Episode 21: Water in the West Global Solutions Innovation and Investment Panel

This is a transcript of the Spur of the Moment episode “Water in the West Global Solutions Innovation and Investment Panel.” It is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.

Jocelyn Hittle: Hello and welcome to CSU Spur of the Moment, the podcast of Colorado State University’s Spur Campus in Denver, Colorado. On this podcast, we talk with experts in food, water, sustainability, and health, and learn about their current work and their career journeys. CSU Spur opened its final facility, the Hydro building in early January. 

So, for this episode, we are doing something a little different and highlighting a panel discussion from our Water in the West Symposium held in Denver in November of 2022. The 2022 Symposium featured speakers from around the world and focused on solutions to water challenges. The featured panel for this episode was focused on innovation and investment in water with Will Sarni from the Water Foundry and Future of Water Fund, and Gili Elkin from the ICI Fund as panelists. 

The panel was moderated by Karen Roter Davis. Karen 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 a decade in various positions at Alphabet and built software and analytics venture investing M&A and strategic partnerships within GE Digital. 

She also served as general manager of strategy and business operations for Urban Engines, a geospatial analytics platform. In addition to her executive experience, Karen is on the board of Innovyze, a global leader in water software analytics and serves on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories Carbon Initiative Impact Committee. 

You’ll first hear Karen’s introductory remarks and then her introduction of the panelists. Their conversation ranged widely and leveraged the tremendous expertise of these three innovation professionals. Please enjoy this featured panel from CSU Spurs 2022 Water in the West Symposium. 

Karen Roter Davis: Thank you all so much. It’s wonderful to be here. And thank you for that very warm introduction. I’m going to go just through a little bit more of what I’m currently doing and how I got here. Although I think we covered a lot of the introduction already, so I won’t belabor it. 

But just a little bit more about me, I have my undergraduate in public policy and then got a JD/MBA at Northwestern University. And then yes, did wind up at Google pre-IPO, while building up the business there. Did a stint at GE Digital as we were thinking about the industrial internet versus the digital internet. 

And so, my passion really started to gel around matching digital and technology implications with the physical world. And so, I wound up at a startup called Urban Engines as the first business person in with a bunch of Stanford and Google engineers. And what we tried to do was create the first digital twin, so the first simulation of transit systems that lo and behold was acquired by Google. 

So, came back to the mothership, spent some time in Google proper and then was brought into X, which is their R&D division. And you may have heard of Waymo self-driving cars or autonomous drones, their wing project and looking for the next generation of breakthrough projects. And at the same time, I was invited to join the board since there were a lot of parallels on the digital twin transportation side with the water digital twin and simulation transportation side. And I was invited to join the board of Innovyze, which in 2021 was actually acquired by Autodesk. 

So, I still retain my passion for water and physical to digital systems. And that brought me to Entrada. Very briefly, this is not intended to be a pitch of any kind, but what I really enjoy about Entrada is we’ve known each other for many, many years and we work very, very hands on early stage from zero to one with founders and technologists to really figure out how we get them that first institutional capital. So, we’re passionate about building new companies that are going to be sustainable and that really have significant impact both locally and globally. 

Our investment themes, we come at it from more of a technology perspective as opposed to sector. And technology first would include things like next generation computing. So, you hear a lot about artificial intelligence or even quantum computing applications that are going to spur the next generation of solutions, breakthrough software applications and platforms. So, there’s so much now digitization that’s going on in the world, and we’re looking for those opportunities against spur innovation and productivity. Digital to physical interactions I mentioned before and new materials. 

So, a lot around, for example, one of the investments that, one of our partners made is a company called EPO, which is a nanotechnology coding that goes on top of produce to allow it to essentially stay fresher longer, which is a huge improvement in efficiency in agriculture. And so, that’s something we’re excited about. Another investment, again in individual investment on digital physical interactions is Flume, which is a leak detection technology for the water industry. 

So, with that, it’s my pleasure to bring on our panelists to talk a bit more about what they do. And first, I’d like to introduce Gili Elkin, who’s co-founder and general partner of ICI Fund, with ICI standing for Innovation, Community and Intelligence. And she invests in early stage companies with AI solutions that secure our future and support their scale up in the US market. 

She was previously managing director at SynTech Bioenergy, a Colorado-based renewable energy company. She’s a former attorney focused on corporate and tax law, served in the Israeli military. She has an undergraduate master’s in law and business from Hebrew University, and an MBA from Stanford and is a fellow dark chocolate fan. So, it’s wonderful to see you. 

And then, Will Sarni is founder and CEO of Water Foundry, a water consultancy and founder. And general partner of Future of Water Fund, a water technology fund focused on addressing water scarcity, quality and equitable access to water. He’s been a sustainability and water strategy advisor to multinationals, water technology companies investors, and non-governmental organizations for his entire career. 

Prior to his current role, he was a managing director at Deloitte, where he established and led the water strategy practice and he had founded and led a sustainability strategy firm prior to that. He’s the thought leader, author and advisor in the water industry with multiple publications to his name. And he’s the host of the podcast, the Stream with Will and Tom. Welcome. 

Gili Elkin: Thank you. I’m going to start. 

Karen Roter Davis: I think you’re going to start. 

Gili Elkin: Okay. Hi everyone. I’m very excited to be here at the Water in the West Symposium. I was here 2018, I think, speaking then. I’m very excited to be here again. Would like to thank Jocelyn Hittle for inviting me, mainly because it made me come all the way from Israel to Colorado and I got to snowboard on Tuesday in Winter Park. Okay. Green I think. Yeah. 

So, I’m going to speak very briefly in a few minutes just about our work at ICI Fund and touch how we are looking to secure our future using AI technologies coming out of Israel. But before that, I’ll give you a very short background about myself. 

So, first, I have a very strong accent, but I was born in Berkeley, California and lived half of my life in Israel and half of my life here in the US. I grew up as a kid in the Israeli desert, but also here in Boulder, Colorado. That’s when I was cursed by the mountains to come back and that’s when I fell in love with snowboarding. 

Okay. So, how many here have been in Israel? Okay. Quite a few. How many know election days do we have per year in Israel? Nobody knows. Okay. So, as some of you know, Israel has faced many, many challenges in different industries. Some of them in the water industry. So, 60% of Israel is a desert and the rest is semi-arid and our natural resources can provide only 50% of our water demand. 

But Israel has been using advanced technologies and turned those challenges into opportunities by developing technologies that help us face those challenges. And this is part of the reason that Israel has become the startup nation known as Startup Nation, leading the world with technologies, especially in artificial intelligence. 

So, I decided to combine the innovation, groundbreaking innovation coming out of Israel, especially in artificial intelligence and create a community of business people and entrepreneurs that all aspire to secure future using technologies. So, I formed a fund and I could not think of any other place to do it other than Colorado. So, in 2017, I got the support of previous governor, John Hickenlooper, and we raised private money, and ICI Fund was formed to invest in Israeli tech companies using artificial intelligence in the water industry, and bring them to US. 

So, today, I’m a founding partner and general partner at ICI Fund, a private VC firm investing in Israeli companies. And I could not have done that without my incredible team, Tim Jones out of Fort Collins, and Ari Goldfarb, who is here with me raise your hand coming from Israel and I’m going to go back to him very soon. 

And our advisors, which are a combination of business people and water people. So, for example, previous CEO of Boston Consulting Group, Carl Stern, but also Yvonne Forrest, director of Houston Water out of Texas. I’m sure some of you know her. And Bob Lembke, a water lawyer out of Denver. I’m sure some of you know him too. 

So, the goal of ICI is to bring AI technologies out of Israel, bring them to the US and help us secure our future and partly help us face the water challenges. So, quickly what is artificial intelligence? This scary term. Simply put, it’s when a machine mimics our behavior. When the machine processes large amount of data, test and trains the algorithm, the code and provides insights and predictions to companies. So, that’s it. That’s artificial intelligence, very high level. 

And when countries understood that AI is the future and AI is important for our future, the leading countries, US, Israel, China, Russia, have all developed national programs for artificial intelligence. And you can see that the influence in the money that is being spent on artificial intelligence, companies, tech companies. 

So, in 2021, more than $100 billion were invested in artificial intelligence tech companies. This amount is expected to rise in 2022 to 170 billion and in 2025 to more than 300 billion. And in Israel, which is a very small country, eight million population and one-tenth of the size of Colorado, in 2021, more than $5 billion were invested in artificial intelligence companies. And artificial intelligence plays critical role in all of our critical industries. But I’m going to talk only about, I’m going to touch water and agriculture and introduce to two companies coming out of Israel in those areas. 

So, why is AI so important for water? I’m not going to repeat the challenges. I’m sure you heard about them. All of us are aware of the challenges that we’re facing in the water industry. But with those challenges in the back of your mind, let’s remember that water is fixed and limited just exactly like our time. 

So, exactly like we need to prioritize our time, we need to manage efficiently our water. And one way to manage efficiently the water system is by using artificial intelligence technologies. And one company that is doing that is KANDO coming out of Israel. And we have here many people from KANDO. We have Ari, the founder and CEO of KANDO. He founded the company with Zohar Scheinin. But we have here guy from New York, Erez from Boulder, Colorado because the company just recently opened offices in Colorado and Anne-Li from Florida. So, we have all of them here with us today. 

And what KANDO does can do protect public health and the environment through the use of AI in the wastewater. So, looking at data in the wastewater, analyzing the data and based on unique algorithm that was developed and based on comparing the data to data they collected for a decade now, they predict unusual events and quality events in the wastewater, and they can also see public health trends in the wastewater such as COVID-19, nutrition, polio and other things. 

So, that company improves the quality of wastewater and help reuse wastewater for agricultural purposes. So, KANDO is deployed all over Israel in Europe and now growing very, very fast in the US and opened as I mentioned, an office in Colorado last year. 

So, in Israel we treat 95% of our wastewater and reuse almost 85% of that for agricultural purposes. And that is being done by using technologies such as KANDO tech solutions. So, KANDO allows the cities to see everything that is happening in the wastewater collection system and gather the data and predict events. So, next time you are using the toilet, think about the amount of data you are generating. 

And going to the agriculture industry. As we all know, almost 70% of the water usage globally is used for agriculture, 60% of that is being used inefficiently, which makes it 42%, almost 42% of all global water usage is wasted, not wasted, but not used efficiently. And this is why artificial intelligence is critical in the agricultural as phase two. 

And one company that is helping farmers deal with that is Viridix coming out of Israel founded by Arik and more. And what they do, they make the irrigation platform more efficient by a sensor that they developed from scratch that imitates the behavior of the root of the plant, sends signals to the cellphone of the farmers and indicates exactly what is the availability of water at the root of the plant saving only the dates crops industry, they save 30% water. They have proven that and they increase crop yield. So, using artificial intelligence to save water in the agricultural space too. 

So, how will our future look? So, I think it all depends on us here sitting here. And we must collaborate all of us, government official, academia, business people, people from the water industry, and we must look at the water system as a whole. We should treat it as one asset that belongs to the public and planet ahead. 

And especially, I believe that we need to support those incredible entrepreneurs that are working diligently to develop tech solutions with the goal to save water and save our planet. And this is my vision with ICI Fund to invest in incredible people that have the strong vision to save our planet using AI technologies coming out of Israel. And we welcome all of you to join us and collaborate with us. Thank you. 

Will Sarni: So, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to be here and participate in this event. A shoutout to Gili, what she has done is impressive to say the least. I will say that when I met Gili a number of years ago at WATEC in Tel Aviv, immediately got engaged with her because she was talking about anti-tank weapons and I gravitated to that and found out that she was doing a lot in water. A little bit of a joke. 

So, Will Sarni. A couple of things you should know in advance of my conversation here with you is that the front end of my career, I started as a hydrogeologist. So, what supply projects, superfund programs, including the Martin Marietta site in Waterton. 

And then roughly about 20, 21 years ago, I got hooked on this thing called sustainability, and decided that I was going to pivot my career and really invest in helping to build a market around sustainability and ultimately corporate water strategy, which tied back to my initial work. I started a firm. I did not have a P&L, I had an L because it was in the early days and you really couldn’t earn a living doing it, but hooked on it and committed. And that’s what I’ve done for the past couple of decades. 

The second thing you should know is that I’m a raging optimist, and not naive necessarily, but I view water as certainly a risk, but definitely an opportunity. And I usually use this slide, I tend to focus on the right side of the tree. So, what can we do together? Gili talked about collective action, aligned action, we can solve these challenges and that’s really how I spend my time. 

So, talk a little bit about innovation, very passionate about that. Where I sit in the world of water right now is the intersection of working with US and non-US multinationals on corporate water strategy, technology innovation and investment. And it really is looking like a really interesting Venn diagram in terms of how multinationals are getting engaged on things like making direct investments in their supply chain, working with entrepreneurs and helping them scale their business and so on. So, it’s a really exciting space to be in. 

So, a friend of mine cautioned me and said, “Really don’t quote yourself,” which I immediately ignored. So, this is something, this is a point of view from an article I wrote with Stu Orr, who leads the global freshwater program for WWF. You know the Panda? And this is the punchline for me in terms of why multinationals, why any company should care about water as a fundamental business issue. 

So, I tend to avoid water as a ESG issue, CSR issue, but get to the heart of the matter. We can’t do anything without water. We have no economic development. We have no business growth. We have no ecosystems or social wellbeing. So, when I talked to companies, and this was really driven home when I was at Deloitte, is engaged with the CFO, talk to the CEO about the role of water in fueling their business growth. And that has only resonated more and more as time has passed. 

This is not my quote, but this is from good friend, Andre Fourie and one of his colleagues. And he published this article recently. And for me, it was really a critical data point in illustrating that multinationals are really thinking differently beyond their water footprint. Not everybody, but there are some really good examples of companies that are thinking about different stakeholders to engage with and making direct investments and really contributing who they are and what they do in a very, very significant way. 

And what that has translated into, and this is a little bit of a geeky slide, but this came from a good friend of mine, Tom Higley, who launched 10. 10. 10 and now X Genesis based here in Denver. And when I met Tom a number of years ago, he asked me if water was a wicked problem, and I had no idea what he was talking about. It’s like wicked, yeah, evil, yes, all that. But wicked problems actually have a definition. And one of the attributes of wicked problems is that no one stakeholder group can solve a wicked problem. And boy, water fits really nicely. Things like climate change fit very nicely into that. 

So, I love the slide because it really does illustrate that all stakeholders need to be engaged on solving water and solving climate and how the two intersect and so on. And the upper left, entrepreneurs, investors, they have speed. They have no scale. They have the ability to pivot to really understand where they need to fit in a marketplace. The public sector, lower right, not meant to be negative, it’s just the way it is. Enormous scale, but incredibly slow. So, everyone sits in between. 

And the relationships between these stakeholder groups is evolving before our very eyes. And what I have seen with corporate water strategy, corporate water stewardship programs is that what started with essentially multinationals working with NGOs on water stewardship programs has now morphed into multinationals working with an entrepreneurs, investors, academic institutions and even engaging proactively with public sector, which is encouraging. 

Okay. Disruptive innovation. Everyone talks about innovation, everyone believes that their technology is disruptive. That’s really not the case. Some technologies are evolutionary. The way I look at it and a host of other folks is that disruption is really a game changer within a sector. I focus on digital technologies very broadly and advanced material sciences. 

And there’s a body of work that came out of Singularity University, XPRIZE founder around exponential technologies, disruptive technologies. And just a couple few examples here, JIVE satellite data acquisition analytics company, True Elements, Artificial Intelligence, aggregating publicly available water data and climate data, source, off-grid air moisture capture technology company using advanced materials. And Evove, a graphene membrane treatment technology company out of the UK. 

A few things I find really interesting, in full transparency, I’ll tell you my relationship with these folks. Source on the left, really interesting, off-grid air moisture capture. They deliver safe drinking water for a home commercial property or through arrays, like solar arrays. Really interesting. 

Another source, I find it disruptive because it’s not surface water, it’s not groundwater, it’s not desal, it’s another source. Spout came out of 10. 10. 10, real-time water quality testing at the tap, lead testing in particular right now. I made an investment in them because I believe that that’s exactly what we need at this moment in time to give people the ability to know the quality of their water. 

Organica, I find them to be a really interesting company that’s one in the middle at the bottom. They use constructed wetlands in a greenhouse to treat water. So, localized water treatment systems don’t use chemicals. They’re really big outside of the US. So, the trick here is to how to get them to scale in the US. Hydraloop. Our fund made our first investment in Hydraloop, which is residential, commercial greywater reuse. Again, a game changer for a lot of reasons. Desolenator, I find them really interesting, did not make an investment in them, but I know them really well. So, it’s solar desal and they have a pilot project at scale with Carlsberg. 

So, what all of these companies represent is focus on digital technologies, decentralized technologies and democratized technologies. So, the ability to give the individual knowledge about water in a way that we’ve never been able to do that before via technology and in some cases new business models. 

So, this is not my quote also, but I do love quotes and I do collect them, so I’m compelled to push them out here. Anybody know who William Gibson is? Science fiction writer. Thank you. He created the genre cyberpunk. This is absolutely one of my favorite quotes because it really does capture what’s going on in the world of water and what all of us are seeing, and he just really puts a fine point. 

So, the future is in fact here, we just have to look for it and we have to learn from each other and work with entrepreneurs and investors and multinationals and so on, and even things out. Take the lumpiness out. How do we help these companies scale so we can create abundance with respect to water? And that’s it. So, thank you. 

Karen Roter Davis: So, I’m going to ask a few questions and then we can make this interactive as well. So, if you have questions, we can open it up too. I know, look out. So, I want to kick things off a little bit with, you talked about innovation and disruption versus not disruption, does it matter or why is that important? 

Will Sarni: So, you know how people use words is really important to me. So, if someone is pitching their company and saying disruptive technology, I tend to push back on it to really understand if in fact it is disruptive and it might it change the world of water that we live in. So, I think few things are really disruptive in terms of changing the market innovation and business models, innovation and technology and so on. 

Karen Roter Davis: And when would you say … It was interesting, I was at a dinner conversation last night and they said specifically, we don’t want water disrupted. That would be bad. And it’s that tension between introducing innovation and then keeping systems our most precious resource kind of running and delivered. 

Will Sarni: So, can I go on a rant now? 

Karen Roter Davis: Sure. 

Will Sarni: Look, I believe we are obligated to change the status quo and blow it up, I don’t know, but we can do better. And accepting the status quo is absolutely not acceptable. So, I don’t buy the argument that good enough is good enough. So, that doesn’t mean that every technology is going to be great. That doesn’t mean that every technology is not going to have risks associated with it. But if we’re going to solve water scarcity, poor quality, inequity and access, then we really need to be bold, and we need to challenge the status quo and have a bias for action. 

So, I get pretty lit up about it. And look, and I know the public sector has a lot of challenges from the policy side and also the utility side, but let’s start thinking creatively and let’s overcome the challenges that we’ve accepted as normal for a very long period of time. 

Karen Roter Davis: And Gili, what are you seeing, especially in Israel, which has had to overcome lot of challenges and look to the opportunities around embracing some of these changes? 

Gili Elkin: So, I think that as mentioned before, that we should look for technologies that are saving resources. So, everything is going in that direction. So, technologies that are evolving now are the ones that are looking to save energy, water resources, and we see many technologies coming out of Israel. So, we see artificial intelligence used to save energy used by pumps in the wastewater, saving energy for treatment plants, reducing chemicals for them, improving the wastewater quality using artificial intelligence, preventing leaks, using satellites to prevent leaks, to predict how many crops the ground will produce. 

Agriculture in the agriculture, again, using AI to just improve the efficiency of water use. But also, we see companies that are trying to close the gap of looking to hire people now, which is very hard to find people in the water industry. So, we see many robots coming in the water industry. We see drones picking tomatoes exactly at the right time, drones flying and picking apples to save resources. So, many different technologies are developed now, but I think that the goal of all of them is to save resources and maximize the efficiency in the water industry. 

Karen Roter Davis: And so, Will, you’re consulting to large multinationals. How are you seeing the adoption of these new technologies, the embrace of some of this innovation where previously it might not have been a focus? 

Will Sarni: Yeah. Great question. I think, and I’ve sort of fell into this trap, assuming that, well, the private sector is going to adopt technologies faster than the public sector. It’s not that simple. They face very similar challenges in terms of identifying technology. So, their pipeline is, I would say not as robust and broad as it could be. But they also seem to face the same challenges in terms of bringing that innovative technology into the organization and having champions that will support a pilot at scale. 

One of the biggest challenges they face is that water’s essentially free. So, getting over the hurdle rate ROI for a water technology is a tough one. One thing that’s encouraging is that a number of companies right now are using a shadow price of water. So, similar to carbon, which is risk times local price. And that gives them the ability to make a different value proposition internally to fund it. 

Also, there’s a whole body of work right now around business value at risk. So, looking at factors that go well beyond price, and instead it factors in what’s the value of business continuity, the value of business growth. Brand value is absolutely enormous. You see this for many companies in particular, any consumer facing company. So, yeah, they face some similar, some unique challenges, but I’m really encouraged by the solutions out there. 

And one other thing, AB Inbev launched a program called the a 100+ Accelerator program. And what that has done over the past several years is create an opportunity for startups to be supported by multinational. Now there’s four multinationals includes Coca-Cola, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive in piloting their technology, getting funding, getting everything that a big company can deliver. So, interesting time. 

Karen Roter Davis: Yeah. I think one thing we talk about with our startups is always how to get out of pilot purgatory. So, getting that first customer is always terrific. And then thinking about, okay, looking forward as how is this going to scale? What results do you need to show? Where are the stakeholders all aligned to be able to move it forward and grow your business? That’s always the challenge. 

Will Sarni: Pilot’s a toxic word. I mean, it’s just horrific in the scheme of things. It’s good news, bad news. Yeah, we got a pilot, but oh my god, we have a pilot. That’s it? 

Karen Roter Davis: Right, right. And so, Gili, to you, hearing why is this a good time to invest in water from a venture capital perspective? 

Gili Elkin: Yeah. Okay. So, I think there are a few reasons to invest in water first now. First, it’s a great industry to be in, great people, fun to work with people from that industry. So, we enjoy that very much. In terms of our planet, we’re facing so many challenges. Only if we invest in water technologies, it’ll incentivize more entrepreneur to develop new technologies. So, that’s one big reason to invest. 

Another one is of course the infrastructure build that is out there. So, there is a lot of money for technologies in the water industry, and that incentivizes on its own entrepreneurs to develop new technologies. But in terms of investors and ROI, it’s a very good time to invest, I believe. And we invest in water technologies because of that. 

So, companies are just on the verge of growing very, very fast. Water utilities, they understand now that this is the future. Everything is going to be digitalized, and they’re ready now to start adopt technologies. And those companies that are relatively valued low now will grow very fast, their valuations will increase and investors will have a great return on investment. So, it’s a perfect time to invest now. 

Karen Roter Davis: Yeah. No, I definitely, I think you’re hearing a lot about regardless of the market volatility for early stage and taking chances on really some groundbreaking technologies that where you have very scrappy, efficient entrepreneurs to be able to deploy capital, we hope that the economic outlook will five to seven to even 10 to 12 years from now will open up and those companies will be rewarded for all of their perseverance in the downturn right now. Yeah. 

Gili Elkin: Yeah. So, maybe touching on that point, maybe I think that there is a big difference between these kind of companies, the companies that sell into the water industry if I compare that them with other industries. So, companies in the water industry as we see them, they were not influenced by the inflation. Their evaluations were not pumped. 

And therefore, they are not hurt now by the market bust. These companies, they sell real solutions to a real industry, which is the water industry. Their valuations are tied to their revenues and therefore, they’re growing steadily and investors are not hurt if they invested in companies in the water industry. 

Karen Roter Davis: Would you like… 

Will Sarni: Just to chime in, Autodesk bought Innovyze for a billion dollars. 

Karen Roter Davis: It did. 

Will Sarni: Okay. That’s a good data point. But seriously, the issues that we’re facing in the world of water are acute right now, a ratification in the American west. It’s impacting economic development, business growth. Poor water quality is pervasive globally, certainly. And we have access issues. So, the tailwinds, if you will, the drivers are not going away. They’re compelling. And I’d couple that with outsiders are coming into the sector, people that know nothing about water, which I believe is a good thing, and being very creative and entrepreneurial. 

Karen Roter Davis: I think you need both. You need- 

Will Sarni: Oh, yes. 

Karen Roter Davis: … hand in hand. I think you get a lot of very aspirational technologists sometimes that think that technology will solve everything and they don’t understand, as you were saying, also, you need the people to actually adopt and leverage and work together and with knowledge of why things work the way they do, so then you can decide to change what’s not working as- 

Will Sarni: Yeah. I completely agree with you. For me, it’s not one or the other. It’s really that mashup of getting some new people in engaging with civil society and so on. And you don’t think technology’s going to solve everything, really? 

Karen Roter Davis: I’ve been beaten down. 

Will Sarni: I’m going to flip this around. I want to be the moderator. 

Karen Roter Davis: Right, right. No, I think there’s incredible opportunities for technology. And again, when we talk about artificial intelligence and we talk about new materials, all of these areas, but they have to be put in context. And everyone, especially when you’re in the digital world, it’s very easy to run the algorithm and it comes out perfectly and the model’s going to work great. And then you get into the physical world, you get on the ground and things don’t always work the way you expect them to, and where the model diverges and there’s information that you didn’t have that gets put in and things change and things are dynamic. 

And so, adapting, listening, understanding, again, your customer, which is not only your end customer who’s paying you but is also in this case, the planet, the systems, the soil, the water itself, that’s really what’s going to make the difference. And I think making sure that the folks building the technology understand that is really critical. 

Gili Elkin: And I agree, so it’s mainly because of technology, but it has to be in a context, as you said, and maybe to use Israel as an example. So, again, as mentioned, Israel has 60% desert and we export water to our neighbors. So, how we do that, it’s not only technologies, mainly technology. So, we are very innovative. 

And when I think about there are many reasons for Israel to be the startup nation and very, very innovative. But if I think of three main reasons for that, and then I’ll touch about why are we innovative in water, but why are we innovative first, I think it’s because of culture, government and geopolitics. 

So, culture, we have a culture that embraces failure. So, we are encouraged to fail again and again and again until we succeed. We never plan ahead. So, we just execute and we fix as we go. We have that chutzpah that we never get no for an answer. We always put our foot in the door. And Israel is very, very small. We know everyone. So, it’s always a first degree of separation. And it’s very equalitarian society. So, no hierarchy. And we say everyone washes dishes together in the military. So, it gets us the opportunity to network with many people in different levels. So, different culture. 

Government is very involved in the startup ecosystem, provides a lot of grants to startups. Almost $400 million every year to seed stage startups. But also, the government provides grant money to water utilities that adopt new technologies. So, they incentivize them to adopt, deploy new technologies. So, that’s in terms of the government. 

And in terms of geopolitics, since we are again surrounded by different countries, when we start companies, we think about marketing them to the US and Europe from the beginning. And because we need to be independent in terms of water, food, energy, we think about new technologies that can support that. 

In terms of water innovation, why has Israel become a water powerhouse? Again, manufacturers, but if I had to concentrate on maybe the main free ones, I would say necessity, of course, education and innovation. So, necessity, it started even before the country was established. 

So, in 1939, there was the British white paper that banned Jewish immigration. And then, Jewish leaders, David Ben-Gurion and others, they started of thinking of new ways to develop the water infrastructure that will allow the immigrants to come to Israel. And that led to the building of the national water carrier and to the view that water needs to be treated as a whole and it belongs to the public. 

In terms of education, we are educated from a very young age to save water. So, we are told to turn off the tap when we brush our teeth, use soap. We have signs everywhere in Israel that say that every drop count. And our even nursery rhymes are different. So, if in the US and you know that the rhyme is, I think rain, rain go away. In Israel, it’s rain, rain, clap your hands. So, very strong education that embraces innovation and spending on technologies and increasing prices even. 

And lastly, of course, innovation because prices were increased, which is fine by the public, and nobody stays without water. So, government provides grants to the one that cannot afford it. But because prices of water are increased and were increased steadily, farmers were looking to use crops that grow in a water stress environment. And for technologies that save water, that incentivized entrepreneurs to develop technologies that save water and that increased the water saving. 

So, just for few examples from Israel, how we do it, we just reduce the demand, increase the supply. So, we have more than five, I think, destination plants now that produce over 80%, maybe more even of the water usage in Israel, we treat wastewater and 95% of it and reuse almost 85% of that using AI technologies like KANDO. And we use irrigation, drip irrigation for 75% of the irrigated fields. So, true. I believe it’s mostly about technologies, but you need to have that context to allow the technologies to be deployed. 

Karen Roter Davis: And so, we talked a little bit about, you said the government supporting. Will, can you speak a little bit to how universities can support as well? And this is a perfect example. 

Will Sarni: Great segue. Well, I believe, and it was on my graphic. Yeah, absolutely critical role to play. I believe the challenge and opportunity is how to connect academic institutions and tech transfer offices through innovative platforms. So, they’re engaging directly with multinationals and other stakeholders along the way. 

I’m not affiliated with CSU, but I believe CSU does a really good job of sort of breaking down the mindset of we just do academic work and research work, and whatever happens in the outside world happens. They’re much more engaged than I have seen the norm, essentially. 

So, yeah, an absolutely critical stakeholder. I believe the magic is how do we break out of our usual MO and start engaging with folks that we typically have never engaged with. And I think the CSU program is really interesting in terms of how they’re thinking about their role in the marketplace as opposed to, well, we just do what we do. 

Karen Roter Davis: And Gili, you talked about what’s happening in Israel, but you also engaged here with Governor Hickenlooper. Say a little bit about that and how that’s came together and what you’ve been able to create. 

Gili Elkin: Okay. So, yeah, previous governor, John Hickenlooper, he had a few trips to Israel. He was a big supporter of Israel and he was fascinated by the technologies coming out of Israel, especially in the water and cyber industries. And because of that, he really believed in our vision of bringing Israeli companies to the US through Colorado. And we got his formal support. That allowed us to have a very unique agreement with the Israeli government for matching funds. 

So, when we invested in Israeli companies, the company received more money from the Israeli government because of Gov. Hickenlooper’s support in the fund. But not only that, getting an endorsement from a governor or a mayor, and we have met a few governors in different states and a few mayors in different cities, and it’s all about endorsement. It’s not about monetary support, just endorsement. 

We endorse what you are doing. We support what you are doing. We would like to see Israeli tech companies coming to our cities or states. It helps greatly Israeli companies come to their cities or state. It opens doors for us. It’s easier to talk with wastewater utilities and other stakeholders when they know that their mayor and it’s publicly known, when they know that the mayor or governor is very interested in bringing companies coming out of Israel. 

And just now, we got the endorsement of the mayor of Phoenix, Kate Gallego. She’s a brilliant water person. So, we got her endorsement for KANDO, bringing KANDO. And KANDO is going to deploy very largely in the city of Phoenix. And her endorsement opened doors for us and help us just bring the technology there too. 

Karen Roter Davis: That’s great. I want to make sure we have time for some questions, too. I’ll ask one more and then hopefully, we can open it up. Yes. There was one back there so we can get the mic over and… 

Kevin O’Donnell: Hey, thank you. Kevin O’Donnell with Dairy Farmers of America. Question for everybody on Will’s slide about who solves wicked water problems. I found that fascinating and Will being an eternal optimist and not really being satisfied with the status quo. I was intrigued to see the private sector, if I read it right, kind of as a blob in the middle, not excelling at speed and focus and not really being the very biggest or best at size and scale. 

And I found that interesting and sort of being a child of the age of globalization, maybe I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid too much, and I know many would argue that we’re now in an age of rapid deglobalization, but I guess I was more hopeful for the private sector in terms of the influence, and I would just be curious to get the panelists thoughts on that. 

Will Sarni: Go for it. 

Karen Roter Davis: Sure. So, I think it relates to what we were talking about with pilot purgatory. I think everyone is optimistic that large companies are excited to adopt technologies, but the reality of actually working with startups, having the product be ready enough to then test and deploy, and to have the dollars come to the startup to be able to scale, those sales cycles can be anywhere at earliest like nine months, but you’re really looking, it can be as long as 18 months and in some cases up to three years. And a startup usually gets funded for the first 18 to 24 months of its life till I hit those milestones. 

And so, with a sales cycle like that, that makes it really tough to actually make progress within that timeframe. I think also, and this is something we look at in early stages with our companies, because the timeline is so limited, the runway, you’re looking at how you can get that feedback loop to be able to adapt the product and build it into something that is valuable, at least enough to start a kernel of something that people will use in a short period of time. 

And unfortunately, a lot of the cycles from a product perspective, like a feedback loop, the plants can’t grow any faster. So, if you’re looking to confirm that something works in the agricultural sector, you again have a long cycle that way. So, those are a couple factors that work against us. 

I think on the positive side, there are lots of companies as we’ve pointed to out here that are being incredibly innovative, that are being very focused on what the problem is, and that are finding the companies that, and the people within those companies that are really receptive to lighting that spark, and understanding then how it can scale within the organizations. It just takes time to find those folks and to get those matches made. 

Will Sarni: Can I jump in? Yeah. So, that illustration is not cast in stone. And what I mean by that is that, yeah, the multinational private sector sits in the middle because they have attributes on both sides, certainly slow to move, but also some of them can be very entrepreneurial and very proactive. Lot of difference between industry sectors, which sectors move fast? Typically, consumer facing sectors because they have brand to contend with ESG reportings, critically important for them now, but also individual companies within sectors. 

So, what I find interesting to look at is, okay, which sectors are moving faster than others, which companies within those sectors are moving faster and what are they doing in terms of engagement to change that graphic? So, it’s a lot more fluid than I illustrated. It was really just a sort of simple, dumb way to make a point. But yeah, it runs the gamut. 

Gili Elkin: I will just add as an entrepreneur that only sees pink, that the sales cycle is very long, but once you are in, you’re never going out. 

Karen Roter Davis: Sticky. 

Gili Elkin: Sticky. So, that’s a good thing about the water industry and for startups. Yeah. 

Karen Roter Davis: Yes. 

Unidentified speaker #1: I had a question about the role of vertical farming or indoor farming as a solution to some of these. Do you have thoughts on that as an innovative technology or solution to some of these challenges? 

Gili Elkin: There is a lot of vertical farming in Israel. Yes, startups are working on that. Currently, it’s very expensive and the market is not as big, but you can see seeds of those technologies coming up in Israel. And I’m happy later on to tell you a few companies. I just need to look them up, but give you a few names. Yeah. 

Will Sarni: Just real quick, really interesting sector, a lot of promise. Is it going to replace traditional ag? No. Does it have a role to play? Absolutely. I think they certainly have their own challenges in terms of water treatment, energy use, things like that. So, cannabis and leafy greens, great. So, how do we break out of those categories? One of the things I like about it is that you can start to think about localized ag and put within the context of decentralized, localized, accessible food, energy and water. So, watershed, foodshed, energy shed thinking. So, interesting, but we’ll see. 

Karen Roter Davis: Yes. 

Unidentified speaker #2: Hi, I’m just curious. There to me seems to be a gap on the water quality side. So, I deal with water quality treated, make sure that all of our customers get high quality water. But at the same time I deal and have for decades the new contaminant that comes out and I got a couple on a new treatment process to remove that contaminant. When in fact I feel like as humans, we’ve taken two steps forward with some of our products in innovation, but we have skipped a major step in identifying how that innovation creates contamination. 

So, how can we create and incentivize technologies that are a little more basic in developing natural products that break down easily in the environment, like working with our egg partners instead of your plastic scrubby that you use in the morning in the shower, your shampoo that has a lot of sodium in it, real basic innovation in products, but innovation that’s essential because I feel that we keep adding more products and more technology that doesn’t always actually at the end of the day, 10, 20, 30 years from now, benefit human beings or larger ecological systems, as Benny alluded to yesterday. 

How do we incentivize? How do we grow a market for natural product innovation? 

Will Sarni: Nope. You want to go? 

Karen Roter Davis: I was just going to say, I’m starting to see a shift and I think it’s largely generational that is doing just that it is behavioral shift. It is consumer demand for circular, environmentally safe products. So, that’s wonderful. The challenge is, is that where technology can play is providing that visibility and the ability to create the properties that we would like those to have. Plastic for all of its evilness is also wonderful in terms of its lack of permeability. 

So, it has wonderful functionality with a more focus on leveraging artificial intelligence or even quantum computing or some of these other advanced technologies to create materials at the get-go that are more circular, that can serve the purpose that they’re supposed to serve and then can be broken down just organically, I think, and more circularly without harm. I think that that’s important and that is happening. It’s unfortunately, not as quick as we would like, and the costs are not there yet to where they’re competitive in a lot of places, but I think it’s headed in that direction and I’m hopeful on that front. 

Will Sarni: Yeah. I agree with you completely. I think consumer education and engaging consumers on some of these issues and the value from products that have sustainable attributes without changing the price point, I mean, still has to be affordable and deliver quality in addition to sustainability. But I also believe this is in part the role of the public sector. 

So, think about how the public sector can engage on how resources are used, move from extractive everything to more circular in nature so we’re not burning through resources and throwing them away. We’re actually using them over and over. But yeah, there’s no shortage of unintended consequences from innovative products that seem like a good idea at the time. 

Gili Elkin: And I would just and with just Nicole, Nicole is the head of quality of Denver Water. So, I would just share your needs with the public, especially with the entrepreneurial ecosystem because they would like to hear your needs. And then tell them, if you have such solution, we will deploy it, we will try it with no bureaucracy, no procurement, we will try that. Then many technologies will appear and will be deployed and they will attract money, they will get investment and they will grow. That’s the way to go. 

Karen Roter Davis: We are now over time. I don’t know if there is one more question or we have time for one or we just … Okay. One more. Okay. I always hate to end without that last call, so thank you. 

Unidentified speaker #3: All right. I’m going to be quick. So, ag uses most of the water and as Gili pointed out at the beginning, that’s where a lot of wastage is happening. And as AI gets better, we have less farmer … You’re pointing out drones can pick apples. Great, wonderful. 

My question has to do with the fact that scaling of these technologies, scaling of adaptation and adoption, it requires people. There’s a huge workforce development opportunity and training opportunity to get farmers to be seen as the actors in this space. Is there a business model on the entrepreneurial side to get … I see all this money going towards making the technologies, but the technologies need to be used by people. 

Can we invest in the training and the workforce as an entrepreneurial venture, raise venture capital here and see how that’s going to create the continuity, the growth, the stability we need for the economics of all of this working out for our water problems? I don’t see that yet. The venture capital being raised to invest in people doing the things, the adaptation, the adoption. Is there a business model we can create to connect the public and private sector in that way? 

Karen Roter Davis: So, shameless plug now, but I actually am on the board of a software company called 360Learning, which does exactly that. So, there is a venture model, there is a company and they allow for quick authoring of courses and understanding, knowledge sharing, upskilling, and there’s a huge market in education. 

I will say to your point though that I don’t think that it’s been pointed toward the agricultural sector as yet versus some of the other large more consumer facing brands that are looking to upscale their employees. So, we can definitely chat afterwards, but there is a model for that and that is a pervasive need, not just an agriculture, but what we’ve seen across all sectors now, the ability to have a fluid dynamic learning adaptive workforce because the problems that we have now are not going to be the things that we need to solve in the next decade. 

Will Sarni: Absolutely business model, absolutely an opportunity. VR, AR applications fit very nicely into this category and I’m seeing more interest by the private sector, food and beverage manufacturing companies in particular, engaging with their supply chain on how to become more sustainable, more resilient in the face of climate change and investing in those tools that the ag sector needs. Not just the technology side, but the knowledge side. 

So, yeah, I think it’s a really exciting space to be in and no shortage of opportunities and some data points out there that are very encouraging in terms of how it’s being deployed. 

Gili Elkin: And from my experience, what I see is that companies that are developing new technologies to deploy in the agricultural space, they work very hard to train the farmers, to teach them how to use the technologies and not only in the agriculture, any space. So, companies that develop technologies, they focus a lot on the human aspect too, because at the end of the day, everything is about people. So, how to make the end user use easily the product and how to create value for the end user. So, a lot of resources are invested in that aspect by those tech companies. 

Karen Roter Davis: Wonderful. Thank you, fellow panelists, and thank you all so much. I really appreciate the time. 

Jocelyn Hittle: The CSU Spur of the Moment podcast is produced by Kevin Samuelson and our theme music is by Ketsa. Please visit the show notes for links mentioned in this episode. We hope you’ll join us in two weeks for the next 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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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!

Wave art


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. 

Wave art


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. 

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.     

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.    

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.  

Wave art


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. 

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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.

Wave art


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. 

Wave art