Class Notes Profile: Water Expert
When The New York Times and The Washington Post reported on an alarming study detailing global water shortages, they quoted a U of I graduate whose degree is in … economics.
For Betsy Otto, ’82 LAS, it showed the value of a liberal arts education, and how a person can start her career as a business consultant and become an international environmental leader.
Otto is global director for water at the Washington, D.C.–based World Resources Institute, where she consults with governments, businesses and others on water management—including whether scientists can harvest fog to secure the world’s water supply.
The Times and The Post reported in August 2019 on a study by the institute that said one-quarter of humanity faces looming water crises; 17 countries around the world are under extremely high water stress, meaning they are using almost all the water they have. And pockets in several U.S. states are draining their limited water supplies.
“I worked for a number of years in business, which I really enjoyed, but I felt a real hunger to do something more mission-driven, that spoke to my passions, the environment being one of those,” Otto says.
She notes that overuse of groundwater supplies poses a major threat throughout the world and that is being exacerbated by climate change, which brings more drought. But individuals can make a difference, Otto says, by asking their elected officials for better stewardship of the environment and by taking steps such as eating less beef.
“I think we’ve come to the point of kind of taking clean water for granted in this country,” she says, “and we can’t afford to do that.”