Episode 13: The science of substance use with Dr. Nabarun Dasgupta

This is a transcript of the Spur of the Moment episode “The science of substance use with Dr. Nabarun Dasgupta.” It is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.

Nabarun Dasgupta: The unexpected thing about transparency has been that it brings closure. It also is like once you do something and you post it publicly, you have kind of license to move on from it and on to something else.

Jocelyn Hittle: Welcome to Spur of the Moment, the podcast of Colorado State University’s Spur Campus in Denver, Colorado.

Nabarun Dasgupta: We often don’t give people who use drugs a real chance to participate in science because there’s like this paternalism that kicks in and excludes their voices from the science that affects their lives and I think that’s wrong. It was like an active process where I had to get over my past failure in order to make the right decisions and hire the right people, buy the right equipment and now I feel okay with it.

Jocelyn Hittle: On this podcast, we talk with experts in food, water, and health. And today I am joined by Nabarun Dasgupta, senior scientist and innovation fellow in public health at the University of North Carolina. Welcome Dr. Dasgupta.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Thanks Jocelyn. It’s nice to be here.

Jocelyn Hittle: It’s great to have you. As you know, on this podcast we are interested in having conversations with people who have careers in food, water, health, sustainability, things that are related CSU’s work at the Spur Campus here in Denver. And as a senior scientist and innovation fellow in public health, obviously you’re in the health space, but maybe you can tell us in a bit more detail about what does it mean to work in public health in the way that you do.

Nabarun Dasgupta: So, my passion is to tell true stories about health with numbers. And by profession, that makes me an epidemiologist. So epidemiologists have had a lot of visibility in the last two years as the ones who are trying to understand the transmission of COVID. And my job is to use those same methods that we have in infectious diseases to understand the spread of a virus and adapt that to the world of drugs of abuse. So street drugs like heroin and Oxycontin, things like that. So as an epidemiologist what I ended up doing is counting a lot of people, whether they’re sick, in hospitals or, mostly my focus is in overdose deaths. And so right now overdose deaths in the United States are a huge public health problem, maybe the second biggest problem after the Coronavirus. So in 2021, there were a 100,000 overdose deaths in the United States, one year alone. That’s an incredible toll and has gotten worse over the last two decades that I’ve been working on it.

Jocelyn Hittle: What you’re describing makes a lot of sense in terms of understanding the numbers. I’m assuming that a lot of what you do as an epidemiologist focused on drugs of abuse. Did I get that terminology right?

Nabarun Dasgupta: So the word abuse and the word addiction are falling out of favor because we understand now that there is a big variety of behaviors around how people use substances to alter their mood. Some of those things like coffee and nicotine have been around for a very long time. Those have different kinds of harms. Similarly, when we talk about heroin, that tends to be conceptually in a different bucket, right? But at the end of the day, it’s still a molecule going into a person, it’s still someone’s behavior and choice to use that substance and so whether it’s abuse or kind of using these different terms, lends a pejorative kind of view of it which often time clouds our objectivity as scientists. So I think of it more broadly.

Jocelyn Hittle: Okay, so substance use?

Nabarun Dasgupta: There we go, yes.

Jocelyn Hittle: So when we think about substance use I think a lot of people might be surprised at the way that you study it. I think of epidemiology as more about disease transmission. Is there a component of substance use that is similar to disease transmission or is it really more that it’s about the numbers as you said?

Nabarun Dasgupta: Ooh, that’s really interesting. So we think of drugs as a, it’s very similar to viruses in that it is a physical thing that gets transferred from person to person, right? And then it’s something that goes inside someone’s body and has an effect. I mean, it’s very kind of similar, but the mechanisms of transmission, the behaviors are different. So we can use a lot of the models that we have in infectious diseases to, as a starting point for understanding how drugs spread, how drug harms are kind of manifest in people who are using drugs. So, yeah, so there is a parallel there, but on a daily basis kind of what it looks like is running a lot of statistics on looking at national mortality data, looking at hospital admissions, things like that. So some of the work is big data. More recently the drug problem in the United States has really turned to street drugs. So heroin and something called fentanyl, which is another opioid like heroin but is a little bit more potent and has some different characteristics. And so right now the street drugs in the United States are more unpredictable and treacherous than they’ve ever been. So what we’ve had to do is adapt our techniques where before we could use large data sets when it was more of a prescription drug problem, and we would understand, you know, how much is being dispensed and things like that. Whereas now we have to, we’ve had to like create a new chemistry lab on our campus where we has treat drugs and figure out what’s actually in them. And using that information we can help people make better choices about what they put in their bodies, we help clinicians make decisions on how to treat patients who have come into the hospital with different, you know, rare side effects from drugs, and we spend a lot of time helping people who are trying to get into drug treatment, find the right place for them. So all of that kind of goes back to learning from the chemistry, kind of very physical hands on work instead of just the big data stuff.

Jocelyn Hittle: Hmm mm, thanks for that description. I think it to get at a little bit what a day in the life is like for someone who is in a role like yours although I think there aren’t that many people who are studying substance use in an epidemiological way. You know, is this an emerging field? How do you fit into sort of the epidemiological world?

Nabarun Dasgupta: Yeah, I, that’s an awesome question to hear because I’m so often in my bubble talking to other epi folks. So there are definitely, there’s definitely a whole bunch of us. I think the way we do things differently at my lab at UNC is that we really try to bring in people who have lived experience into the science. So whether you’re a pain patient or someone who uses drugs, like your input, what you’ve learned on the street, what you’ve learned as a patient is integral to our interpretation of chemistry and big data. And so I find that it’s much more rewarding to work directly with people who are impacted and it makes the science better at the end of the day and that’s kind of what we’re here for.

Jocelyn Hittle: Yeah, that’s interesting. I can imagine that it’s typical to have people who have been impacted by a disease involved in the research on that disease, whether it’s treatment or epidemiologically, right?

Nabarun Dasgupta: Yeah, it’s typical in like diabetes or cancer, right? It makes sense. But when, but there’s so much cultural baggage around drugs and how they “hijack your brain” and how they change behavior that we often don’t give people who use drugs a real chance to participate in science because there’s like this paternalism that kicks in and, you know, excludes their voices from the science that affects their lives and I think that’s wrong so we try to do better.

Jocelyn Hittle: Well and given everything you’ve said and what I know about the rates of substance use and challenges around opioid addiction in the US, the number of people that you’re talking about who are impacted is extraordinary.

Nabarun Dasgupta: It is. And isn’t it weird like if we, in our scientific papers, if the first few sentences of all these health papers are there’s, you know, thousands or millions of people affected by this condition, but then we managed to publish a paper without consulting a single one of them? That always seemed really odd to me that the people who are directly impacted aren’t more part of the science.

Jocelyn Hittle: As I said, you touched a little bit on kind of what a day in the life is like, but maybe you can tell us a little bit more about that. What does a week look like for you? What does it mean to be an innovation fellow and do the work you do?

Nabarun Dasgupta: It’s about 20 to 30 Zoom calls and…

Jocelyn Hittle: Well that’s okay. So it’s just like everyone else’s week.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Yes, exactly. I feel very fortunate ’cause I have an awesome team around me and we tend to attract folks who are independent thinkers. So we have folks who are running experiments in the lab being curious, like, you know, if this nasal swab has, you know, maybe this nasal swab has some residue of a chemical in it, maybe that is messing up our chromatograms or something like that. Or it’s hey, we just got this cool new data set. Maybe we can answer a better question this way and people will unpack those. So oftentimes it’s a lot of brainstorming new ideas and then really trusting the rest of the team to follow their intellectual curiosity and find new ways to answer tough questions. So, I’m at home, sitting at my home office a lot of the time, but there are students we work with and there’s some mentorship that goes on there. But best days are the days that I get to go out on the street and actually collect drug samples and talk to people who use drugs and go to syringe exchange programs or public health centers and drop-in centers. And, you know, it’s just a different pace. At times it feels slower than back to back Zooms but then when people come in looking for services, when someone comes in saying, hey, can you help me get some food and a driver’s license? Then it, the pace picks up and then the time just flies ’cause you’re there helping and making a real difference in someone’s life. And I’d rather spend so many more of those days than days writing code, but that’s kind of the way it is. Balance.

Jocelyn Hittle: So balancing more of the on the groundwork and the connection with the people who ultimately could benefit from a better understanding of substance use and writing code. Say more about the code part. What does that look like?

Nabarun Dasgupta: So these large data sets that we use often need a lot of processing to get to an inference, right, to get to… You know, it’s like you have, some of our data sets have 250 million people in them, right? And so to summarize those and say like, here’s the experience, here’s the average effect of something you need run a lot of statistics. And when you’re working with data that big you’re using multiple programming languages, oftentimes it’s R or SaaS data and Python, those are the four we usually use. And so writing code means, you know, processing the data so that it’s in the right format, making sure that, you know, the age is not coded in some weird format or doesn’t say a 1,000 years of someone’s age, things like that. But then we use those data to run statistical models or machine learning or natural language processing, other things where we can really summarize this vast experience that we have a representation of.

Jocelyn Hittle: So can you say a little bit more about the makeup of your lab? So folks who might not be familiar with how it works to be a researcher at a university might not understand sort of you have, you have a set of graduate students that are working with you. Do you also work with undergrads and maybe you can speak a little bit to the background of those students, ’cause it seems like you might want a diverse background to work in Dr. Dasgupta’s lab?

Nabarun Dasgupta: I think our lab is a bit unique in that we have, we have chemists who have master’s degrees and PhDs. We have epidemiologists and biostatisticians, some of whom are PhD level students and graduate students. We have undergraduates who help us with health communications research. And we also have physicians who work with us and project managers who are super, super important and finance people who are even, you know, are just so underappreciated but help run and manage our budgets and keep the, keep things going. So it’s a big team. Ours is called the Opioid Data Lab and it’s a collaboration between the University of North Carolina, the University of Kentucky and the University of Florida. And most of our work is funded by the US Food and Drug Administration and we advise FDA on issues of epidemiology as it relates to opioids, but we have other funders too. So it’s a really diverse crew, but in terms of undergrads, what, the part where we find that that working with undergrads is really, really helpful is in health communications because communicating how we do science, why we do science and the results is integral to our mission here.

Jocelyn Hittle: Maybe we can talk a little bit more about that communication piece. I know for one, there have been a number of different news and media outlets that have reached out to you. I know that communicating about your work is really important to you. So maybe you can talk a little bit more about your philosophy there. Why is communicating to the general population important and what’s your strategy around communicating science?

Nabarun Dasgupta: Yeah, so our motivation for communicating for, you know, going the extra mile and communicating science really has to do with the fact that we are at a state university. And we have an obligation to the folks who have invested in the university for generations to report back and to make our sciences accessible and transparent as possible. And that often means communicating at, in different ways to different audiences. So for the bio physicians, they wanna see equations, they wanna see code. For physicians they wanna see the bottom line and the P value in the study, you know, or like the statistical kind of output of the study. How does this affect their patients? For people on the ground, they wanna know kind of your motivations and have a lot of questions about research ethics. So it’s the same work, but you kind of repackage it for the right audiences. We have a couple of really fun strategies that we’ve adapted over the years. One is we work with the illustrator we have on staff. And so oftentimes we’ll do a study, but it’s a really hard concept for us to explain in words, because we’re so left brained as scientists, right? The left brain being the part of your brain, that’s orderly and logical. But oftentimes when you’re communicating, you want to tell a story and like have that story include the numbers that you have found, but have that really stick in someone’s mind. So in order to do that, we have an illustrator who for each of our studies will draw a small, you know, illustration that epitomizes the study. And so is our website and you can see the work. Our artist’s name Brittain Peck. Another like visual thing, right, is like, is that everybody has a cell phone and photos and selfies are ubiquitous. And so the kind of the power of an image, like a photo kind of gets diluted because we use it all the time. On the other hand, when was the last time you had someone draw a portrait of you? Ah, it’s been, I’m sure it’s been a while.

Jocelyn Hittle: Never.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Like for all of us, right? So as a thank you gift to all our staff, we have our illustrator take a selfie of them from a, that they send us, you know, from a like happy moment, right? And he converts that, he hand draws it from that selfie into a avatar, into like a head, a portrait of you that we use on the website. But it’s just something that kind of unifies and personifies people. And it’s something that people can use as you know, in their social media or whatever. So we try to really kind of focus on the visuals but then the really cool thing I’ve learned about recently is advertising. And so there are, you know, advertisers are master communicators and people in public health are not. I work with a professor here named Allison Lazard who does randomized trials. Like, so they, she takes the advertising playbook and turns it to public health.

Jocelyn Hittle: Hmm mm.

Nabarun Dasgupta: And so, so if there’s like a message that we wanna get out, something about sugary drinks being bad for you, or, you know, a way to not, you know, maybe there’s a bad batch of drugs out there and we need to explain to people to stay away from them, but not like entice people to look for something that’s more potent. So we will do small, really quick studies where we randomize people to different messages and then gauge their reactions and using that we can figure out, you know, what the best language is to communicate. We were able to do this for the governor of North Carolina by request during the early stages of the COVID pandemic so that the messaging could be, you know, really evidence based. So it’s really effective and really elegant, you know?

Jocelyn Hittle: Yeah, I love that in part because I mean, I’m a big fan of interdisciplinary work. I think it helps everyone be smarter and more thoughtful about what they do when they are in the room with someone else who’s looking at their field through a different lens. And what a great example of honestly, what we hope to do at the CSU Spur Campus. Right our, all of our facilities are organized around themes, not around divisions or departments. So the idea is that we can bring together people from different fields to be in the same place and sort of look at each other’s work from different vantage points and figure out ways that they can collaborate. So I love that particular example, especially because you all did that collaborative work in service of improving public health.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Hmm mm.

Jocelyn Hittle: So can we talk about the pandemic for a few minutes?

Nabarun Dasgupta: Let’s talk about the pandemic.

Jocelyn Hittle: Let’s talk about the pandemic. You must be tired of talking about the pandemic. If you were to sort of reflect on where we are today, and we’re in here in February of 2022, what do you think about the pandemic? What happened? What could we have done differently? What could we have done better? Just in 10 words or less, just no pressure.

Nabarun Dasgupta: I think the biggest shift that we need to make right now is to is to accept that our risk tolerance is going to change. And this is something that I’ve been saying from day one in the pandemic is that the things that science tells us right now is going to be different from what we learn five months from now. We will have more information, the virus will change, people’s behaviors will change. There’s no like, you know, there’s maybe a handful of things you can do to, you know, “stay safe” from the virus. But at the end of the day, you know, something that seems really risky right now might feel totally commonplace in a few months and conversely things that seemed okay a few months ago, like when Omicron came around things, you know, we had to go backwards, right? So oftentimes we want absolutes, like here are things that I’m gonna do for the next, you know, what seemed like two months then turned into two years, right. But in reality, with all outbreaks, there’s an evolution in risk and understanding of the risk, but we don’t have a lot of language, a lot of, you know, models in where we talk explicitly about how our own concept of risk is changing and evolving and how that’s okay. So I would say we should go a little bit easier on ourselves and maybe not get caught up on the little things and understand that our tolerances are gonna change and that’s okay. You’re not right or wrong. It’s just the way it’s.

Jocelyn Hittle: Hmm. I do think that there is something about kind of general scientific literacy that is also important for us to acknowledge as part of what happened over the last two years.

Nabarun Dasgupta: You’re so right. You’re totally right. I think science literacy, I guess like explicit science literacy is really low. On the other hand, we use science in our everyday world all the time, right? Whether it’s, you know, whether it’s from our mobile phones, to the new materials that are in your kitchen, right? There’s new silicone and other things that we haven’t seen before. And so I think science literacy is important both for protecting ourselves from pandemics and being able to understand how information changes, but also as responsible consumers to understand and kind of, you know, what does it mean when an app is tracking you? What does it mean when, you know, maybe there’s a carcinogenic material, something that causes cancer, you know, maybe there’s a warning label on a product you’re buying. Like, is that a real risk? How important is that? So that decision making process of applying science to daily life I think is really missing.

Jocelyn Hittle: Absolutely. So I’d like to shift gears a little bit. Maybe you can tell our audience a little bit about how you got where you are, what was your journey to your current position?

Nabarun Dasgupta: So my journey is really like kind of intertwined with being an immigrant where I felt a lot of pressure from my parents to go into medicine, to be a doctor. So I was a pre-med in undergrad and it wasn’t, it didn’t feel like the right fit. I took a medical anthropology course and then realized that there was much more to health than just going into traditional medicine. And that course really changed my life. And so from there, I ended up kind of learning about public health and going on to get a master’s in public health and then went to work for a few years and then came back for a PhD in epidemiology and public health. The reason I came back for a PhD was that after my master’s, I found I was really good at critiquing other people’s work, but I was not very good at running my own numbers and my own studies. And so that was the kind of level up that I wanted to do by coming back to grad school for a PhD. And drugs were something that had always fascinated me, kind of just societally, right from, I think, “Trainspotting” and other movies like that at an early age and found that, you know, this was something that was fascinating to me. When I was trying to decide kind of what to do with my career, I remember getting an internship in Wyoming to do bioterrorism preparedness. And this was like, you know, in 2001 and I was living in Connecticut and I thought, oh, you know, this is gonna be cool. I’m gonna live on a ranch. This sounds awesome. But one of my professors pulled me aside and said, hey, there’s this other professor who’s going back to Maine, which is where I grew up and studying Oxycontin abuse. And it was like the second study ever done on Oxycontin abuse in the world. And so I was like, oh yeah, that sounds neat. And so I ended up going to Maine instead of Wyoming and really finding that that was unexpectedly what it felt like I was cut out to do.

Jocelyn Hittle: Yeah, so that’s interesting. I think when, in similar conversations with others, right, as we talk about what their journey is to their career path, there are frequently these moments that shift everything that you couldn’t predict. And I think if I were a young person and I’m looking at choosing career paths, that it feels a little bit scary to say, okay, I’m picking this thing and it’s gonna be this forever. And I think it’s great to just remind young people that there will be these moments that shift things and you’re not necessarily on a path that is 40 years of your professional life and never is there a deviation or variation from what you think that path that’s gonna be. So.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Yeah, and I think even, you know, even once you’re on a path, there may have been things along that path that scared you or that you thought you were really bad at. For me, it was organic chemistry and I failed orgo in college. But now because of the way that drugs in the United States have shifted I’ve to start my own chemistry lab on campus, right. So it took a lot of, I don’t know, it was like an active process where I had to get over my past failure in order to make the right decisions and hire the right people, buy the right equipment, things like that. And now I feel okay with it. The same with statistics. I was really bad at statistics but now, but it took like one really good course. And it wasn’t like I was learning advanced biostatistics. I was just like taking the intro course over and over again in different departments. And then finally found like, in the school of education here, a professor who like explained it in just this crystal way and I was like, okay, now I get it and now I’m not intimidated by stats anymore so.

Jocelyn Hittle: Yeah, that’s also a great story. I mean, I think I was the same about economics. It wasn’t until it was framed in a way that it was about forest management in my case that I, it really made sense to me. I do think there is something to be said for sticking with something that you think you’re never gonna get until you do, because you can, you will. You just need to maybe look at it from a slightly different angle.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Yep. And have, I mean, and that education teacher was really cool because she says, like, if she told us on the first day, she gave us like a few questions and said, here’s your right, here’s your learning style. And there was like six of ’em. And she was like, if you ever don’t understand something, I say, raise your hand and say like an improv show, can you repeat that in the style of blank learning style? And it was like, just this amazingly revelatory moment where you would see people raise their hand and she would just shift the order of words or just like, do these subtle changes, maybe bring in a different example and you could see people’s faces lighting up and that’s, you know, that kind of a professor is just life changing and…

Jocelyn Hittle: Wow, that’s incredible.

Nabarun Dasgupta: I wouldn’t have stayed in epidemiology if it wasn’t for her.

Jocelyn Hittle: Wow. Yeah so again, you know, another, a great example of sort of the people who are important. So what’s next, where are you headed next?

Nabarun Dasgupta: I mean, the street drug supply in the United States is changing so rapidly that keeping on top of what’s going and figuring out the harms from what’s out there is really kind of a full-time job for multiple people in my lab. So, yeah so I think we’re gonna be doing that. We’re moving a lot more towards open science and open science is this concept where everything you do in science should be open and accessible to other or people so that they can replicate what you do and also, so they don’t waste time writing the same code or doing the same experiments that they may not need to do. And so the way we operationalize this is to make our lab notebooks public. We do that both for chemistry in the lab, but also for statistics and writing code. But just know that there are tools that can, where you can like have code and hypotheses and run statistics and like capture graphs and have it all be one document that you can’t tamper with and that is something that we produce with each of our studies so that others can just take that and go to the next level, or which has definitely happened a couple of times. People point out mistakes we made. You know, sometimes it’s like a comma was in the wrong place and, in our code and that made it so that our statistic was wrong and people can catch that and fix it and that makes my work better. And it was a little bit intimidating at first, but then I realized I make mistakes all the time and it’s better if they’re caught and it’s better if people pointed out before something becomes health policy. I think for me, open science is part of my way to be honest about my science, but also to make sure that I’m not making big mistakes, ’cause the consequences are just too, just too great.

Jocelyn Hittle: Hmm mm, yeah. It’s a lot of responsibility. And that’s something that that’s very important to us also at Spur, the transparency is literally a part of our buildings, right? The there’s glass where you can watch the scientists work in their lab so, and they come mountain talk to kids and things like that. So, I think that transparency in on our side has meant one thing, but your description of your transparency is sort of next level, so appreciate that you all have adopted that.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Yeah. And the unexpected thing about transparency has been that it brings closure. It also it’s like once you do something and you post it publicly, you have kind of license to move on from it and onto something else. It’s kind of there, it’s done. And that’s been the unexpected kind of awesome thing about it. I feel like I can do new things once it’s public.

Jocelyn Hittle: Well, and it sounds like that is sort of constantly on your mind. What’s the next new thing? Whether it’s about an actual study or sort of how to communicate what you do or how to be responsive to what’s happening. So in the spirit of communicating about what it is you all do, where can people find more information about your work? Do you have some social media channels folks can follow?

Nabarun Dasgupta: Yes, we do. So is our main website. I’m on Twitter @NabarunD, N-A-B-A-R-U-N D And then we’ve just started a YouTube channel. We’ve only got a handful of videos, but we’re are trying to find ways to, you know, in two minutes communicate the results of our findings so that’s also at Opioid Data Lab.

Jocelyn Hittle: We’ll link to it in the show notes too. So now’s the time for this Spur of the Moment question.

Nabarun Dasgupta: I’ve been looking forward to this.

Jocelyn Hittle: Have you? Okay, so this one is a travel question. You’ve traveled a good bit. We’re gonna stay within the US. Is there somewhere within the US that you would go back to in a second, like your go-to place?

Nabarun Dasgupta: I think Utah always has called to me as a, just the grandiosity of the landscape and the variations and yeah, I love it out there. It just feels so different from the East Coast where I’ve spent most of my life. So I’d say Utah.

Jocelyn Hittle: Okay, and a related, second question is where’s your go-to at home?

Nabarun Dasgupta: Hmm. I mean the special place in North Carolina for me is called Ocracoke. It’s an island in the Outer Banks and it’s 30 miles out to sea and takes hours to get there. And there’s one tiny town and most of it’s a national seashore and it’s got great seafood. It’s the closest place that the Gulf Stream touches the United States and so we get amazing, amazing seafood and I’ll just go eat and eat seafood and be on the beach. That’s where I’d like to be.

Jocelyn Hittle: Yeah, I don’t blame you.

Nabarun Dasgupta: It was also the Black Beard the pirate’s hang out. So-

Jocelyn Hittle: Oh, okay. So a little historical piece to it as well.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Yeah. Black Beard’s like, people from his ship’s descendants actually still live and run the town.

Jocelyn Hittle: Oh.

Nabarun Dasgupta: So it’s-

Jocelyn Hittle: Okay, that is cool. That is really cool, yeah.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Its legit.

Jocelyn Hittle: All right. Well, thank you again, Dr. Dasgupta for being here on Spur of the Moment. We really appreciated your conversation and helping us to understand a little bit more about the work you do and the research on epidemiology of substance use. It’s really fascinating and appreciate your time and I hope that you will come and visit us in Denver sometime soon.

Nabarun Dasgupta: Thanks a lot. It’s great to be here.

Jocelyn Hittle: The Spur of the Moment podcast is produced by Peach Islander Productions and our theme music is by Ketsa. Please visit the show notes or links mentioned during today’s episode. We hope you’ll join us in two weeks for the next Spur of the Moment episode. Until then be well.


Deputy Under Secretary, USDA, Farm Production and Conservation

Gloria Montaño Greene was appointed Deputy Under Secretary for USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) mission area on February 22, 2021. Her experience is focused in government and community work and includes federal policy, politics, advocacy, intergovernmental relations, communications, and management.

As the FPAC Deputy Undersecretary, Montaño Greene leads agencies that deliver farm programs and services to farmers, ranchers, and agricultural producers. These programs include farm loans, conservation, disaster assistance, crop insurance and price support.

Montaño Greene is a former State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency in Arizona from 2014-2017. With FSA in Arizona, Montaño Greene led implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill programs across the state.

She previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief of Staff to Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona. Montaño Greene also served as Deputy Director for Chispa Arizona, a program of the League of Conservation Voters focused on the empowerment of Latino voices in Arizona on issues including energy, public lands, and democracy access.

Montaño Greene is originally from rural Arizona. She is a proud graduate of the University of Arizona.

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Strategic Initiatives Coordinator for the Lands and Resources Sector, Ktunaxa Nation Council

Jaime Vienneau is a member of the Ktunaxa First Nation, Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it located in southeastern British Columbia, Canada and lives in Cranbrook, BC with her husband and two children. Jaime has over 20 years’ experience working with the Ktunaxa Nation Council Lands and Resources Sector, and is currently co-leading the Ktunaxa Nation’s participation in the Columbia River Treaty renegotiation. 

Jaime has a Master of Arts Degree, specializes in Indigenous Leadership and has credentials in Business and Public Administration.

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Co-Founder and General Partner, ICI Fund (Innovation. Community. Intelligence)
Board Member, Kando, Viridix, Genda, Suridata, Tailor-Ed, Illustria

Gili is a Co-founder and General Partner at ICI Fund (Innovation. Community. Intelligence), investing in early-stage Israeli companies with artificial intelligence solutions that secure our future and supporting their scale up in the US market. Gili sits on the boards of Kando (AI & Wastewater), Viridix (AI & Agriculture), Genda (AI & Construction), Suridata (AI & Cyber), Tailor-Ed (AI & Education), Illustria (Cyebr security) and is an investor in PredictaMed (AI & Healthcare). 

Previously, Gili was a Managing Director at SynTech Bioenergy, a renewable energy company located in Colorado.  Gili is an Israeli lawyer who worked at Naschitz Brandes, ADV., one of the leading Israeli Corporate law firms and at Ernst & Young as Tax Consultant, providing tax advice to US and European VCs investing in Israeli companies. Gili served on the Board of Directors of the B’nai B’rith of the Rockies, Colorado.  Gili holds an LLB and BA (in Law and Business) from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an MBA from the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. Gili also served in the Israeli military (IDF), driving tanks and guiding combat soldiers to shoot anti-tank guided missiles out of a tank. She is an avid snowboarder and is melted by dark chocolate!

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Director, Colorado Water Center
Professor of Ecosystem Science & Sustainability, CSU Fort Collins

Dr. Tracy serves as Director of the Colorado Water Center and as Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at Colorado State University. Dr. Tracy has led research initiatives on understanding and developing sustainable water management practices in a wide range of hydro-climatological systems across the western United States, including the western High Plains, Northern Plains, Southern Plains, Great Basin and Pacific Northwest regions. His more recent efforts have focused on developing programs to: increase our understanding of the integrated behavior of water resource systems under the influence of changing hydrologic, economic, and social conditions; developing science based approaches to support the management of transboundary aquifer resources; addressing the linkage between water management and health outcomes; and understanding community water security from a socio-technical perspective. Dr. Tracy received his B.S. degree in Civil Engineering at Colorado State University in 1980, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering at the University of California at Davis in 1986 and 1989 respectively. Dr. Tracy also served as President of the American Water Resources Association, the University Council on Water Resources, and as Secretary/Treasurer of the National Institutes for Water Resources. 

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Professor of Soil and Environmental Chemistry & Columbia Foundation Chair in Soil and Water Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Dr. Chefetz’s research interests relate to physico-chemical processes of organic pollutants occurring in water, reclaimed wastewater, soils and sediments. An overarching goal is to elucidate physical, chemical and biological processes that influence the fate of organic molecules in the environment with special emphasize on the agricultural environment.

Special interests are: (1) Fate of pharmaceutical compounds in soil and water; (2) Sorption-desorption behavior of xenobiotics in soils and sediments; (3) Irrigation with reclaimed wastewater: effects on human health; (4) Nano particles in the environment; (5) Nature and reactivity of dissolved organic matter. 

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Consul General of Canada

Sylvain Fabi (BBA, Bishop’s University, 1988) joined the Consulate General of Canada in Denver in October 2020. As Canada’s Consul General in the U.S. Mountain West Region, Mr. Fabi oversees a team of 17 people who work within Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Utah and Wyoming to strengthen trade and economic ties; enhance political, academic and cultural links; and assist Canadians visiting or living in the five-state territory.  He is also Canada’s chief negotiator for the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty with the United States.

Mr. Fabi joined the Trade Commissioner Service of External Affairs and International Trade Canada in 1992.  He worked in various geographic and trade policy divisions in Ottawa.  He was senior departmental adviser to the Minister of International Trade (2009 to 2010), Director for bilateral relations with South America and the Caribbean (2010 to 2013) and Executive Director of the North America Policy and Relations Division (2013 to 2015).

Mr. Fabi’s assignments abroad include trade commissioner at the embassy in Moscow (1995 to 1998), commercial counsellor at the embassy in Havana (2001 to 2005) and commercial counsellor at the embassy in Santiago (2005 to 2009). Mr. Fabi served as High Commissioner for Canada in Jamaica and the Bahamas (2015 to 2017). Before becoming Consul General in Denver, he was Executive Director, U.S. Transboundary Affairs Division (2017 to 2020). 

Mr. Fabi is married to Jany Joyal and has two children, Frédéric and Isabelle.

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Chancellor, CSU System

Dr. Tony Frank is the Chancellor of the CSU System. He previously served for 11 years as the 14th president of CSU in Fort Collins. Dr. Frank earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Wartburg College, followed by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Illinois, and a Ph.D. and residencies in pathology and toxicology at Purdue. Prior to his appointment as CSU’s president in 2008, he served as the University’s provost and executive vice president, vice president for research, chairman of the Pathology Department, and Associate Dean for Research in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He was appointed to a dual role as Chancellor in 2015 and became full-time System chancellor in July 2019.

Dr. Frank serves on a number of state and national boards, has authored and co-authored numerous scientific publications, and has been honored with state and national awards for his leadership in higher education.

Dr. Frank and his wife, Dr. Patti Helper, have three daughters.

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Associate Vice Chancellor for CSU Spur & Special Projects, CSU System

Jocelyn Hittle is primarily focused on helping to create the CSU System’s new Spur campus at the National Western Center, and on supporting campus sustainability goals across CSU’s campuses. She sits on the Denver Mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Council, on the Advisory Committee for the Coors Western Art Show, and is a technical advisor for the AASHE STARS program.

Prior to joining CSU, Jocelyn was the Associate Director of PlaceMatters, a national urban planning think tank, and worked for the Orton Family Foundation. She has a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton, and a Masters in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Jocelyn grew up in Colorado and spends her free time in the mountains or exploring Denver.

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Founding Partner, Centro Luken de Estrategias en Agua y Medio Ambiente

Roberto F. Salmon Castelo is a founding partner and consultant at Centro Luken de Estrategias en Agua y Medio Ambiente. He served from April 2009 until May 2020 as the Mexican Commissioner to the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and has a solid experience in international negotiations related to water and boundary issues between Mexico and the United States. In this capacity, he led the Mexican team to accomplish the signing of 11 binational agreements (Minutes) with the United States, which are binding for both countries.

From 2002 until 2009, he worked for the Mexican National Water Commission (CONAGUA), first as the Northwest Regional Manager and later as the General Director of the Northwest Basin Region, based in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico from where he oversaw all affairs related to water resources. In addition, Mr. Salmon served as the Planning and Special Projects Director for the Center for Research and Development of Natural Resources (CIDESON) of the State of Sonora. He also started a consulting company oriented to surface, groundwater, and environmental studies and projects.

He also has vast experience in financial projects. He served as the Director of Budget and Planning and later as the Chief Financial Officer at the University of Sonora and other private entities. He is also a founding partner in three financial enterprises in the State of Sonora.

Mr. Salmon has participated as a leading consultant in many projects on various subjects, such as water resources, plant location, financial engineering, statistics, economic feasibility, agriculture, and strategic planning.

In the academic sector, he served as a professor at the Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora, University of Sonora, Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey (Campus Guadalajara and Obregón), as well as a teaching and research assistant at the University of Arizona in the departments of Agricultural Economics and Hydrology and Water Resources.

He has authored or co-authored several articles on water resources and US-Mexico transboundary water issues and has been a speaker at binational and international conferences.

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Former United States Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission

Mr. Edward Drusina, TX P.E. retired from the United States Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) in 2018. Mr. Drusina has served his community and his country with distinction. Mr. Drusina was appointed Commissioner by President Barrack Obama on January 19, 2010 and remained Commissioner until his retirement on May 2018 completing 44 years of engineering service to his City, State and Country.  A licensed Professional Engineer in Texas and graduate of University of Texas at El Paso, his career has lead him to successful work in both the private and public sectors. Prior to the IBWC appointment, Mr. Drusina was the Regional Director for Paragon Resources Inc., President and CoOwner of Omni Construction Management Services, Corperate Associate of Moreno Cardenas Inc, Director of Public Works for the City of El Paso, and Design Branch head for the US Army at Fort Bliss, Texas. He has been a Senior Project Engineer with Weston Solutions since 2018.

Mr. Drusina also headed some very impactful undertakings related to water in the Southwest. He represented the City of El Paso on the Far West Texas Water Planning Group, was the Construction Manager for the pipeline and injection wells for the largest inland Desalination Plant named the Kay Bailey Desalination Plant and was the City of El Paso stormwater manager.

Throughout his distinguished career, Mr. Drusina has also remained active in the different organizations along the border region. He was one of the founding members of UTEP’s Alumni Academe of Civil Engineers, served on the American Red Cross Board, was the Department of State’s advisor for the North American Development Bank Board,  and served on different state and federal committees aimed at addressing border environmental concerns.     

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Chief of Water Management, Columbia Basin Water Management Division for the Northwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Mr. Barton assumed the role of Chief, Columbia Basin Water Management Division for the Northwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April 2015. As Chief of Water Management, Mr. Barton plays a key leadership role in managing a large, multi-purpose reservoir system and implementing the Columbia River Treaty with Canada, where he serves as the U.S. Co-Chair of the Treaty Operating Committee.

Mr. Barton has 30 years of experience managing water resources in the western United States. Prior to his current role, Mr. Barton served in technical and leadership positions with both with the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a variety of areas including weather and stream flow forecasting, mid- and long-term reservoir system planning, wind integration, and real-time reservoir operations.

Mr. Barton holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Oregon State University, a master’s degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University, and is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Colorado.

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Professor of Hydrology and Executive Director, Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan

Jay Famiglietti is a professor of hydrology and the Executive Director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, where he holds the Canada 150 Research Chair in Hydrology and Remote Sensing. Before moving to USask, Famiglietti served for 4 years as the Senior Water Scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Prior to working at JPL, he was a faculty member at the University of California, Irvine, and at the University of Texas at Austin. Famiglietti’s research group uses satellites and develops advanced computer models to track how freshwater availability is changing around the globe. A fellow of the American Geophysical Union and of the Geological Society of America, he is committed to science communication.

Prof. Famiglietti is a regular advisor to state, provincial and federal government officials on water availability and water security issues.

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Executive Director, Water and Sanitation, City of Cape Town

Mike Webster is the Executive Director of the Water and Sanitation Directorate in the City of Cape Town. In this position, he leads the utility responsible for the full water cycle from “source to tap” and back to the environment. The utility serves the 5 million people of Cape Town through 660,000 water and sewer connections and 20,000 km of pipeline.  It has 5,100 staff, an annual operating budget of over USD 500 million (equivalent) and an annual capital budget of USD 180 million equivalent. The Executive Director is part of the Executive Management Team reporting to the City Manager.

Prior to joining the City of Cape Town in 2018, Mike worked for the World Bank for 16 years as a water and sanitation specialist based in Washington DC. He joined the Bank through the Young Professionals Programme and worked in operations in South Asia, Europe and Central Asia and Africa with field assignments in India and Zimbabwe.  Mike was Task Team Leader for over 20 investment operations in water supply, sanitation, solid waste management, municipal services, rural infrastructure, environmental protection and urban upgrading.

Mike graduated as a civil engineer from the University of Cape Town and went on to do an MSc in engineering at Loughborough University and a Master’s in Public Policy at Princeton University.

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Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture

Kate Greenberg was appointed to serve as Colorado’s first woman Commissioner of Agriculture by Governor Jared Polis in December 2018. As Commissioner, Greenberg provides leadership and direction to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which serves producers operating more than 38,700 farms and ranches in the state. She is a member of numerous state boards and commissions, current board president of the Western U.S. Agricultural Trade Association, and vice chair of the Western Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Commissioner Greenberg is the recipient of the Emerging Conservation Leader Award from Western Resource Advocates and a 2019 Who’s Who In Agriculture honoree. She has worked in and advocated for agriculture for more than 14 years.

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Director of the Native American Cultural Center and Interim Assistant Vice President in the Office of Inclusive Excellence, Colorado State University

Ty A. Smith, MBA, was born and raised on the Navajo Nation. He is Tódích’íi’nii  (Bitter Water Clan), born for  Ashiihi (Salt Clan). Ty received both his baccalaureate degree (B.S. Mechanical Engineering) and master’s degree (MBA) from Colorado State University. He was a practicing engineer in the energy industry prior to becoming director of the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) at Colorado State University in 2005. NACC’s mission is to ensure a successful educational experience for students by providing support and services related to recruitment, retention, graduation, and community outreach. The office embraces and encourages a supportive environment based on the traditions and cultures of Native American peoples.

Ty is also the Interim Assistant Vice President in the Office of Inclusive Excellence at CSU. He resides in Fort Collins along with his wife, Jan, and their two boys, Ty Jr. and William.

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Managing Partner, Entrada Ventures

Karen Roter Davis is a technology executive, investor, and board member, passionate about driving innovation that energizes and transforms companies from early-stage start-ups to global leaders. She is currently a Managing Partner at Entrada Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund, where she invests in enterprise and industrial technology companies.

Karen spent over a decade in various senior positions at Alphabet, initially from 2003 to 2008, serving as a Principal in their New Business Development group, scaling its then early-stage businesses, as well as overseeing operations for the company’s groundbreaking 2004 IPO. Most recently, from 2017 until February 2022, Karen was Director of Early Stage Projects at X (formerly Google X), where she provided strategic direction and oversight for a portfolio of early-stage technology ventures.

Karen returned to Google in 2016 through Alphabet’s acquisition of Urban Engines, a SaaS geospatial analytics platform. Karen was the first business hire into the engineering-centric Urban Engines and established foundational business development, strategy, and operations functions as General Manager of Strategy and Business Operations.

Prior to joining Urban Engines, Karen was recruited by GE Digital to build software and analytics venture investing, M&A, and strategic partnerships to advance GE’s “Industrial Internet” (IoT, Industry 4.0) capabilities across its multi-billion dollar industrial businesses.

In addition to her executive experience, Karen has held multiple board and advisory engagements, including her service as a Board Director of Innovyze, a global leader in water software analytics, acquired in March 2021 by Autodesk (Nasdaq: ADSK). She is certified in Cybersecurity Oversight by Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute and the National Association of Corporate Directors. She also serves on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Carbon Initiative Impact Committee.

Karen earned her M.B.A. from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, her J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law, and her B.A. from Princeton University’s School of Public & International Affairs. She is a former Adjunct Professor of Business of Innovation at Northwestern University, a frequent author and speaker on a variety of innovation topics, a patent inventor, and a singer and songwriter.

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Founder and CEO, Water Foundry

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry a water strategy consultancy. He is also the Founder and General Partner of The Future of Water Fund, a water technology venture fund focused on addressing water scarcity, quality and equitable access to water. He has been a sustainability and water strategy advisor to multinationals, water technology companies, investors, and non-governmental organizations for his entire career.

Prior to Water Foundry, he was a managing director at Deloitte Consulting where he established and led the water strategy practice. He was the founder and CEO of DOMANI, a sustainability strategy firm, prior to Deloitte.

Will is an internationally recognized thought leader on water strategy and innovation. He was ranked as; A Key Player Pressuring Businesses to Care About Water and one of the Top 15 Interviews In Smart Water Magazine 2019. Sarni is the author numerous publications on water strategy and innovation including the following books.

  • Corporate Water Strategies” (Earthscan 2011, and in Chinese by Shanghai Jiao Tong University Press 2013)
  • “Water Tech – A Guide to Investment, Innovation and Business Opportunities in the Water Sector” (Sarni, W. and Pechet, T., Routledge 2013)
  • “Beyond the Energy – Water – Food Nexus: New Strategies for 21st Century Growth” (Dō Sustainability 2015)
  • “Water Stewardship and Business Value: Creating Abundance from Scarcity” (Sarni, W., and Grant, D., Routledge 2018)
  • “Creating 21st Century Abundance through Public Policy Innovation: Moving Beyond Business as Usual” (Sarni, W. and Koch, G., Greenleaf Publishing 2018)
  • “Digital Water: New Technologies for a More Resilient, Secure and Equitable Water Future” (Routledge, 2021).

He is also the co-author, with Tony Dunnigan, of a children’s book on water, “Water, I Wonder” (Outskirts Press, September 2022).

Sarni is a co-founder of WetDATA and a host of the podcast, The Stream with Will and Tom. He is a board member of Silver Bullet, Project WET and the Rocky Mountain Rowing Club. He was the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board for the WAITRO Global Water Innovation Summit 2020 and was on the Scientific Program Committee for Stockholm World Water Week from 2013 through 2019. His advisory work includes working with the 2020 X-PRIZE (Infinity Water Prize), as a Bold Visioneer for the 2016 X-PRIZE Safe Drinking Water Team and a Technical Advisor for the Climate Bonds Initiative: Nature- Based Solutions for Climate and Water Resilience. He is also on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Water Security.

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Senior Vice President of Sustainability, Dairy Farmers of America

As senior vice president of sustainability, Kevin is responsible for steering DFA’s sustainability activities and evolving the Cooperative’s environmental, social and governance efforts. Prior to joining DFA, Kevin worked as the sustainability strategy advisor for a venture capital fund focused on global food system innovation. Before that, he served for more than 16 years in a variety of global sustainability leadership roles at General Mills and Nike. Kevin started his career in the public and consulting sectors advising industries on sustainability. He has had extensive global sustainability and sourcing experience in 25 countries across five continents.

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President, Sakata Farms Inc.

Robert T. Sakata is President of Sakata Farms in Brighton Colorado which was started by his father Bob. Growing up on the family farm his parents were a great example of how important involvement in the community is. Following their footsteps Robert was the founding President of the board of directors for the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association which aims to fill a need for a common voice representing produce growers across the state. Currently Robert serves on the board of directors for the Fulton Irrigation Company and is the president of the New Brantner Irrigation Ditch Company. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for the National Onion Association and in 2021 was appointed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The mission of the 15 member CWCB board is to conserve, develop, protect and manage Colorado’s water for present and future generations. Prior to that Robert served the state of Colorado on the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) for 15 years appointed by three different Governors. The WQCC is charged with setting the water quality standards protecting designated uses for waters of the State.

While studying at the Molecular Cellular & Developmental Biology department at University of Colorado Robert worked for AMGEN when they opened their research labs in Boulder. Due to housing constraints for a seasonal workforce Sakata Farms transitioned away from growing vegetables to winter wheat, grain corn, and pinto beans on his family farm.

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Governor of the Gila River Indian Community

Stephen Roe Lewis was raised in Sacaton, “Gu-u-Ki”, on the Gila River Indian Community. His father is the late Rodney Lewis and mother Willardene Lewis. Mr. Lewis has a son, Daniel currently attending Arizona State University.

Mr. Lewis is in his third term serving as Governor of the Community, having previously served as Lt. Governor. Prior to serving in elected leadership, Governor Lewis served the Community as a member of the Board of Directors for the Gila River Healthcare Corporation, as a Gaming Commissioner for the Gila River Gaming Commission, and as a member of the Board of Directors for the Gila River Telecommunications, Inc..

Stephen Roe Lewis graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s of Science and pursued graduate studies at John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Governor Lewis currently oversees the implementation of the Community’s Water Settlement of 2004 (at that time the largest water settlement of its kind in United States history). Governor Lewis advocates for renewable and green technologies guided by O’odham agricultural history and cultural teachings. Governor Lewis’s vision is to support a new generation of Community member agriculturalists with the goal of promoting and protecting the Community’s shudag (water) and agricultural development.

During his tenure as Governor of the Gila River Indian Community, Governor Lewis has brought innovative solutions to long-standing issues that will create long-term gains for the Gila River Indian Community. One of these projects, Management Aquifer Recharge sites, brings together the need for access to water while restoring the return of the Community’s riparian area which is vital for farming and the return of wildlife to the Community. Bringing back the Gila River, which is critical to the culture and identify of the Gila River Indian Community, has been a key milestone during Governor Lewis’ Administration and one that will lay the foundation for future projects across the Community.

In addition, Governor Lewis’ innovation can be seen in his approach to providing educational opportunities for the youth of the Gila River Indian Community. The Community was the first tribal community in the Nation to utilize the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to create a program that revolutionzied how infrastructure is constructed and maintained throughout Indian Country. This program, the Section 105(l) program was utilized for education construction in the Community, and the Community is working to expand the uses of the program to other infrastructure in the Community and throughout Indian Country.

Governor Lewis has also prioritized the Community’s Veterans and youth by working to establish the Community’s first Veteran’s and Family Services Department and by committing more resources to protect the Community’s children by advocating for the protection of the Indian Child Welfare Act both at home and nationally.

These projects illustrate the commitment that Governor Lewis has to respecting the history and culture of the community while providing for a brighter future for all of the Community’s citizens.

In addition to his leadership in the Community, Governor Lewis has worked on numerous political campaigns and organizing projects throughout Indian Country including serving as an elector for the 2020 Presidential election and selected as an Arizona delegate and Co-Chair of the Native American Caucus for the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Governor Lewis was the first Native film curator for the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah and was an Associate Producer for the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed TBS six-part feature documentary, “The Native Americans.”

Governor Lewis proudly serves as the Secretary of the National Congress of American Indians, President of the Arizona State University’s American Indian Policy Institute Board of Directors, on the Executive Board for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), and on the Board of Trustees for the Heard Museum of Phoenix.

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Executive Director, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

Cody Desautel is a member of the Colville Tribe, where he has lived his entire life with the exception of his years spent away at college. He graduated from Inchelium High School in 1995, and from there earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, and later a master’s degree in Indian Law.

Over the next 20 years he would work on the Colville Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Tribe as an Inventory Forester, Natural Resource Officer, Forester, and Fuels Planner. He was the Natural Resource Division Director from April of 2014 through June of 2022, where he oversaw approximately 15 programs, and 500-600 staff. His responsibilities included forest management, fire suppression and fuels management, cultural resources, oversight of the Tribe’s 450,000 acre carbon project, and reintroduction of important fish and wildlife species (bighorn sheep, pronghorn, lynx, and salmon into the blocked area above Chief Joseph dam). He currently serves as the Executive Director for the Colville Tribe.

In addition to his regular duties he also serves as the President for the Intertribal Timber Council, and is a member of the Washington State Forest Practice Board, Wildland Fire Advisory Committee, and Forest Health Advisory Committee.    

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Consultant, Simpcw First Nation

Nathan Matthew is a member of the Simpcw First Nation, Secwepemc Nation, growing up in the First Nation community of Chu Chua in British Columbia.

Nathan has been on the Simpcw Council for over twenty years as Chief, and has served two terms as the Chairperson for the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council. He has been involved in the many of the Secwepemc Nation social, educational, economic and political developments.

Nathan has been involved with the Columbia River Treaty negotiations for several years and is currently the Secwepemc Observer at the Canada/United States Columbia River Treaty negotiations. As an Observer, Nathan attends all CRT negotiations and participates in all of the Canadian delegation negotiation preparations.

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Senior Water Policy Scholar, Colorado Water Center

Ms. Gimbel has had the opportunity to work for both State and Federal governments on western water issues. For the Department of the Interior she worked as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science and Deputy Commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation. For the State of Colorado, she worked as the Director of the Water Conservation Board and was appointed by the Governor of Colorado as Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Governor’s representative in Colorado River negotiations. She also held several positions with both the Colorado and Wyoming Attorney Generals Offices.  

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CFO, Denver Water

Angela Bricmont is the CFO of Denver Water. She manages the financial resources of the Board of Water Commissioners, a 100+ year-old water utility serving 1.5 million customers in the City of Denver and surrounding suburbs. Angela is responsible for accounting, financial planning and performance, treasury, rates and customer care in addition to managing several retirement plans.  Since joining Denver Water in 2010, Angela has overseen a credit ratings upgrade to AAA, implementation of a new rate structure, issuance of Green Bonds, and funding lead line removal at no direct cost to customers.

Prior to Denver Water, Angela worked for several consulting firms focused on financial planning and rates for public utilities.  Angela also served as Vice President of Rates and Regulatory Matters for Comcast and the Director of Budget and Operations at the University of Denver. Angela has a bachelor’s degree in Finance and an MBA from the University of Denver. Angela was appointed by the Mayor to serve on the Denver Urban Renewal Authority Board, and she was appointed to serve on EPA’s Environmental Financial Advisory Board. 

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Senior Deputy Assistant to the Administrator & Agency Global Water Coordinator

Maura Barry serves as Senior Deputy Assistant to the Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security and as interim USAID Global Water Coordinator. In this role, she oversees the implementation of the Agency’s responsibilities under the U.S. Global Water Strategy. Ms. Barry also oversees the bureau’s strategy, program, budget and administrative functions, which support implementation of both the Water for the World and Feed the Future initiatives. Prior to joining RFS, she served as the Deputy of the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Before returning to Washington, she served for a year as the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica.

Ms. Barry has been working in international development for over 30 years. As a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, she has held various leadership positions throughout USAID. She served as USAID Mission Director to Jamaica responsible for the overall direction of programs that cut across a range of sectors, including citizen security, environment and health. Other assignments include serving in the Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA) in Bangkok overseeing a diverse portfolio aimed at narrowing the development gap in Southeast Asia, including programs in security, disaster management, human rights, trade, food security and local capacity development. In addition, Ms. Barry served in Afghanistan as the Deputy Office Director for USAID’s Office of Democracy and Governance, and as USAID East Africa’s Office Director for Somalia. In addition to her years with USAID, Ms. Barry worked for the United Nations Development Program and with CARE International. She holds an MPA in Public and Non-profit Management from New York University and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya.

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Member of the Board, Aguas de Portugal VALOR

Ana is member of the Board of Aguas de Portugal (AdP) VALOR and AdP Internacional, both of AdP Group. In recent years, Ana was also member of the Board of Aguas do Tejo Atlantico(the largest waste water utility in Portugal) and before she has been 15 years at EPAL (the largest drinking water utility in Portugal), as head of Asset Management and Climate Change. Before joining AdP Group, Ana worked for 10 years as a consultant, at Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners.

International project participation include EU and US Water Research Foundation funded R&D projects, as well as the collaboration with the EIB. Participation at several national working groups, having founded the “Climate Change Adaptation Group” of The Portuguese Association of Water Utilities.

Ana is also a member of the Policy Advisor Committee of Water Europe.

She holds a PhD in Strategic Risk Management by Cranfield University.

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Executive Director, Denver Parks and Recreation

Allegra “Happy” Haynes is the Executive Director of Denver Parks and Recreation overseeing 250 urban parks, 29 recreation centers, 31 pools and 14,000 acres of mountain parks. Her vision is to help build a healthier city, create more park land and opportunities for all ages to play and exercise, increase sustainable practices, grow the urban forest and connect diverse communities to nature. Happy is a Denver native. She received a BA degree in Political Science from Barnard College at Columbia University and an MPA from the University of Colorado at Denver. During a career in local government spanning 36 years, Happy served 13 years on the Denver City Council from 1990 – 2003, including two years as President, and has served under three different mayors. She also served as an elected member of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education for 8 years. She currently serves on the national boards of the City Parks Alliance and the Trust for Public Land along with local boards including the Colorado Trust for Public Land, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Zoo, Denver Botanic Gardens, Salazar Center for North American Conservation, Civic Center Conservancy, Denver Park Trust, and The Park People.

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Mayor of Fort Collins

Fort Collins has been home since I was three weeks old.

After attending Moore Elementary, Blevins Junior High School, and Poudre High School, I earned an undergraduate degree in Sociology at Colorado College. Soon afterwards I earned an MA in Geography from the University of Colorado followed by an MA in Special Education from Purdue University in Indiana. After teaching special education for a few years, I earned a Ph.D. in Literacy and Language from Purdue. 

When I was away—in college, in the Peace Corps (Morocco), in graduate school, living and working in Mozambique, Africa— Fort Collins was always my home. When the opportunity arose to live anywhere, my husband, Channing, and I enthusiastically returned to Fort Collins with our three children. My work experience includes Congressional intern, ESL teacher, Peace Corps volunteer, secondary special education teacher, middle school principal, International Baccalaureate Coordinator, university faculty member and department head.

In addition to working, teaching and attending school, I have been an active volunteer. Serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco was an honor. I served on school boards in Lafayette, Ind. and in Mozambique. After moving back to Fort Collins, I served on the Commission on Disability as well as Childsafe before running for State Representative in 2014. As a State Representative I have focused on water, agriculture, small business and public education. After 3+ terms in the General Assembly I was elected Mayor of Fort Collins in April, 2021.

Personally, my husband of 32 years and I have three adult children. My mom, Libby James is my rock and role model. In my free time, I run, bike, swim, read and talk to people. 

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