My First President's Message for IMPACT

President's Message | January 2021

I am delighted to provide my first President's Message to introduce the January issue of IMPACT focusing on “Wicked Water Problems.” Wow, and what an issue it is! This topic is particularly important to me as a practitioner who has struggled over a 30-year career—whether working to restore the Chesapeake Bay or address overallocation of coastal groundwater—to work through complex, and sometimes wicked, water problems. I am so proud to be a part of an association that acknowledges the critical importance of collaborative, multidisciplinary, adaptive approaches to solving problems. I hope that many of you reading this issue had the opportunity to participate in the AWRA 2020 Annual Water Resources Conference, where we had a thought provoking, highly interactive panel on this very topic, featuring Lisa Beutler, Betsy Cody, Michael Campana, and Sharon B. Megdal. The panel and its interactive virtual dialogue was a highlight of the Annual Meeting for many attendees. This issue is a continuation of that dialogue, with contributions from each member of that panel.

I am confident that this issue of IMPACT can serve as a resource for those interested in understanding the unique nature of wicked problems and seeing examples of colleagues working with others to make progress managing problems that have defied traditional solutions. Sharon B. Megdal kicks us off with a wonderful reflection on her experience with the panel at the Annual Conference. She shares her observations about processes for addressing wicked water problems, along with some key takeaways from the audience interactions. Lisa Beutler follows with a foundational primer on wicked problems. As an early adopter of this systems thinking approach, she has been a thought leader in our community on the topic. She deftly provides guidance on what is a wicked problem and what is not. I have always found that naming something helps me identify pathways to progress, and Lisa gives us thoughts on how to do both.

Betsy Cody turns the wicked-problem lens toward California’s two largest water supply projects—the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and the state-owned and -operated State Water Project (SWP)—and questions whether the management of these two projects can be defined as wicked problems. She illustrates the historical and ongoing efforts undertaken to balance multiple—and often competing—demands on these systems as they have evolved over time. Other highly informative contributions in this issue include a pair of articles on efforts by the Navajo. Chief et al. discuss the development of a resilience framework to address food-energy-water insecurities that considers Indigenous perspectives. They note, unfortunately, that “Existing resilience frameworks aim to co-manage resources and keep Indigenous people within an unjust and colonial system.” Cordova-Tulley et al. provide firsthand insight into the conditions that create the daily water challenges faced by the Navajo—challenges that already exceed tribal capacity and budgets—and how COVID-19 has magnified them. While there is not enough space here to do all the articles justice, read on, and you will find other great content provided by Carol Collier, Alan Kolok, Amber Wutich, and Wendy Jepson. Finally, as Sharon Megdal so aptly states, “Indeed, the articles in this issue of Water Resources IMPACT reinforce the idea that working together respectfully and with open minds increases our capacity to address the many wicked water problems that confront us.”

A few comments on upcoming AWRA offerings: If you liked the article by Cordova-Tulley et al., please consider registering for the 2021 Joint AWRA and National Capital Annual Water Symposium. The authors will be one of the highlighted offerings at this April 15–16, 2021, virtual event. Does the concept of intertwined issues that challenge traditional solutions stimulate you intellectually, and are you interested in making connections with professionals from outside your own discipline? If so, please register for our 2021 Virtual Summer Conference entitled “Connecting Land and Water for Healthy Communities.” This will be an exciting event as AWRA is working in collaboration with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the American Planning Association, and the American Water Works Association. This conference, scheduled for July 19–21, 2021, is truly an interdisciplinary opportunity you cannot afford to miss. For our up-and-coming student members, who represent the future of our association, we have a series of virtual workshop offerings just for you. The first of these student and young professional workshops begins March 30, 2021. Check the AWRA website for more information.

Before I sign off, I wanted to point out that this issue of IMPACT reflects some themes that you will be hearing more about during my year as your president. As a community of interdisciplinary water professionals, AWRA is dedicated to bringing you timely content that fosters conversation and connects you to people and resources that can help us understand the nature of challenges so that we can work to address them. AWRA leadership recognizes the need to welcome diverse voices in our water community. I hope you will notice that our content and events increasingly offer perspectives from women, people of color, and Indigenous peoples. Keep a look out for other meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives from your Board of Directors. We also recognize the importance of inclusive stakeholder engagement processes with all of our members, including the volunteer leaders of our technical committees and state sections, and our students. I urge you to participate as these opportunities develop. Participation is key to understanding the nature of our challenges as an association so we can tackle the issues we face and grow our community.

And lastly, we have new leadership at Water Resources IMPACT. Michael E. Campana is the new editor-in-chief, and Heidi Fritschel is the managing editor.

We always appreciate hearing from you. Be safe and stay well.

Scott Kudlas is the 2021 president of AWRA.


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