The 8th annual Water Resources and Policy Initiatives (WRPI) Conference brought together California State University faculty, government agencies and industry leaders from throughout the state as they discussed large projects and efforts currently underway that targets California drought and climate change. Titled “Big Water Projects, Innovation and the New Reality,” the conference covered topics ranging from managing the Salton Sea to managing water consumption on campuses. The event’s overarching message - everyone is accountable to water conservation - complements Governor Brown’s recently unveiled executive order of making water conservation a way of life in California.

Since 2008, the CSU has been helping the way California manages water. WRPI is composed of more than 250 water experts throughout the university’s 23 campuses to develop water management solutions through research, partnerships, education and training, as well as provide students with hands-on learning.

Boykin Witherspoon III, WRPI’s executive director, sat down with us as he shared his perspectives on water conservation efforts made in the past year while looking forward to new developments in the year ahead.

• Tell us about the current status of the water crisis in California.

Boykin: It rained a little and we got some snow. Although it’s melting quickly, we are still in a drought. It’s important for us to keep the conservation measures in place and not let a little rain make us think we can roll back our conservation efforts. We are still using up to 70% of our water toward landscapes, especially in southern California. It wasn’t sustainable before, it’s not sustainable in a drought, and it won’t be sustainable when this drought ends.

• What is WRPI doing about this?

Boykin: One of the ways that WRPI is addressing the crisis is through the Salton Sea Project. The Salton Sea is 300 square miles of water on the verge of environmental and human health catastrophe. In 2017, most of the water that feeds the sea will be repurposed. The sea will begin to dry up, exposing miles of playa. The preferred alternative to mitigate the impacts costs billions of dollars. This is an issue that will affect all Californians, not just those who live in the low desert. The WRPI, along with the Water Resources Institute at the CSUSB Palm Desert campus, have teamed up with the Salton Sea Authority to help manage and make accessible the vast historic scientific and engineering archive pertaining to the Sea. And, together, are actively promoting the issues surrounding the Sea all throughout the state.

• How did WRPI influence the CSUs role in water conservation this year?

Boykin: The WRPI has two initiatives involving the CSU facilities. The WRPI, in partnership with the Center for Geographical Studies at CSU Northridge, is comparing actual water consumption data to the results of evapotranspiration models. The models indicate preferred or ideal amounts of water for irrigating landscapes. Comparing the models’ results to the actual consumptions will give facility managers more information about where and how water conservation can be achieved.

Another project involves partnering with entrepreneurs in the water industry to pilot emerging technologies on CSU campuses. What’s new about these partnerships is our industry partners are co-principal investigators on the grants to perform the pilot tests. Students and faculty perform the observations and measurements for the pilot studies. In addition, CSU Bakersfield’s Energy Center has just won a Metropolitan Water District grant, in partnership with an Australian company, ABR, to test an electro-chemical water filtration device.

• What new developments in WRPI were made over the last year and what new projects can we look forward to this year?

Boykin: The WRPI won a $2 million USDA grant to continue our paid internship program for another four years. One of the new aspects of the grant is we have partnered with the California Community College system and can now hire interns from any of the state’s community colleges. We hope this will act as a potential pathway for community college students who are interested in transferring to the CSU.

The big push for next year is to provide technical assistance to underserved communities in California. The WRPI has been working with the Department of Water Resources, the State Water Board, the Energy Commission and the Governor’s Office to develop guidelines for operating such program and how to make the CSU the best possible candidate for the project.

• What current challenges does WRPI face that can hinder it from fulfilling its mission?

Boykin: California is a big state and addressing water-related issues in every corner of the state has been challenging. The WRPI has tremendous support from the CSU Chancellor’s Office and from the seven presidents on the WRPI Presidents Oversight Committee (listed below). We will continue to use these resources and this support to involve and inform as many CSU faculty, students, staff, and our industry partners as we can in our programs. It is a big state with big issues but the CSU is uniquely positioned and qualified to help California.

WRPI Presidents Oversight Committee:

  • Jeffrey D. Armstrong (San Luis Obispo)
  • Joseph I. Castro (Fresno)
  • Soraya M. Coley (Pomona)
  • Dianne F. Harrison (Northridge)
  • Tomás D. Morales (San Bernardino)
  • Robert S. Nelsen (Sacramento)
  • Lisa Rossbacher (Humboldt)

For more information on WRPI, visit http://www.calstate.edu/water/.