Interview with Dr. Leslie Shoemaker

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker is the Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy at Tetra Tech. Tetra Tech is an international water and environmental engineering and consulting company. She is shown here with Janis Salin, Tetra Tech Corporate Council.

Abha: What does TetraTech do overall?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: Tetra Tech is an international water and environmental engineering consulting company. We work all over the world in more than 115 countries. We work on all sorts of projects but mainly on water, the environment, infrastructure, natural resources and energy. Over 80% of our work is centered on water projects.

Abha: What are some ideal water projects that would be implemented by TetraTech?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: We design water treatment facilities in places like Florida and California, to help provide safe and reliable water supplies. Some of the facilities we have designed convert seawater or slightly salty (or brackish) groundwater into clean drinking water.

Abha: Does TetraTech only work in developed nations or in developing nations as well? If so, what work is done in developing nations?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: We work in both. In developing nations we work on engineering project that provide the basic infrastructure such as wells, water supply systems, and water treatment facilities. We also are engaged in International Development work where the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) hires us to help developing nations improve their infrastructure. We are involved in projects that include drinking water, water for agriculture, and helping manage water systems.

Abha: What is water infastructure?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: I always think of it as pumps and pipes, but it's really much more. It is everything from the starting point where the water is obtained to the point where the residents get the water. Water infrastructure can also include dams or other structures for managing and storing water.

Abha: What is TetraTech doing to mitigate the water crisis?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: In addition to the work that we do for our clients, we help sponsor programs such as Engineers without Borders where volunteers work on designing and building water systems in developing nations. We also work for USAID and various host countries around the world to help them build not just water treatment facilities but also the infrastructure they need to deliver it. Then we are also working on the other part of the water crisis which is studying the availability of water and making it more accessible. We look at ways to more efficiently distribute water between the various sources that are available. Lastly, we are also researching on how future changes in climate might impact water supplies.

Abha: How will climate change affect the crisis?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: Water is interesting because it has the most value when you don't have it. If the climate becomes more extreme, some areas may have too much water and some areas will have too little.

Abha: What can people do to help conserve water?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: First, we can be much more careful on how much water we use. We have lots of ways that we could use less water and recycle the water we use.

Abha: What is the most important thing that you are working on?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: We are working on many important projects, but one that I am personally involved in is a research project on water management for the USEPA. The great thing about developing models like this is that it can help with decision making by projecting what might occur under various management alternatives. This system is designed to help people look at how to manage stormwater more effectively - just one of the ways that we can improve our water management systems.

Abha: What are some challenges you face concerning the water crisis?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: Our biggest challenge is trying to help the people that are affected by water shortages, and trying to help prevent an acute shortage or crisis in the future.

Abha: In reality, how bad do you think this crisis is?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: There are serious worries over water supplies in many parts of the world. In some critical areas lack of water can be a cause of conflict - essentially arguments over the ownership of water. However, there are many areas where long term planning can help to reduce the chance of a crisis

Abha: What could be a main cause of this problem?

Dr. Leslie Shoemaker: One of the causes for water problems is distribution - when water is not there when and where you need it. Some highly populated areas have too little water, in other areas there is too much water (such as floods), or we have wet and dry seasons and insufficient storage to last through the dry season. Water has the highest value to us when we don't have it - the struggle for us all is to plan ahead so that we will have enough when we need it.