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Eleven Experts to Watch on California Water Innovation

In our latest Experts to Watch list we highlight 11 people helping to drive innovation in the water sector in California with new technology and ground-breaking collaborations.

Written by Eline Gordts Published on Read time Approx. 6 minutes
Inland empire waterkeeper santa ana river watershed clean up
Larry Lawrence, right, natural resource manager for Arrowhead brand Mountain Spring Water Company, works with members of the Urban Conservation Corps to help clean litter and debris from the Santa Ana River Watershed in Corona, Calif. on Saturday, July 25, 2015. The clean up is part of a multi-year restoration project the Inland Empire Waterkeeper organization is undertaking in partnership with Arrowhead, called the Crest to Coast initiative.Dan Steinberg/Invision for Nestle Waters North America/AP Images

California’s years-long drought has caused problems big and small, but it has also sparked a call to dramatically speed up innovation in the water industry. California of all places, advocates say, should lead the way in revolutionizing water management and water technology.

“It’s not the first time the state has faced a major resource crisis, and, if history is a guide, the Golden State could lead the way to reinvent its – and the U.S. – water sector,” Stanford University’s Newsha Ajami wrote in a July op-ed for Water Deeply.

Meet 11 experts creatively rethinking the way we use, produce and collaborate around water.

Josiah Cain

Landscape architect Josiah Cain is the director of innovation at Sherwood Design Engineers, a civil and environmental engineering firm. Cain is a well-known expert in sustainable design innovation, integrated water management and high-performance building ecology. He has been working on sustainable design for 20 years, contributing to fields such as rainwater harvesting, graywater, blackwater reuse, living roofs and walls, native plants, sustainable stormwater management, food systems and sustainable materials.

Cain has worked on the design of on-site wastewater treatment wetlands and water reuse systems for a high-density corporate campus and living architecture applications at the California Academy of Sciences, University of California and Duke University. His work has led to first-of-a-kind permits in over a dozen jurisdictions.

Joseph McIntyre

Joseph McIntyre is the president and the principal facilitator of Ag Innovations, a nonprofit organization focused on building coalitions among California leaders to address some of the critical challenges the food and farming sectors face. McIntyre also leads Ag Innovations’ California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply, which has issued a series of reports on how California can re-envision water stewardship, storage, governance and policy.

McIntyre has consistently been interested in unleashing systemic change and is a co-founder of the Academy for Systems Change – an initiative to enable leaders, communities and networks to catalyze and facilitate societal, environmental and economic well-being on a scale that matters. He’s on Twitter at @josmcintyre.

Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson is vice president of programming for Imagine H2O, a startup accelerator that aims to develop and deploy innovations to solve water challenges globally. Each year, the accelerator provides a handful of water entrepreneurs with the resources, insight and visibility to launch and scale a successful business. Ferguson is involved in developing the accelerator model as well as building out the organization’s policy and leadership capabilities.

“Of all the opportunities for people who are young and hungry, water is it,” Ferguson told Water Deeply in a March 2016 interview. “If you’re someone coming straight out of college, and you’re looking for an industry that is going to see crazy, crazy growth and is extremely important, there are mad, mad opportunities.”

Ashwin Madgavkar

Ceres Imaging, the startup founded by Ashwin Madgavkar, was one of the companies that went through Ferguson’s accelerator and won Imagine H2O’s 2016 Water Data Challenge. Madgavkar’s startup gives farmers affordable access to actionable data to manage water stress and fertilizer application by using aerial spectral imagery. “It’s like an MRI for plants that can be taken from the air,” Ferguson said about the technology. “You get an amazing granularity of biological information on a farm field that you can usually only get by being up close and personal with the plant.”

Christine Boyle

Christine Boyle is the founder and CEO of Valor Water Analytics. *The startup won Imagine H2O’s 2015 Infrastructure Challenge  and went through the accelerator program in 2016. Valor Water uses innovative software to transform utility data into actionable decisions. Boyle’s work at Valor Water focuses on developing decision support software that achieves both resource and financial sustainability goals for utilities. Boyle received a doctorate in water resource planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011 and “spun” Valor Water out of her thesis work at UNC. She is current chair of the Cal-Nevada American Water Works Association Financial Management Committee and a water policy adviser for the World Bank.

Celeste Cantu

Celeste Cantú, the general manager for the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority and the former executive director for the California State Water Resources Control Board, evangelizes an integrated approach to water management, including through SAWPA’s crest-to-coast, corner-to-corner Integrated Regional Watershed Management Plan, called One Water One Watershed (OWOW). The plan addresses several water-related issues, joins a multitude of entities and hundreds of stakeholders seeking to create a new vision of resiliency for the Santa Ana River Watershed.

Cantu is also a strong advocate for the need to rethink our relationship with water – the way we think about the resource, and the way we use it. “Our water districts have been very successful and they’ve been very good at producing and providing for you abundant high quality drinking water that you use in your everyday life,” she said in a December 2013 TED talk. “But there’s been a side effect of that success, and that is that we take water for granted. That relationship is something we need to reconstruct.” She tweets @waterlog.

Patrick Atwater

Patrick Atwater serves as project manager for the California Data Collaborative, a coalition of water utilities working together to share metered water use data and ensure water reliability. The Collaborative got its start as a bottom-up, water manager-led effort to invest in new data infrastructure and provide water managers with the tools, analytics and research to meet their objectives. Since launching last year, the organization has grown from working with seven utilities to 10, ultimately serving 22 million Californians. “The data presents an opportunity for all of us to work together so that we can adapt and deal with all this future uncertainty,” Atwater said in a recent conversation with Water Deeply. Atwater tweets at @patwater.

Joone Lopez

Joone Lopez is the general manager of Moulton Niguel Water District, which provides water, wastewater and recycled water services to more than 170,000 people in Orange County. She also serves on the board of directors for the Association of California Water Agencies and CA WateReuse. Lopez’s career in water is focused on promoting collaboration and championing enhanced leadership for the future. She was part of the start of the California Data Collaborative, and is enthusiastic about applying “big data” to solving critical water problems and finding new strategies to improve resource management.

“Bringing bright minds with big hearts to ensure safe, reliable and affordable water for all people is what excites me to be in the water field,” Lopez told Water Deeply. Prior to making her mark in the water industry, Lopez was a police officer for the City of Pasadena and was awarded the Silver Medal of Courage for valor under fire.

Nick Wobbrock

Nick Wobbrock is a cofounder and partner at Blue Forest Conservation, which is working to create the Forest Resilience Bond – an institutional quality investment vehicle to allow private capital to fund forest health. Wobbrock and his three cofounders developed the idea in business school, figuring investors could fund critical work in watersheds to protect water resources and boost water quality. When utilities increase their bottom line or make more money, they can use some of that gain to pay back the investors.

The group has received support from the Rockefeller and Packard foundations and has partnered with Encourage Capital and World Resources Institute. They are hoping to have demonstration projects up and running by the next fall. Prior to joining Blue Forest Conservation, Wobbrock worked at the Nature Conservancy, as a consulting engineer for Brown and Caldwell, and managed water and sanitation projects for the US Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders.

Allie and Ryan Janoch

Allie Janoch, a software engineer, and Ryan Janoch, a stormwater engineer, together launched Mapistry, one of 10 finalists of Imagine H2O’s 2016 Water Data Challenge. The company provides a web-based app that helps industrial facilities understand and maneuver local stormwater regulations and identify stormwater problems. Ryan has 12 years of experience innovating in the stormwater industry, from treatment technology to software solutions. Allie developed a new consumer product to help people organize and search users photos by utilizing computer vision and machine learning algorithms. They tweet at @alliejanoch and @RyanJanoch.

More in Our Experts to Watch Series

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