Jul 04, 2020
Thomas Esqueda, Fresno State’s new associate vice president (AVP) of water and sustainability meets with members of the Sustainability Club to discuss future plans for campus awareness of water and sustainability issues on April 17, 2018. (Eric Zamora/The Collegian)

‘A perfect storm’ to face water issues

Thomas Esqueda remembers seeing the 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a child. During a recent interview with The Collegian, he said one scene in particular made an impact in his life.

In that scene, the main character, played by James Stewart, shares his dreams with co-star Donna Reed.

“[Reed] asks [Stewart], ‘So what are you going to do?’ and he goes, ‘I’m going to build things,” Esqueda said. “‘I’m going to go around and build cities. I’m going to build skyscrapers and infrastructure’.”

“I’m going, ‘Where there’s a job where you can do that stuff?’” Esqueda told himself.

Not long after beginning his college career at San Jose State University, Esqueda discovered civil engineering. “That’s what we do,” he said with a slight grin as he remembers the scene from the film.

After years of consulting for the City of Fresno on water solutions, Esqueda is now bringing the conversation about water to Fresno State as the first associate vice president (AVP) of water and sustainability.

“That’s what’s exciting about working at the university level – having that opportunity to have that kind of discussion,” he said.

That discussion, which could bring awareness to water issues in the Central Valley, which according to Esqueda is “ground zero” of water issues.

The area struggles with water rights, environmental groups versus agriculture businesses, climate change and the sometimes low Sierra Nevada snowpack, he said.

“We’ve treated [water] like this thing that’s just going to be there. Some people may think I can just turn the tap, but it takes a lot of energy and effort and people to get it,” Esqueda said.

He said his goal as the AVP has three parts to it: it connects community agencies, the irrigation districts and state agencies and legistors with university faculty and students to advance the use of water in the area.

These interest groups of “smart and passionate people” have created the “perfect storm,” Esqueda said – one that can face water issues head-on.

“Nothing is impossible,” he said. “The only thing that limits our ability to move the discussion on water is our imagination.”

Already a week into his new position, Esqueda has begun engaging with students. He met with the campus sustainability club on his second day on the job. But his efforts are not limited to students involved with sustainability.

Esqueda said “water touches everything,” including disciplines in literature, poetry, photography – and advertising.

He invites students of all majors to join the water discussion.

“A goal of mine would be that when students graduate from Fresno State, they have a higher appreciation and awareness of water and how it impacts our lives,” he said.

Esqueda took an interest in water during his time at San Jose State University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. His fascination rests with how water has been, and always will be, a necessity for humans.

“We need water,” he said. “We’ve lived without electricity, cars and phones and air conditioning. But we’ve never lived without water.”

Esqueda said that much of what he learned in his college courses applies to his career today. At San Jose State, he took a course called “Strength in Materials” in which he learned to break items such as beams, wood, steel, aluminum and concrete.

“The outcome wasn’t to teach you how to break things. The outcome was to teach you why things break,” he said.

Now as a professional, Esqueda tries to examine why systems, like those involving water, can “break” and how he can foster a discussion to help improve the situation.

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