Community Commentary Opinion

Academy offers emerging leaders foundational lessons about water

Few issues are more important to me than inspiring young leaders to become advocates for a clean, reliable supply of water that supports everything we do in San Diego County – from our manufacturing and biotech businesses, to our farms, to our incredible tourism industry.

And there’s no better way to understand the complexities of water than the Citizens Water Academy, an award-winning, innovative program of the San Diego County Water Authority designed to educate up-and-coming professionals about our region’s most vital natural resources.

Over the past four years, approximately 450 San Diego County residents have graduated from the academy, which is among the most popular outreach activities we’ve ever offered. Participants get a rare chance to go behind the scenes at world-class facilities such as Olivenhain Dam. They also get to talk with decision-makers about where our water comes from, how it’s used and how we help make the most of every drop. And they make valuable connections with other emerging leaders who will shape our region’s future.

During our most recent academy in Vista, we welcomed early career influentials such as Sophia Hernandez, 24, a field representative for state Assemblymember Rocky Chavez. She praised the academy for providing vital, real-time information about water use and planning that she can apply statewide. Likewise, recent college graduate Seth Patton, a policy advisor to county Supervisor Bill Horn, attended the academy to better serve North County constituents.

Then there was Kyle Lunneberg, 20, a trail development manager at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation who believes healthy ecosystems and well-designed infrastructure go hand-in-hand. He enrolled in the Citizens Water Academy to help him communicate about water issues so he can continue improving the region’s habitats throughout his career.

We were also joined by Corinna Contreras, 29, founder and CEO of Millennial Farmer LLC, an agricultural start-up company in Vista. She called Citizens Water Academy a great place to discuss long-term water sustainability for our region.

Each of these young leaders had different motivations for wanting to learn more about water infrastructure and planning issues that are foundational to our region’s prosperity. The important thing is that they each joined the academy at the start of their careers, giving them the opportunity to make a positive contribution in San Diego County for decades to come.

While the 2017 academy schedule has concluded, we’re planning more academies in 2018. Add your name to the interest list at

Mark Muir is chair of the Board of Directors of the San Diego County Water Authority