accurate, the reports they produced captured some of the essence of the discussions. The following are excerpts from the papers.

Andrew Ranshaw, wrote about the keynote address by Dr. Robert Lang, Professor of Sociology and the Director of Brookings Mountain West at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Ranshaw was impressed that “Atlanta … survives solely on rain fall. This can be dangerous when there are unpredictable, poor, rain seasons.” His classmate, Marissa Dudenake noted that the only additional source of water for Atlanta is Lake Lanier, which the city does not control. What struck Dudenake was the contrast Professor Lang drew between water management practices in the East and the West. “He also said that many criticize the west for not being sustainable and that it is an incorrect assumption because if the west wasn’t sustainable, then there wouldn’t be large metropolises and thriving cities that have lasted many years. … [I]n fact, Las Vegas is a metropolis in the West and it has one of the best water systems [in the country].”

Shelby Thompson focused her report on the presentation by David Brown “a well-known water attorney and Co-Chairman of … [the] Water Resources Development Commission. Brown presented a report that was not only realistic in terms of Arizona’s current water supply, but realistic in terms of what might be done in the future to sustain water resources.” Thompson wrote that in summing up The Water Resources Development Commission Final Report, “Brown’s first point was that the west has met the challenge of realizing that it has a very variable water supply. This is a positive and significant realization due to the fact that, before Arizona begins to make changes to improve its water supply, it needs to realize why change has to be made.”

“Brown ended his segment by stating that it is up to the people to decide where we go in the future with regards to Arizona’s water supply. The people must decide that they are ready to abandon their current use of water for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach.”

Both Monique Trejo and llison Schannep were interested by the panel of industry representatives. Schannep described the first presentation in this way, “The first speaker, John Graham, owned Sunbelt Holdings for over 30 years. His business master plans communities and consequently water has a large impact on every day decision-making. He consistently deals with issues of water policy and water availability and how they change with new laws. He said he was optimistic however, and wants to protect nature while promoting the growth of his new business. He believed that it’s not a question of “if,” but “how” and “when” solutions to conserving water and expanding will take place.”

Schannep also noted: “The final speaker, Rebecca Comstock, spoke from a mining perspective. She … presented data that showed that her mining companies only consumed a small percentage of water. She also mentioned that multiple water sources and water management practices are reviewed regularly.” Trejo closed by mentioning that her favorite part “was when Comstock explained how her company plans on developing a water Task Force to establish a water conservation program to minimize the environmental impact that mining has on the environment.”

Two other students described the luncheon talk by historian Jack August. Jan Brewer repeated the speaker’s broad thought questions: “Do we seek to preserve agriculture? What is the balance between current lifestyle and growth? Should we limit landscaping and pools? Should there be higher density housing? He also reinforced the message that we need to change the focus from ‘We’re going to run out of water.’ to ‘What do we want to do with the water we have?’”

Brandon Johnson focused on the historical context, “Dr. August argued that events in history affect people today. In turn, events today will affect people in the future.” Both students ended with his look to the future. In Brewer’s words, “He ended his discussion with the call to demonstrate similar urgency, resolve and wisdom [as shown in the past 100 years], in shaping Arizona’s water usage and management for the next 100 years.”

Professor Joan Curry, the class instructor, observed, “These students are remarkable – active, engaged and ready to learn about water and the factors that go into managing it. The Water Resources Research Conference was an ideal opportunity to actively bring the students into discussions on current issues in water resources.”

We at the WRRC appreciate the interest these students took in the conference. One other point made at the conference wathe vital need to involve young people in the resolution of water challenges.

We hope the class concurred with llison Schannep’s assessment: “Overall, it was a very informative and interesting conference and hearing the views of business owners and environmentalist on the same issues broadened my perspective and increased my awareness of Arizona’s great need.”