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Citizens Water Academy ‘Inspiration’ For Water Agency Board Member

The Citizens Water Academy helps educate civic leaders and many graduates have gone on to become water agency board members in San Diego County.

The application and nomination period remains open for the Fall 2019 class of the San Diego County Water Authority’s pioneering Citizens Water Academy.

The closing date is September 16. More than 700 people have completed the award-winning program since 2014.

The Citizens Water Academy provides an opportunity for emerging civic leaders to learn about visionary local efforts to ensure a safe and reliable water supply for the San Diego region. Participants get an in-depth look at how the Water Authority helps the region’s economy and quality of life through strategic planning, innovative programs, and cost-effective investments.

The Fall 2015 Citizens Water Academy tours the Olivenhain Reservoir. Photo: Water Authority Citizens Water Academy Applications

Citizens Water Academy ‘Inspiration’ for Water Agency Board Members

The Citizens Water Academy helps educate civic leaders, and many graduates have gone on to become water agency board members in San Diego County.

The application and nomination period remains open for the Fall 2019 class of the San Diego County Water Authority’s pioneering Citizens Water Academy.

The closing date is September 18. More than 700 people have completed the award-winning program since 2014.

The Citizens Water Academy provides an opportunity for emerging civic leaders to learn about visionary local efforts to ensure a safe and reliable water supply for the San Diego region. Participants get an in-depth look at how the Water Authority helps the region’s economy and quality of life through strategic planning, innovative programs, and cost-effective investments.

The first two sessions are at the Helix Water District’s operations headquarters in El Cajon on October 11 and 16, and the third session is in Escondido at the Water Authority’s Escondido operations center on October 25.

Citizens Water Academy ‘a catalyst’ for Gracyk

Mark Gracyk (center) participates in a role playing exercise during the Winter 2016 Citizens Water Academy. Photo: Water Authority Water Academy Applications

Mark Gracyk (center) participates in a role playing exercise during the Winter 2016 Citizens Water Academy. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Helix Water District board member Mark Gracyk attended the Citizens Water Academy in Winter 2016.

“As an average citizen, most people don’t know much about what’s involved about getting their water,” said Gracyk. “I didn’t have a macro view of the whole system. I really looked forward to the classes and I learned so much. It’s kind of jam packed, it’s like a cram course. But you really learn a lot in those short three or four days.”

Gracyk says the Citizens Water Academy was “a catalyst” inspiring him to run for the Helix board in 2016.

“I took what I learned and it helped in my campaign, and to be an more effective elected official,” said Gracyk.

Local leaders become better informed

Citizens Water Academy participants tour the Claude "Bud" Lewis Desalination Plant in Carlsbad. Photo: Water Authority

Citizens Water Academy participants tour the Padre Dam Advanced Water Purification Demonstration Project in Santee. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

The program also helped José F. Cerda become better informed about the region’s water supply and infrastructure in 2015 prior to his successful 2016 campaign for the South Bay Irrigation District board.

“I had a childlike wonderment about what water is and where it comes from,” said Cerda. “It’s your civic duty to understand this big issue for California and create a sense of consciousness. People think you just open the tap.”

“I’m pretty comfortable now making decisions because of the background and the foundation of the Water Academy,” added Cerda.

Valley Center avocado grower Enrico Ferro, a Valley Center Municipal Water District board member, says his Citizens Water Academy experience in 2015 helped him look at water beyond the local perspective.

“Whenever I talk to anyone about water, I reference what I’ve learned,” said Ferro, recently named president of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. “We can’t do anything without water, it’s extremely important. Before I got involved with the Farm Bureau, I wasn’t paying attention to the impact of things on a regional and statewide level.”

“Lots of people from different walks of life of all ages, all professions, and every type of person attends. You get their perspective on things and how [water] affects them,” added Ferro.

Citizens Water Academy grads forge new relationships

Enrico Ferro (far right) participates in an icebreaker exercise at the Summer 2016 Citizens Water Academy. Photo: Water Authority

Enrico Ferro (far right) participates in an icebreaker exercise at the Summer 2016 Citizens Water Academy. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Gracyk, Cerda, and Ferro all value the relationships they forged and the networking opportunities with other engaged people at the Citizens Water Academy.

“You’ll make new friends and colleagues you didn’t have before. It will pay you back twenty fold,” said Gracyk.

Competitive selection process for popular program

The selection process is competitive. The Water Authority typically receives many more applications than spots available.

To apply or to nominate someone for the academy, go to www.sdcwa.org/citizens-water-academy. People who are interested but cannot attend in October can submit an application and ask to be notified when additional sessions are announced.

Gracyk says he hopes to join the first session and welcome the new Citizens Water Academy Fall 2019 class to the Helix operations center.

“Three years ago, I was sitting in that audience,” said Gracyk. “Now, I’m here as an elected official and I’m much more knowledgeable than when I started. One thing I really learned is that access to fresh, clean, safe affordable water is essential to human dignity.”

Kelsey Ceccarelli (center), the Citizens Water Academy's 500th graduate, with Water Authority Assistant General Manager Dennis A. Cushman (left) and Board Chair Jim Madaffer (right). Photo: Water Authority

500th Community Leader Graduates from Citizens Water Academy

The San Diego County Water Authority’s pioneering Citizens Water Academy celebrated the graduation of its 500th community leader Friday at the conclusion of the fall class series.

During the popular and award-winning academy program, civic leaders learn about visionary local efforts to ensure a safe and reliable water supply for the San Diego region. Participants get an in-depth look at how the Water Authority helps protect the region’s economy and quality of life through strategic planning, innovative programs, and cost-effective investments.

After the third and final class of each academy, graduates are given diplomas to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” and congratulations from Water Authority executives – a tradition that took on special significance in light of today’s milestone.

“The Citizens Water Academy has profoundly improved the understanding of water issues across our region and demystified the critical work we do to sustain San Diego County’s $220 billion economy and quality of life for 3.3 million people,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “Reaching 500 graduates is an impressive accomplishment – but we are not done.

“Anyone who aspires to civic or business leadership should invest the time to learn about this fundamental resource,” Madaffer said. “I guarantee that the Citizens Water Academy will change the way they think about this amazing place we call home.”

Citizens Water Academy graduates remain engaged in regional water issues

Kelsey Ceccarelli, the Citizens Water Academy's 500th graduate, displays her Certificate of Completion. Photo: Water Authority

Kelsey Ceccarelli, the Citizens Water Academy’s 500th graduate, displays her Certificate of Completion. Photo: Water Authority

The Citizens Water Academy launched in fall 2014 and produced a diverse inaugural class of 49 graduates. Over the years, 99 percent of participants said they would recommend the Water Academy to a colleague, and nearly 50 percent of graduates stay engaged through the Water Authority’s alumni program.

Participants said the class series helped them understand the physical movement of water into and around the region; the importance of the region’s water supply diversification strategy; how large-scale water projects are built and maintained; and how water managers are preparing for future water supply needs.

The Water Authority typically hosts three academies of about 50 participants each year. Classes have been held in Kearny Mesa, the South Bay and North County to promote regional participation. Class series include presentations by agency executives, role-play activities, and tours of world-class water facilities such as the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

In addition, the Water Authority maintains an active network of Water Academy graduates who participate in specialized tours, lectures and other events. They also stay connected through an alumni newsletter – part of the Water Authority’s commitment to supporting engaged and knowledgeable regional leaders.

The Water Authority received the Silver Bernays Mark of Excellence Award for the Citizens Water Academy from the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in 2015. The program also won the Communications Initiative Award from the San Diego Section of the American Planning Association in 2016.

The next Citizens Water Academy is scheduled for Spring 2019, though dates have not been set. The selection process is competitive, and acceptance is not guaranteed. For more information, go to www.sdcwa.org/citizens-water-academy. The site includes a link to sign up for notifications when future class dates are announced.