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Nine Experts To Watch on California Water Policy

California faces a host of water issues, which is why good policy leaders are important. In the first installment of our “Experts to Watch” series, here are nine people who are contributing to policy solutions in the state.

Written by Eline Gordts Published on Read time Approx. 5 minutes
This April 23, 2016 photo shows how low the water is in South Lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada near Bishop, Calif. A nearly average amount of rain and snow this winter has eased California's dry spell, filling key reservoirs in Northern California.Brian Melley, AP

More than four years of drought in California have made the need for smart and forward-looking water policy initiatives abundantly clear. About 83 percent of the state is currently still in drought, according to the most recent data by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The state also faces big policy decisions on how to prepare for long-term water shortages resulting from climate change, growing ecological concerns in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, implementation of groundwater law and continued issues with water supply and conveyance.

Meet nine top experts who are driving the conversation on California’s water policy.

Ellen Hanak

Ellen Hanak is the director of the PPIC Water Policy Center, a prominent think tank known for reports on California’s water supplies. The center’s recent publications have focused on California’s most pressing water management issues and brought evaluations and recommendations on topics like the state’s water market, water quality, groundwater management and preparations for droughts and floods.

Hanak’s research expertise reaches beyond water policy and includes climate change and infrastructure finance. That openness to approaching research from different angles has won her praise and she has been lauded for bringing technical experts and policy minds together to develop the innovative, long-term management solutions that California needs.

Hanak’s Twitter feed is an excellent resource for staying on top of PPIC’s publications and recommended reads. She also contributes to PPIC’s blog and reports.

Jeffrey Mount

The PPIC Water Policy Center is also the base of Jeff Mount, a geomorphologist, emeritus professor at the University of California, Davis, and the founding director of the school’s Center for Watershed Sciences. Mount is a veteran researcher in the study of rivers, streams and wetlands, and the mechanics of the Delta. His research has focused on water resource management, aquatic ecosystems and flood control.

Mount is well known for having written a seminal book on California’s flood systems and was once described by the New York Times as the “maverick member” of the California State Reclamation Board, the agency overseeing levee safety. Mount was recently recognized by the California Water Policy Conference for his efforts on educating people about water problems and solutions, particularly about the risk to Delta levees. He also contributes to PPIC’s blog and reports.

Kirsten James

Kirsten James oversees California Policy and Partnerships at Ceres, a nonprofit that mobilizes investors and business leaders to work toward a sustainable global economy. Ceres has been a strong voice pushing for innovative, cross-sector solutions to California’s water management challenges and has emphasized the crucial role that business can play in promoting those solutions. Its Connect The Drops campaign has connected environmental groups, legislators and business leaders to develop solutions for the drought.

James has been working on water issues for decades, including for the leading clean water nonprofit Heal the Bay. “The key to California’s water future is investing in the water we already have and valuing every drop,” James wrote in an op-ed for Water Deeply.

She contributes regular op-eds to Water Deeply and you can follow her on Twitter for recommended reads and the latest on Ceres’ work.

Michael Kiparsky

Michael Kiparsky works at the intersection of science and policy. Currently, he is director at the Wheeler Water Institute at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to water solutions in California by addressing water quality concerns, urban water systems and conflicts emerging from the competing demands of human and environmental water use.

Kiparsky has done extensive work on water policy, but he also focuses on water sector innovation, climate change and water resources planning. His work has earned awards from the National Science Foundation, the Association of California Water Agencies, the CALFED Bay-Delta Science Program and the Udall Foundation. He wrote recently about the role of good governance and agency structure in implementing California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Anecita Agustinez

Anecita Agustinez works as tribal policy advisor to the California Department of Water Resources, where her more than three decades of experience on issues pertaining to the state’s Native American tribes help guide water policies, including the governor’s tribal drought task force, groundwater sustainability and the California Water Fix plan.

She has also done award-winning work as executive producer and media strategist for On Native Ground, a tribal nonprofit film and media company, which works to promote positive visibility for Native American and indigenous filmmakers and community leaders.

Paula Daniels

Paula Daniels has been a prominent voice on environmental issues in California for more than two decades. She worked with Heal the Bay for 20 years and served on the California Coastal Commission as well as the governing board of the California Bay-Delta Authority.

Daniels is currently a member of the California Water Commission and is the executive director of California Central, which helps tackle the issue of water in the age of climate change. Her track record on the Los Angeles Board of Public Works highlights a deep commitment to green infrastructure initiatives, including rainwater conservation.

Follow Daniels on Twitter for her insights on water policy, water conservation and sustainable, healthy food production. Read her blogs on the Huffington Post.

Cynthia Koehler

Environmental attorney and water policy expert Cynthia Koehler cofounded the WaterNow Alliance, a network of water leaders working to spearhead sustainable long-term strategies and make decisions on California’s water policy less crisis-driven. “We started the WaterNow Alliance because we believe that sustainable innovative solutions are the path to resilience in the face of climate change,” Koehler explains in a video about the organization. “It’s about disrupting conventional thinking about water and making these solutions – whether it’s reuse or green infrastructure or efficiency technology – the new normal.”

Koehler, who’s a board member for Marin’s Municipal Water District and a member of the Water Education Foundation, previously worked for Save San Francisco Bay and the Environmental Defense Fund’s San Francisco office. Now she aims to bridge the disconnect between innovators and the decision-makers who can bring new technologies to help solve California’s water problems to the state’s communities.

Dave Puglia

As executive vice president at Western Growers, Dave Puglia has extensive experience in water policy issues affecting the agriculture industry. He previously headed the government affairs team for Western Growers, working on legislative and regulatory efforts for members in California and Arizona.

He has worked for years on policy issues affecting the agriculture industry and has deep roots in Sacramento, working on political campaigns, as well as holding positions with the state Department of Justice, the California Attorney General’s Office and APCO Worldwide.

You can follow his thoughts on water and agricultural policy on Twitter.

Peter Drekmeier

A longtime environmental activist, whitewater rafting guide and the former mayor of Palo Alto, Peter Drekmeier currently works as the policy director for the Tuolumne River Trust. The organization is focused on protecting and restoring the Tuolumne, a source of water for millions of people across the San Francisco Bay Area. In his position, Drekmeier is primarily focused on state and federal water policy.

Drekmeier’s firsthand experience with the effects of the drought on the Tuolumne River make him a powerful advocate for the efforts needed to secure a sustainable water future.

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