Water Planning Intern to Bridge Traditionally Siloed County Agencies

Innovative new internship will help bridge the gap between Sonoma County agencies who deal with water and land use
June 13, 2022
Look through a culvert

SSU, Sonoma Water and Permit Sonoma have launched the first ever dual water planning internship. This innovative new internship is designed to help bridge the gap between Sonoma County agencies that may otherwise work at cross-purposes when it comes to water.

Available water supply and sustainable use of water are two closely related and critical planning elements for communities preparing for drought. Yet these issues are often addressed by different agencies. The SSU Center for Environmental Inquiry (CEI) and Department of Geography, Environment and Planning (GEP) are helping to facilitate this internship program, so that the agencies have a link and connection moving forward.

The Dual Water Planning Intern will spend half their time working with Permit Sonoma, which focuses on land use, and the other half with Sonoma Water, the county’s water service provider – and funder of the grant that made this internship possible.
Travis Wagner - a lecturer with GEP who worked on setting up the internship - said these two agencies want to be more aligned when it comes to water use planning.
“What they noticed is that they often are working on the same issue - water - but from different perspectives, and they lack that cross-department, cross-discipline relationship and knowledge,” Wagner said.
Agency Directors - Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management at Sonoma Water, and Tennis Wick, director of Permit Sonoma - jumped at the opportunity to train students in an interdisciplinary manner. The goal is, “as they go into the planning field, they’ll have that dual perspective,” Wagner said. In addition, “it’s a way for (the agency directors) to communicate across administrative silos.”
The internship was the brainchild of Tom Jacobson, a GEP professor who recently retired. Jacobson had relationships with both agencies, and saw the need to bridge and connect.
“It’s difficult, because [Sonoma Water and Permit Sonoma] are two very different departments, so they have their own internal policies, procedures and so forth,” Wagner said. But Jacobson’s passion and the agencies’ recognition of the value of a dual intern solidified the program. “It’s so easy to just not have done this, because it took a lot of work and commitment. That’s just a testament to how much interest and support there is for this.”
Creation of the internship was made possible by the WATERS Collaborative - an eight-year collaboration funded by Sonoma Water and managed by the SSU CEI. CEI reached out to GEP to support the development of the internship with WATERS funding.
“This is going to be a fixture – a pipeline,” Wagner said. “This is going to help bridge segments and provide a thematic approach. Now, people can see, ‘oh, if I do this, even though I’m doing transportation planning, there’s a connection to water. If I do environmental planning, there’s a connection to water.’”
This internship is also expected to be a great benefit to the student.
“Internships are so critical, and this is an amazing internship opportunity,” said Wagner. “They’re going to see two potentially very different professional settings, so they can compare and contrast and get a larger, broader background. This will help solidify what they want to do.”
The first dual water planning intern is scheduled to begin work this summer. Students interested in applying for the position next year can reach out to GEP Internship coordinator Rheyna Laney.

Photo by B.C. Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)