College of Science

Department of Applied Environmental Science

CSUMB Faculty participates in the 2022 William R. Gianelli Water Leaders Team

Headshot image of Abby Ostovar


Dr. Abby Ostovar, a lecturer in the Department of Applied Environmental Science, was recently selected to participate on the 2022 William R. Gianelli Water Leaders team. The Water Leaders program deepens knowledge on water, enhances individual leadership skills and prepares participants to take an active, cooperative approach to decision-making about water resource issues. 

The 2022 cohort includes engineers, lawyers, resource specialists, and scientists from throughout the state. We recently touched base with Dr. Ostovar to learn more about this exciting opportunity. 

What led to your participation on the 2022 Water Leaders team?   

I began to focus on California groundwater when I moved to California in 2018, and prior to that, I worked on a variety of environmental, climate, and water issues internationally.  So while I have a broad background, I'm still relatively new to the California water scene.  The last few years have been intense, between having a baby during COVID and intense work leading a team to write six groundwater sustainability plans, and this was the first year I had the bandwidth to participate.  While it's an honor to be selected, we "give back" through working together on policy recommendations, so it entails a good commitment to participate in the program. Since my work focuses specifically on groundwater sustainability in the Salinas Valley, the Water Leaders program provides a great opportunity to interact with others that work on other water topics around the State.  

How does your participation on this team contribute to your career trajectory?  

The program is intended to provide an opportunity to highlight the leadership of selected Water Leaders and further Leaders' work through gaining more of an interdisciplinary perspective.  My entire career has been centered on the interdisciplinary aspects of environmental issues, so that wasn't new to me, but I always appreciate new ways to bridge disciplinary divides.  It's an honor to have been selected.  Along with highlighting my work, it brings more visibility for my firm, Montgomery & Associates, and our role in working towards groundwater sustainability, as well as bringing more attention to the Salinas Valley, which is often eclipsed by Central Valley groundwater challenges.  

Does your participation tie back to your position at CSUMB?  

Being a Water Leader and participating in the program will circle back to CSUMB in several ways.  My experience will help enrich the Water Resources Assessment, Management, Policy, & Law class I teach, adding new insights and cases to teach through. As part of the program, I toured Hoover Dam, Lower Colorado River Basin, Salton Sea, and San Joaquin-Sacramento Bay-Delta. Water Education Foundation, who teed up the packed agendas of these tours, gets as many perspectives on the water issues in each of these respective places, so in each place, I gained a more nuanced understanding of the complexity of tackling their local water challenges.  This experience also expands my network so that I can connect students to opportunities and people elsewhere in the State.

What are you looking forward to the most while working with the other water leaders? 

Each year, the selected Water Leaders collaborate to provide recommendations on a specific topic. This year we are focused on the San Joaquin-Sacramento Bay-Delta and will give recommendations for implementing the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. Ultimately focused on implementing the Clean Water Act, this is a particular challenge for the Delta given the complexity of water issues, uncertain ecosystem responses, and numerous competing demands on water that flows to or through the Delta.  While life would be easier if I focused on simpler issues, I am fascinated by complex situations like this and very aware of the myriad ways the implementation of plans like this can impact people's lives and livelihoods, as well as the ecological implications. 

What do you hope to gain from this experience?  

Water Leaders brings together people who are movers and shakers in their own ways. We're part way through, and so far, it's been living up to my expectations of meeting other driven people who I wouldn't necessarily meet otherwise. I am very impressed with my fellow Water Leaders and other previous Water Leaders I've met.  The value of getting to know people and expanding your networks shouldn't be underestimated.  Not only is it fun, but it helps broaden perspectives and create a network of people to touch base with and rely on in the future. So many solutions to water issues evolve after bridging divides across differing organizations, positions, and perspectives, and this is one additional way to do that.  

How can CSUMB students get involved in combating water resource issues?  

Where do I begin?!  First and foremost - become educated and engage on topics you care about.  You can engage in water issues from a wide variety of angles.  In my CSUMB class, I have students participate in a public meeting related to water.  It requires understanding the issue and reflecting on your identity and relation to the issue.  The great thing about water, though, is that there are so many entry points to engage - individually in your own water use, shaping the water system of your house and community, engaging in public forums where water management decisions are being made, voting for people and policies that will further water sustainability, and of course your career, depending on what you decide to do.  There are so many jobs that relate to water - from all sectors (government, non-profit, business, academic) and topic areas (urban water, agriculture, energy, climate change, health, etc.).  If you like developing new technologies or methods to address issues, there are plenty of challenges with water!  If you are driven towards fighting environmental injustices - there's plenty of water-related work!  If you like doing research - there's plenty of research needed!  If you like working with different groups to help find common ground - please roll up your sleeves and dig in!  I can't promise that working on water issues will be easy, but I find it fun and fulfilling, and there are many good people to work with.


Congratulations on being selected to join this remarkable team of professionals, Dr. Ostovar!