The newly established Women in Water Scholarship Fund aims to encourage young women to pursue careers in the water industry. It extends an annual scholarship of $5,000 to a young woman studying for a career in any field of water resources. In this interview, Allison Britain, the inaugural recipient of the Women in Water scholarship, speaks with Irrigation Leader Editor-in-Chief Kris Polly about what drew her into the water field and how the Women in Water scholarship will further her career in water.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about your background.
Allison Britain: I grew up in Issaquah, just outside of Seattle, Washington. I attended Penn State University and after graduating, returned back to Washington. I am now a third-year law student at Gonzaga University School of Law.
Kris Polly: Why are you interested in water law?
Allison Britain: When I was a kid, my family moved to London for a couple of years. While I was there, there was a big push for environmental education. That was my first introduction to climate change. When we moved back to Washington, I started seeing that same environmental theme pop up in talk about conservation and the need for more water. That mindset fed into my Penn State education. I showed up at Penn State ready to save the world, but I realized how out of touch I was with agriculture, one of the biggest factors in any environment policy. Surrounded by an agricultural community unlike the community I grew up in, I quickly realized that I was out of place. I made it a mission to learn more about agriculture. I decided to major in a program called Community, Environment, and Development, which fell under the College of Agriculture.
During summers, I came back to Washington and found the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the viability of the Snoqualmie Valley and helping farmers and other businesses in the area gain access to water. That’s when I really fell in love with water law. I found that the most important thing to people is access to resources and coming together as a community to help as many people as possible. In times of shortage, how is water allocated? What’s the fairest way to move forward? As I started to understand the ins and outs of that question, I found my passion and recognized it as one of the most pressing issues our society faces.
Kris Polly: What did you learn about farmers and their interaction with the environment and water?
Allison Britain: Farmers are the people most connected to our environment. They have a pressing need for water to grow the crops that sustain society, and they’re often overlooked by people who don’t have a connection to the farming environment. I think people can be out of touch with how our food gets to our grocery stores and where it comes from. Access to water is one of the biggest issues that farmers face in continuing production in the West.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about the Women in Water Scholarship Fund and what it means to you to receive the award.
Allison Britain: This summer, I was working at Halverson Northwest Law Group for Larry Martin, a prominent water law attorney in the Columbia basin. He pointed me to the Women in Water Scholarship Fund, and it immediately intrigued me. When I visited the website, I was encouraged to see female leaders in the exact field I was most interested in. I quickly read everyone’s bios and was inspired to see the different areas of water that these women are forging leadership paths in and to see how they came together to form a group to provide a voice for and to advocate for female leaders in the industry. I am honored to be the first recipient of the Women in Water scholarship. It helped significantly to pay off some of my student loans.
Kris Polly: What is your philosophy on working on controversial water issues?
Allison Britain: My personal philosophy is founded on collaboration. That’s the most fundamental part of how we move forward with solutions to water-related issues. Solutions to water issues can be win-win scenarios—it just takes creative strategizing and community participation.