In the Spotlight
Sharon Megdal: Bridging the Gap
Dr. Megdal, Director of the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona, believes in the value of academia to inform action. “My guiding principal in all my work is to bridge academic research and theory to practical, real world problem-solving.” Perhaps because she experienced first-hand the issues facing water resource managers through her job training in the non-academic realm, Sharon brings a remarkable eye for the practical to her work at the WRRC.
Megdal holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Princeton University, and early in her career became involved in public policy in the state of Arizona. On-the-job training in positions such as Commissioner of the Arizona Corporation Commission, Director of the Tucson Electric Power Company, President of MegEcon Consulting, and Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Valley Water District led to her particular focus on water policy. In 2002 Sharon became the Associate Director of the WRRC at University of Arizona, and in 2004 become the WRRC Director. She remarks, “My training as an economist and my life experiences provide the analytical framework and background for my scholarly activity at the University of Arizona, focusing on the questions: ‘What is the role of government?’ and, ‘How can government best meet its policy objectives?’ I intentionally integrate my research, teaching, and outreach activities to foster useful evaluation of policy practices and options, with the goal of improving practices in order to resolve water management challenges.”
When Dr. Megdal began her tenure with the WRRC, the center provided useful research, programming and information to the state and local area, but without a central, identifying focus to provide direction and clear sense of purpose. Under Sharon’s leadership, the talented team of employees at the Arizona WRRC have developed the organization into a catalyst for improvement by identifying water policy issues, providing analysis, characterization and explanation of the complexities of these issues, and developing tools for stakeholders in the local and state communities to utilize in addressing the challenges. The following list is only a handful of the quality programs University of Arizona WRRC offers the stakeholders they serve:
- Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program – Dr. Megdal and the WRRC have initiated several groundwater projects worth further exploration (see https://wrrc.arizona.edu/programs-research. One groundbreaking example is this project, which was signed by the President in 2006 as U.S. Public Law 109-448 and brings universities and policy makers from both Mexico and the U.S. together for study and analysis of the San Pedro River Aquifer, spanning the border of both nations near Sierra Vista, AZ and Cananea, Sonora.
- Water Quality Research Lab – The lab examines the microbiology of water and irrigated soils, especially in the context of recycled water, food safety, and biological impacts of emerging contaminants.
- Arizona WET (Water Education) – The 2015 annual report shows that 500 teachers engaged 32,400 students through improved STEM instructional methods developed in Teacher Academies. An estimated 3.7 million gallons of water will be saved through student-installed water conservation devices.
- Water Harvesting Assessment Toolbox – This water harvesting decision guide includes an orientation to water harvesting, linked web resources, and worksheets designed to help users communicate effectively to develop a step by step plan to implement water harvesting in their communities. To learn more go to https://toolkit.climate.gov/tool/water-harvesting-assessment-toolbox
- Conserve2Enhance – The C2E program helps communities enact grass roots water conservation projects through guidance in fund raising and an interactive computer dashboard to connect and educate participants, track water savings, and monitor progress. C2E participant communities saved 1.7 million gallons of water in 2015.
- Beyond the Mirage – A video based water awareness program raising awareness and knowledge about Arizona water issues through an interactive, self-directed process. Beyond the Mirage includes a documentary introducing Southwest water issues, and draws on hundreds of video clips viewers can use to piece together their own mini-documentaries to share through social media.
To read more about Dr. Megdal and her work as Director of the WRRC at University of Arizona, including her inititives in Middle Eastern water issues, please visit the following sites:
UCOWR is proud to have Dr. Megdal chairing the 2017 UCOWR/NIWR Conference Planning Board and look forward to learning more about her many ideas for putting water resources theory and research into effective practice.