My “water” story, part I

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As I mentioned in the welcome blog post, I have the goal to blog every other week or so about issues in career development related to water.   This is to not only provide more than just jobs on this website, but for me to keep some of the personal side that I have been concerned about losing when moving to a website from the original listserv.  I’m a bit late in getting that started, but here we go…

It used to be the case, back in the day, when I knew the majority of the people on the jobs list.  But, with the new website and all, that is no longer true.  So, I thought it would be a good idea to share my own story about what my career trajectory has been with water, pointing out some of the critical moments and decisions that I made that led me to where I am today.  This will provide a little context for the website you are on as well as hopefully give you some insight into what how your own career path may go.  Of course, you could just read my LinkedIn page, but that will just give you a relatively boring list of jobs with no depth or any fun nuggets.  I will break this up into two blog posts over this week and next, as it’s a bit long.

My first specific experience with water during my career track was when I was 20 years old and doing an internship at a geographic research institute in Mendoza, Argentina.  I went into the internship wanting to do something vaguely associated with environmental conservation and utilizing GIS.  This was back with one of the first versions of ArcInfo, which I don’t even think exists anymore (at least in name).  Like many of us in the water space, I kind of just fell into a project with water and never looked back.  My (German) advisor suggested I take a critical look at the environmental and socio-economic impacts of a proposed aqueduct that would provide water to the piedmont area above the city, at the time unpopulated.  Without water, the land was worth nothing, but if the aqueduct brought water there, the land value would skyrocket.  It was more investigative journalism than anything, but introduced me into the complicated political, legal, economic and environmental world of water.  I was pretty much hooked after that (except the digitizing of topographic maps, which I did of the entire city – that went out the window). 

I spent a second semester in Mendoza doing another internship (yes, my undergrad school allowed us to do internships half the time instead of classes) that focused on studying the capacity of the provincial regulatory entity to handle an upcoming privatization of water and sanitation services (still not sure what I knew about any of that at the time).  Then I headed to Spain to do a summer internship on Spain and Portugal’s transboundary waters on my way to complete my final year of undergrad in Israel where I wrote my thesis (and did yet another internship, with IPCRI) examining the Israeli-Palestinian water conflict through the lens of their Joint Water Committee.  This marked the beginning of the “first half” of my water career, which focused on transboundary waters.  I do recommend doing internships early and often, as long as the length of the internship makes sense for the work you are doing.  They are just as useful for what you learn as to what you find out you don’t like to do and have the potential to provide exposure to a variety of types of work, thematic areas and people. 

It was in Israel that the first significant turn in my career happened.  It was because I reached out to one of the more prominent academics in the field I was looking at and he responded, happy to help me.  Always reach out.  More often than not, people are willing to assist you, even “high-level” people.  I asked for advice about what I was researching and we started a conversation that continued on and off for years to come.  I will come back to this later.  Because of that experience, I never turn down someone’s request to chat about their career or education related to water and was probably not insignificant in launching such initiatives as this website.

After undergrad, I was lucky enough to get a Fulbright Fellowship to continue my work on transboundary waters in Bolivia, exploring its cooperation with Peru in the management of Lake Titicaca.  This is relevant to both US and international students alike, as both can apply for Fulbrights.  It gave me time and space to delve into transboundary issues on my own and get more international experience. 

The Fulbright finished, I was a tad tired of academia and I wanted a little bit of adventure before continuing my water career, so I stepped away (but kind of not) and became a seasonal forest firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service for two years, traveling and doing small water-related projects in the off-season.  I learned a ton in this job, maybe more than any other.  Teamwork, professionalism, human dynamics and working under stress were all a part of being on the Pike Interagency Hotshot Crew (yes, that’s the real, official name).  These “skills”, if you will, were paired nicely with learning about weather and fire behavior and operating a chainsaw and pumps (see, water!).  But, I knew this was a stop on my way to other things, and back to water.

To be continued…