Sonoma State's WATER program aids in fire relief

Since the fires of Fall 2017, Sonoma State University’s WATERS Program has teamed up with organizations across Sonoma County to aid in the restoration and preventative planning. WATERS is short for Watershed Academics To Increase Regional Sustainability. The academic program itself was established as a branch off of the Center for Environmental Inquiry (CEI) in August of 2012, however, WATERS has specifically focused on fire-related causes since the Sonoma County fires of 2017. 

“When the fires happened, CEI launched WATERS in order to raise money for those who were affected as well as to get students and faculty involved on and off-campus,” said Claudia Luke, the center director of CEI and WATERS lead.

Students who know of the WATERS program and who were residents of Sonoma County in 2017 have a lot of positive feedback for the program. 

Third year, Zoe Whitaker, speaks on WATERS saying, “As a freshman in college living on campus during the fires, it was really frightening,” said Whitaker, “No one really knew what to do, there was a lot of panic. WATERS working with fire response has been a huge help to a lot of people and a lot of families whose homes burned down.” 

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WATERS aims to help students learn more about not only the fires and restoration but also about water itself and the issues associated. Water usage, freshwater, wetlands, and water management are all focuses of the academic program. Students who choose to participate in the WATERS program are not only able to educate themselves about the fires, restoration, and water preservation, but also educate others. 

When asked about WATERS, fourth year Courtney Bagg says, “I believe that WATERS is another way for students to become involved, especially those who were at Sonoma State during the fires,” says Bagg, “The program allows us to become more aware of our community, its needs, the effects of the fires, and also our academics.” 

“There’s a lot of challenges happening in the world right now and there are so many levels of complexity within those challenges,” said Luke, “All of us want to make an impact and this is the way to do it while also learning. This is not only a resume builder but also hands-on experiences strengthening one's communication, environmental, and problem-solving skills”

Not only does WATERS focus on the educational and restoration aspects of the North Bay Fires of 2017, but also focuses on bringing different truths to light in relation to the fires. The program allows students to go out into the field and conduct research on the different effects of the fires. These effects include but are not limited to, environmental, social, economic, and technological issues caused by the North Bay Fires as found on the WATERS Fire Response website. 

“WATERS is funded by Sonoma Water to study the watershed activity,” says Luke, “It allows students to get into the field and really understand the effects the fires have had.” 

Earlier this year, President Judy Sakaki signed the President’s Climate Leadership Commitment that focuses on building strong resilience in a community. Claudia Luke, the CEI director and WATERS lead has been appointed to be the director of this new council stating, “The climate leadership and sustainability council will be looking into fires specifically to create a more resilient community in the North Bay to fight the destruction of fires in this area.”