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WELL UnTapped 2023

The 2023 UnTapped Cohort consists of 16 elected officials from throughout the state of California. The fellows are traveling to different areas in California to learn about regional water challenges and best practices and to develop the leadership and interpersonal skills necessary to make a lasting impact on California’s water policy.

January 2022, 2023: Coachella, CA

The first UnTapped Fellowship Session for the class of 2023 kicked off in the Coachella Valley. This cohort is composed of 17 Fellows that come statewide, representing various areas of California, including the L.A., Northern CA, and the Central Valley regions. These Fellows embarked on their journey to learn how to make an impact on California’s water policy while addressing their community water challenges. The first session focused on teaching Fellows how to use the WELL Method of Inquiry to extract the information needed to make complex choices about water policy and management, they also visited various locations in the Coachella Valley region and interviewed guests to learn about community water challenges and the history of water in the area.

Guest Interviewees included Cástulo Estrada, Boardmember, WELL and Vice President, Coachella Valley Water District; Patrick O’Dowd, Executive Director, Salton Sea Authority; Monica Telles, Community Facilities and Water & Environmental Programs Specialist, Indio Service Center, Rural Development, USDA; Elizabeth Marquez, TLMA Regional Office Manager, County of Riverside; Luis Andrade, Water and Environmental Program Director, USDA, and Peter Nelson, Director, Coachella Valley Water District, and Member, Colorado River Board of California. Fellows interviewed these guests to learn about the Salton Sea, the history of the conveyance systems in the region, and the water quality issues the residents in this region face.

These interviews also included on-site visits to the Salton Sea, the Coachella Branch of the American Canal, and the Polanco Parks (mobile home parks). Fellows also received a lesson on California water history from Professor Samuel Sandoval Solis, Policy and Curriculum Advisor, WELL, to understand the complexity of water in our state. Finally, Dr. Pablo Ortiz and Dr. Samuel Sandoval Solis taught the fellows a lesson on Hydrology.

A special thank you to Cástulo Estrada, Boardmember, WELL and Vice President, Coachella Valley Water District; Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, District 36; and Mayor Steven Hernandez, City of Coachella, for hosting a dinner for the Fellows on the first night.

February 10-11, 2023: Tehachapi, CA

WELL hosted the second UnTapped Fellowship session for the class of 2023 in Tehachapi, CA. This session was held at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument and included a tour by Paul Chavez, President of the Cesar Chavez Foundation and son of Cesar Chavez. This session focused on teaching the fellows about groundwater, whose water is it?, and learning the craft of Public Narrative.

On day one, Patricia Poire, Executive Director of the Kern Groundwater Authority, gave the cohort a presentation that covered topics on SGMA groundwater management. The presentation was followed by an interview with Eddie Ocampos, Director, of Community Sustainability, Self-Help Enterprises on Whose Water is It?: community, agriculture, and industry. These topics combined will help educate the fellows about competing interests when managing water resources. 

On day two, Jake Waman and Miya Cain trained the fellows on the art of Public Narrative and the story of self, us, and now. Public Narrative is an evidence-based method to engage others in organizing work. The method, developed by Marshall Ganz, an organizer, and lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, comes out of his theory of strategic capacity. Through practicing what Ganz coined the Story of Self, Story of Us, and Story of Now, fellows hone critical public speaking skills and learn how to recruit important allies to build a team of concerned and willing leaders based on shared values.

Trainers included WELL Boardmember, Miguel A. Luna and President and Founder Victor Griego. At the end of the session, Fellows celebrated with a moment of unity by singing De Colores. 


March 2, 2023: Virtual

WELL hosted the third UnTapped Fellowship session for the class of 2023 virtually. 

The fellows interviewed Bart Garcia from The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. This session focused on teaching the fellows about California water conveyance systems. This will help educate the fellows about California’s Water Grid and both the challenges and opportunities for adapting to California’s changing climate. 

The next UnTapped session will be held in San Diego, CA with a focus on contaminants.

March 17-18, 2023: San Diego

WELL UnTapped Fellowship session 4 recap: From March 17-18 the UnTapped Fellowship class of 2023 gathered in the City of Imperial Beach for an immersive experience on cross-border collaboration and environmental challenges. This session included relationship and team-building training, a tour of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the Tijuana Estuary. The prime objective of the session was to educate the fellows about contaminants and joint efforts by the United States and Mexico in addressing contamination issues along the border.

On the first day, Jake Waxman led the cohort in relationship and team-building training. Following this, the fellows were divided into groups to practice these skills in support of their capstone projects – Legislative Workshops.

The day concluded with a dinner at which Assemblymember David Alvarez welcome the cohort to the region.

The second day commenced with a tour of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, where Fellows learned about the international efforts to remediate contaminants along the Tijuana River. Morgan Rogers, Area Operations Manager, and Sally Spener, Foreign Affairs Officer, guided the tour and answered questions. Afterward, the group interviewed Dr. Gabriela Muñoz Melendez to learn about Tijuana’s efforts and community experience with addressing contaminants.

The group then went to the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (Reserve) to interview Sandy Kerl, General Manager, San Diego County Water Authority, who provided further information about the relationship between contaminants and water shortages.

Afterward, Megan D. Spitzer, California Sea Grant Fellow at the Reserve conducted a tour. This visit showcased the effects of the contaminants on local fish and wildlife populations.

To conclude the session, the Fellows gathered in a moment of unity, singing “De Colores”. Thank you to our sponsors for the fourth UnTapped Fellowship Session, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, and San Diego County Water Authority.

April 6, 2023: Virtual

WELL hosted the fifth UnTapped Fellowship session for the class of 2023 virtually. 

The fellows interviewed Dr. Newsha Ajami, Chief Strategy and Development Officer for Research, Berkeley Lab – Earth and Environmental Sciences. This session focused on the portfolio of water management strategies to educate our fellows. By learning about water strategies we help educate the fellows to think critically on how they can bring more water-resiliency to their communities.  

April 27, 2023: Virtual

WELL virtually hosted the sixth UnTapped Fellowship session for the class of 2023. Fellows interviewed Heather Dyer, CEO & General Manager, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District. This session focused on the topic of Finance. Equipping fellows with knowledge of the water industry’s finance structures helps them think critically about the cost of providing clean, affordable, and easily accessible water for their residents.  

May 18, 2023: Virtual

The class of 2023 met virtually, for their final session before embarking on next week’s trip to Sacramento. Joined by graduates of the UnTapped Fellowship Program (WELLo’s) they received mentorship on forming planning committees and fostering collaboration to have a successful water workshop as part of the UnTapped Fellowship capstone project!

Later they received further training on how to have successful 1:1 meetings and create effective team agendas- tools that will guide them throughout the planning process for their water workshops. The workshops allow the Fellows to build water-resilient communities and help solve California’s water crisis.

May 23-24, 2023: Sacramento, CA

WELL hosted the eighth, & final UnTapped Fellowship Session for the class of 2023 in Sacramento, CA. While there, Fellows met with their legislatures inviting them to co-host a legislative workshop in their districts with the goal to bring together elected officials to learn about water issues at the local level.

After their legislative visits, WELL hosted a graduation dinner. In attendance, to celebrate the WELLos graduation were: Anecita Agustinez, Tribal Policy Advisor, DWR; Maria Elena Durazo, Senator, 26th District; Blanca Pacheco, Assemblymember, 64th District; Anna Caballero, Senator, 14th District; Mike Fong, Assemblymember, 49th District; David Alvarez, Assemblymember, 80th District; Virginia Madueno, Chairmember, Delta Stewardship Council; Erika Arriaga, Executive Director, League of Cities, Latino Caucus; Bismark Obando, Director, Public Affairs, League of Cities; Eduardo Garcia, Assemblymember, 36th District; Marc Grossman, Spokesperson, Cesar Chavez Foundation; Miguel Luna, Board Member, WELL and Director, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; partners from from ACWA, CMUA, and PepsiCo; and Victor Griego, President & Founder, WELL.

On Day 2, the WELLos traveled to the town of Hood to discuss the Delta Conveyance Tunnel with a local resident and continued the discussion with a local farmer and Trustee of a Reclamation District. The group then went to the Locke Historic District to hear the history of Chinese Immigrants’ roles in shaping the Sacramento River Delta. WELLos then visited the Big Break Regional Shoreline to learn more about the region before heading over to the UC Davis Fish Conservation and Culture Laboratory to learn about fish conservation. The day ended with next-step discussions on how to implement what they’ve learned into their legislative workshop.

This session signifies the Fellowship’s end and the start of their work to help bring clean and affordable drinking water to their communities. The 16 graduates are now part of the WELL UnTapped Network (WUN) bringing the total number of Fellowship graduates to 61- an array of CA local elected officials, including mayors, city council members, and others.