by Sharon B. Megdal
The Water Resources Research Center is dedicating our 2021 Annual Conference, Tribal Water Resilience in a Changing Environment, to Rodney “Rod” Blaine Lewis. A member of the Gila River Indian Community, Rod was an inspiring leader and a mentor to many. On Monday, August 30, 2021, at 1:00 pm Arizona time, we will begin our conference with a blessing and remarks from Rod’s brother and children. A special recording and announcement will follow. Because time will not permit me to share remarks about Rod at the conference dedication, I would like to share some words to express my admiration and appreciation of him.
I am not sure when I first became aware of Rod Lewis’ notable achievements, but I was thrilled when he agreed to participate in the 2009 workshop I hosted on southwestern and Israeli-Palestinian water challenges. Rod became a true friend of the WRRC. He helped plan our 2015 annual conference, Indigenous Perspectives on Sustainable Water Practices, which was held at the Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass conference center. He also advised WRRC staff member Ashley Hullinger as she planned an international conference, also dedicated to Rod, that included discussion of the water rights of First Nations.
For me, a defining moment in my relationship with Rod occurred in March 2015, when I attended a dinner at Gila River Indian Community’s Vee Quiva Hotel and Casino. There, Rod drew on his vast experience in his keynote presentation on tribal water rights and settlements. His comprehensive, clear, and convincing remarks made a lasting impression. In February 2017, I was again thrilled when Rod graciously agreed to provide a similar guest lecture for my graduate water policy students, who recognized that they were in the presence of a legal icon. That Rod took time from his busy schedule to drive to Tucson to meet with my students demonstrated his strong commitment to training the next generation of water professionals. Shortly afterward, Rod was appointed by Governor Doug Ducey to the Board of Directors of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (aka Central Arizona Project (CAP)). The first Native American to serve on the board, Rod contributed unique insights to board discussions. It was such a pleasure to serve with Rod on the CAP Board. I did not realize on February 9, 2018, when Rod generously shared his knowledge with my students and joined me for lunch, that his time on this earth was so limited. I was totally shocked when I learned that Rod passed away on April 10, 2018.
Rod Blaine Lewis’ accomplishments and contributions are legendary. I feel honored to have known Rod. I wish I had more opportunity to learn from him, and I miss being able to call upon Rod as a friend.
Image: Gila River Indian Community