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Twelve California Water Experts to Watch on Climate and Energy

Energy and climate issues factor hugely in California’s water future. In the fifth installment of Water Deeply’s “Experts to Watch” series, we highlight leaders at the crucial nexus of water, energy and climate.

Written by Eline Gordts Published on Read time Approx. 6 minutes
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Water flows from five of the eight flood gates at Folsom Dam Friday, March 18, 2016, in Folsom, Calif.AP/Rich Pedroncelli

Water, energy and climate in California are closely linked. Nearly 20 percent of the state’s electricity currently goes to the water sector, and climate change is already impacting the availability and timing of water resources.

Reducing the energy costs of water production, including through conserving electricity and increasing water efficiency, will become increasingly important as California faces the reality of climate change and prolonged drought.

Meet 12 people who are among the top experts that Water Deeply’s editors, reporters and contributors look to when it comes to this crucial issue.

Peter Gleick

Peter Gleick cofounded the Pacific Institute, a global water think-tank, in 1987 and now serves as its president emeritus and chief scientist. Gleick is a pioneer in the analysis of climate change impacts on water resources, comprehensive work on water and conflict, and defining water as a right and a basic human need. Gleick is a recipient of the MacArthur “genius” fellowship and was elected both an academician of the International Water Academy, in Oslo, Norway, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. “I’m convinced that we’re moving toward a sustainable water future in California and globally. It will take a long time, but it’s inevitable,” Gleick told Water Deeply recently. “The challenge is how to make it happen faster and with less pain than following the old traditional approaches will produce.” Gleick’s on Twitter @PeterGleick.

Heather Cooley

Heather Cooley joined the Pacific Institute in 2004 and directs the Water Program. She conducts and oversees research on topics such as sustainable water use and management, the connections between water and energy and the impacts of climate change on water resources. Cooley testified before the U.S. Congress on the impacts of climate change for agriculture and on innovative approaches to solving water problems in the Sacramento‐San Joaquin Delta. She previously worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory studying climate and land use change and carbon cycling. She’s on Twitter at @_HeatherCooley.

Lynn Ingram

Paleoclimatologist Lynn B. Ingram studies past climate history by examining trees, sediments, shells and microfossils. Ingram is a professor emeritus atU.C. Berkeley and the coauthor of “The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow.” Ingram advocates for water recycling, reusing gray water, increasing efficiency in agriculture, charging more for water and regulating groundwater. “We need to change how we’re using water,” she concluded in an interview this year.

Max Gomberg

Max Gomberg is the water conservation and climate change manager at the State Water Resources Control Board. He has led the development of emergency water conservation regulations at the board, is also a member of the Water-Energy Team of the state’s Climate Action Team and was the lead author for the water section of the AB 32 Scoping Plan update. Gomberg has also played a key role in efforts to advance climate change mitigation in the water sector, including the development of a water-energy nexus proceeding at the California Public Utilities Commission and legislation to reduce leaks in water utility distribution systems.

Kelly T. Sanders

Kelly Sanders is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Sanders’ research group analyzes how energy production and consumption affect water resources, as well as the energy requirements of water management strategies. At the University of Texas, Austin, she coauthored a 2012 article calculating the total energy consumed for water use on a national scale. “It turns out that we use more energy for water than most people would anticipate,” she said at the time. Sanders has been recognized in Forbes’ 30 under 30: Today’s Disruptors and Tomorrow’s Brightest Stars, and MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 for her contributions to the energy field. She’s on Twitter @kellytsanders.

Frank Loge

Frank Loge heads the U.C. Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency and is a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the current holder of the Ray B. Krone Endowed Professorship in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Davis. Loge began his career studying water and wastewater treatment and has since developed a strong interest in the relationship between energy, water and health. His current research efforts focus on the energy and health implications of engineered and natural systems, designing sustainable systems and technologies, and entrepreneurship and finance. Loge’s research group recently built an interactive web application that showed how much electricity California saved by conserving water between July and September 2015. The research indicated that water conservation efforts in that period resulted in as many savings as through all the energy conservation programs put in place by the state’s biggest investor-owned utilities.

Juliet Christian-Smith

Juliet Christian-Smith is a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a science-based advocacy organization focused on practical solutions for some of the planet’s most pressing problems. Her recent publications have focused on everything from the water supply shift driven by climate change, to identifying how the water sector can contribute to California’s clean energy and climate change reduction goals, to defining sustainable groundwater management. Christian-Smith argues that climate change is a “game-changer” for water management in the West. “The water sector is at a crossroads. It can become part of the climate problem or part of the solution,” she told Water Deeply in June. Christian-Smith is on Twitter at @JCS_UCS and blogs at The Equation.

Roger Bales

Roger Bales has been active in water- and climate-related research for over 30 years. He’s a distinguished professor of engineering and a founding faculty member at U.C. Merced as well as an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at U.C. Berkeley. His work focuses on developing climate solutions for California by building the knowledge base and implementing policies that adapt the state’s water supplies, critical ecosystems and economy to the impacts of climate warming. Bales is also director of the U.C. Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI) and a researcher at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS).

Glen MacDonald

Glen MacDonald is the John Muir Memorial Chair of Geography, director of the White Mountain Research Center and a distinguished professor at UCLA. MacDonald’s research focuses on climate change, its causes and its impact on the environment and society. He’s been particularly focused on water resources and society in western North America and global semi-arid regions. “We should take advantage of the drought,” MacDonald told Water Deeply recently. “If we can learn some lessons, we can put into place some strategies that will get us through this century.” He’s on Twitter at @GlenMMacDonald1.

Robert Wilkinson

Robert C. Wilkinson is adjunct professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at U.C. Santa Barbara, and senior lecturer emeritus in the environmental studies program at UCSB. His research is focused on water and energy policy, climate change and environmental policy issues. Wilkinson is also a senior fellow with the Rocky Mountain Institute and the California Council on Science & Technology. He has served on a number of task forces and advisory boards and has counseled government agencies, businesses and non-governmental organizations on water and energy policy, climate research and environmental policy issues.

Laurie Park

Laurie Park is the president of Water Energy Innovations, a firm established in 2012 to advance knowledge and understanding of the nation’s water-energy nexus. Park previously managed the Hetch Hetchy Water & Power project, was the program manager of the California Sustainability Alliance and served as vice president at GEI Consultants. Park assisted the California Energy Commission in developing its landmark white paper in 2005 about California’s water-energy nexus and has been a prominent voice on the topic since then. She’s the author of a 2012 white paper and led the first study about the role of natural gas in California’s water-energy nexus in 2013.

Kelly L. Rodgers

Kelly Rodgers is the energy program manager for the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA). A civil engineer, she has nearly three decades of experience in water and energy projects, programs and policies. SDCWA is at the forefront of efforts to employ sources of renewable energy to produce clean water. The organization is looking at installing floating solar on one of its reservoirs and already has solar panels on three of its facilities. The agency also employs in-line hydro at the Rancho Penasquitos Pressure Control and Hydroelectric Facility. “Basically it is pure green energy,” Rodgers told Water Deeply. “It just takes excess pressure and spins turbines.”

More in our Experts to Watch series:

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