Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro – April 15, 2021

12th Annual Water Resources and Policy Initiatives Conference
Welcome Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
April 15, 2021

Thank you very much for your kind introduction, Marissa, and for the important reminder that we are guests and stewards of this ancient land.

And please accept my deepest condolences for the loss of your great-grandmother, Julia Bogany, who was to have introduced me today but who very recently passed away. As a tribal elder, community consultant and educator, Julia worked for more than 30 years to bring visibility to the Tongva people. We are proud that her vibrant image is captured on a mural at Cal State Dominguez Hills and I know her equally colorful spirit is with us today.

I would also like to thank Laura Ramos and Sarge Green from the California Water Institute at Fresno State, Boykin Witherspoon from Water Resources and Policy Initiatives, as well as the event committee and the rest of the WRPI staff for organizing this important conference.

And, of course, I offer my sincere admiration and appreciation for the continuing and consequential work of this group. The CSU is home to 10 multi-campus affinity groups advancing our university’s mission to address our state’s most pressing issues from agriculture and biotechnology to ocean and desert life. WRPI is one of these vital groups and one in which I have always taken a great personal interest.  

During my time as president of Fresno State, I was honored to have served on the WRPI Presidential Oversight Committee and to have had a hand in establishing the California Water Institute. That enlightening and rewarding experience, along with my family’s agricultural roots in the Central Valley, have given me a unique appreciation of the increasingly complex issues surrounding California’s water supply and for the great promise and potential this group holds in developing viable, sustainable and science-based solutions.

California is heading into a low-water year. Our reservoirs are half empty, and our snowpack is just 59 percent of normal. And unfortunately, this situation is neither surprising nor unique.

As we all recognize, the status quo for water resource management in California is simply not sustainable. Through WRPI, you are harnessing the full power of our 23 campuses to identify and implement lasting solutions that satisfy not only California’s agricultural, urban and environmental interests but also uphold equity and justice for disadvantaged and indigenous communities.  

With our most vulnerable communities bearing the brunt of the pandemic, disparate health outcomes and economic upheaval, our moral imperative to correct inequities has never been more apparent or more urgent. Every community is entitled to a clean, reliable, affordable water supply.

So I am thrilled that WRPI has focused its attention on engaging diverse stakeholders throughout the state and preparing a new generation of bold leaders to address these critical issues.

Through its new WaterTalks website, WRPI is working to engage residents, leaders and business owners in 128 disadvantaged communities in Los Angeles and Ventura counties to recommend water-related projects that will address their greatest concerns.

WRPI has also invested more than $2 million dollars to build and inspire a new, more diverse generation of water champions, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program has provided paid internships to more than 200 CSU students who have devoted more than 61,000 hours this year alone to research and field work.

And working with the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, WRPI is hosting Native Listening Sessions to hear indigenous communities’ unique cultural, historical and present-day perspectives on water issues. And a WRPI team is currently conducting a needs assessment to provide the technical assistance disadvantaged communities need but often lack to successfully apply for water-related grants.

To roll out an overused water metaphor, this is just a drop in the bucket of the CSU’s impact on California’s water future.

We are ideally positioned to dedicate faculty, staff, students, academic programs and research facilities to identify, develop and – importantly – demonstrate sustainable water resource management solutions.

Across our 23 campuses, our facilities and sustainability teams are crafting and implementing innovative solutions to reduce water consumption and to model environmental responsibility. Collectively, thanks to our CSU Sustainability Policy, campuses have cut water use by up to 20 percent since 2013, despite growth in enrollment, employment and facilities. All 23 campuses participate in the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System, known as STARS, which includes tracking of water use and rainwater management strategies. In addition, with a state Water-Energy Grant, six campuses replaced approximately 1,500 fixtures with water-conserving technology to reduce water use by 100 million gallons and carbon emissions by 2,000 metric tons. And there are many more campus-based initiatives across our state.

And on these water-efficient campuses, thousands of bright, budding practitioners are preparing for in-demand careers in the water industry thanks to a growing list of bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in everything from water resource management to forest hydrology, watershed science, water engineering, freshwater fisheries and environmental water quality.  The California Center for Land and Water Stewardship at Cal Poly Pomona draws scholars and researchers from multiple disciplines across the university.

And through research, scholarship and creative activity, our world-class faculty (including many of you here today) are leading the nation in building our body of knowledge in water efficiency, conservation, quality, storage, environmental justice and so much more so that we can protect all stakeholders and all communities from the ebbs and flows of water availability.

I hope all of you will take advantage and spread the word about the WRPI Faculty Research Incentive Award Program, which supports CSU faculty members in developing and submitting full proposals to external funding organizations for water-related research and projects. Applications will be available soon.

And as you conduct research to advance your fields, our students – from all backgrounds, zip codes and household incomes – are working alongside you to engage with course content, test hypotheses and push boundaries while enjoying the hands-on, immersive experiences that are so crucial to student success. Your work is helping to close equity gaps and to prepare more job-ready graduates who will diversify California’s workforce with new voices, ideas and perspectives.

One shining example is Brianna Rita Pagán, an active researcher and environmental activist at Cal State Long Beach who received a $20,000-dollar scholarship through WRPI designed to support underrepresented students in the sciences. During her senior year, the Long Beach Water Department hired Brianna as a water conservation intern and she discovered her passion. Today a water conservation planner, she is on track to earn her Ph.D. in hydrology and water resources in just a few months and hopes to link academic researchers with the water industry, bridging the gap between science and policy.

Brianna is just one of the thousands of CSU students you have elevated and inspired with your work – one of the thousands of young leaders who will advance bold new ideas – and one of the millions of Californians who are indebted to this group for your work to meet the basic need of safe, reliable water for all of us.

Thank you again for all that you do to so capably represent and advance the California State University and the Golden State.

It is now my pleasure to turn the program over to an extraordinary leader who has long been a champion of water study and research. My friend and colleague, President Tomás Morales from Cal State San Bernardino will begin the next session. President Morales?