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5 Minutes with Maso Motlow

Spend five minutes getting to know Maso Motlow, a water resource expert with Environmental Incentives. Maso tells us more about her role, what trends she sees emerging in California water resource management, and how she splits her time between Lake Tahoe and Santa Barbara.

How would you describe your role?

I am an Associate at Environmental Incentives, and I focus on designing and conducting analyses to support decision-making related to water supply management and water quality compliance. For example, I analyzed the demand for native species habitat on fallowed land in California’s Central Valley based on access to surface and groundwater supplies. In San Diego, I analyzed the costs and benefits of different management techniques to comply with stormwater regulations. I strive to make findings that will provide meaningful answers to our clients, and then present that information in a clear and visually appealing way.

What was your dream job growing up?

In college I took my first water policy course. Up to that point, I was generally interested in the environmental field, but lacked a niche. After a couple of courses, conferences, and volunteer work, I was hooked on the fascinating challenge that is water management in the western U.S. Since then, I have pursued opportunities to understand the physical, social, legal, economic, and environmental parameters of water management.

What drew you to work at Environmental Incentives initially?

While I was in grad school, I spent my time trying to understand the landscape of jobs within the water resources field and determine what my options were. I was familiar with the big consulting firms that work on large construction projects and write plans, but I wanted to understand what other roles I could take on that would have a meaningful impact. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was looking for a company that operated at the programmatic design level. When I heard about Environmental Incentives through alumni of my graduate school, it seemed like a perfect fit.

What is your favorite aspect of your work?

I like that I’m not siloed into one avenue or type of work. I am able to focus on water issues from multiple sides—both from the municipal urban water and the habitat-conscious NGO perspective. I also get to work on analytical tasks, make visual representations of information, and interact with clients. I have a broad set of touch points through multiple tools that utilize my skills in a given day.

What trends do you see emerging in California water resource management?

There are two key shifts we are seeing in California right now. As we shift out of the most recent drought cycle, we are seeing a natural transition of agencies that were focused on water conservation beginning to focus on other water resource issues within their purview. For example, identifying opportunities to apply learning from water conservation efforts to stormwater management and other water quality concerns. Savvy water managers know that water conservation must remain a way of life despite the removal of California’s emergency conservation measures. Developing programs that leverage existing water conservation efforts could achieve dual goals: create environmentally beneficial water quality programs and maintain contact with residents and businesses to ensure responsible water use remains part of daily life.

Secondly, as groundwater sustainability plans are implemented in California, there will be a need to understand what sustainability means in practice and how it is achieved. It is important to understand how these regulations will impact habitat and people, and not just groundwater levels. Results chains are one of the tools we often use to design and understand outcomes. This could be a helpful approach to understanding what holistic sustainability looks like, how proposed strategies make progress towards goals, and how to track progress and adapt as necessary.

What has been your proudest moment at Environmental Incentives?

One of the first projects I worked on was conducting a Cost-Benefit Analysis for the County of San Diego to understand the most cost-effective ways to target bacteria and pathogens in the water. We produced a clear set of findings showing that targeting human sources of bacteria would be the most cost-effective method to improve water quality in the region. In fact, this approach is 20 times more effective than implementing standard water quality improvement methods. Not only did this project produce clear and actionable findings, but it also analyzed several options to maximize environmental return on investment instead of just maintaining the status quo.

What are your favorite hobbies?

I love trail running. One of my favorite things to do in the summer in Lake Tahoe is to go for a run and bring a book in my camelback. I will run for a while and then stop by a river and read my book with no one else around. I also love adventuring by bike. I find it a great way to hang out with friends and explore a new place at the perfect speed. It gives you the freedom to stop and explore whatever may catch your eye. In a car, we are often moving too quickly to even see the opportunities for exploration, and when we do, we are too focused on our destination to stop. I am also learning to cook, which is an ongoing process for me. Lots of peaks and valleys so far!

What is one food you can’t live without?

Creamy peanut butter. I always have a jar of peanut butter at work and at home, just in case!

What is your favorite thing to do in your city?

I spend half of my time in Santa Barbara and half of my time in Lake Tahoe, and one of the things I enjoy the most is that I spend my time differently in each place. In Tahoe, I have the lake where I love to go paddle boarding with my girlfriends. In Santa Barbara, I have the ocean, so I spend time playing games at the beach or just relaxing by the water. It is the same way with trail running. In Tahoe I am surrounded by gigantic trees whereas in Santa Barbara I run through Chaparral and oaks. I love that I get to enjoy and interact with nature differently in both locations and have the chance to spend time outside with friends.

What are some of your biggest achievements to date?

In the summer of 2009, I did a program called Bike & Build where I biked across the country from Providence, RI to Seattle, WA. Along the way, we built houses and raised awareness for low-income housing. It was an incredible experience and a great organization to work with that I highly recommend.  I also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania last summer. I’m not really a mountaineering person, so I didn’t know how the altitude would affect me until I got there. The high altitude made for a challenging experience, but reaching the summit made the long days worth it!

Professionally, an exciting achievement for me was being selected for and participating in the Sustainable Water Markets Fellowship Program at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management in Santa Barbara. The program focused on how we can move water resources between parties to meet environmental and human needs in an efficient way. The fellowship program allowed me to learn a lot about water markets and interact with people in the industry. It also opened up many doors for me to attend and speak at different water events—from the California Water Policy Conference, to the Clinton Climate Initiative student workshop on reducing greenhouse gases in Abu Dhabi, to inspecting part of the State Water Project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. All in all, the fellowship helped solidify my path into the water resources world.

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Maso! Stay tuned for more employee spotlights coming soon.


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