Written by The Business Journal Staff
David Zoldoske, Director
Center for Irrigation Technology, California State University, Fresno
What we do:
Created in 1980, CIT is internationally recognized as an independent testing laboratory, applied research facility and educational resource
B.S. ag business, M.S. ag economics and EdD educational leadership
Wife: Danae, three children
How did you get involved in the irrigation industry, David?
I was looking for a thesis topic for my Master’s degree and ended up doing a study for Pacific Gas & Electric on the economics of high and low pressure sprinklers used in agriculture.
What made you decide to focus on water research, David?
I worked as a research assistant while attending Fresno State and then successfully applied for a job as a research technician at CIT when it became available.
What is the goal of your work with the Center for Irrigation Technology, David?
One main goal is to improve water and energy efficiency in irrigation.
You’ve been the CIT director for more than two decades now. How has your work changed over the years?
We started with a small staff of three, focused on irrigation product testing and field research. We now have a staff of over 20, plus a number of faculty and student research assistants. Our research now covers many areas including salinity management, pumping efficiency and water policy, among other topics. In 2015, CIT provided educational seminars and workshops to approximately 4,000 individuals. So the short answer is the size and scope of the program has expanded significantly. The annual budget has grown from around $250,000 per year to $4 million.
How has the drought affected your work, David?
The drought has caused a lot more people to be interested in water management and more funding has become available to provide educational seminars and workshops to address this need.
You were recently named the executive director of water initiatives at Fresno State. What exactly does that new title entail?
President Castro established a “Water Task Force” in October of 2014. In the spring of 2015, the Water Task Force submitted its report to President Castro. In November of 2015, Dr. Castro appointed me as the executive director of Water Initiatives. A main focus of this appointment is to carry out the recommendations of the Task Force report, which includes “redefining Fresno State as a recognized leader in the area of water technology, water resource management, and policy.”
What kind of water initiatives do you hope to implement at the university, David?
The first order of business will be to develop a strategic plan for water at Fresno State — the process will include input from university and community based stakeholders. Hopefully, the product will reflect the collective needs and vision of the region.
Is this a unique position within the California State University system?
We believe that having water as part of Fresno State’s DNA will be a first in California’s university system.
Why is it important for Fresno to be a leader on water issues, David?
The San Joaquin Valley economic base is dependent on water. A significant amount of water is imported from outside the Valley. Many jobs in our region are directly or indirectly connected to the availability of water.
What is behind the idea of the BlueTech Valley?
BlueTech Valley is an effort to label our region, to be something like the Silicon Valley of water technology. We have over 200 companies locally in water technology. We live in a desert, so it makes sense that companies would locate here to improve our water use efficiency.
What kind of partners do you have for this initiative, David?
We have a BlueTech Valley committee, which consists of farmers, manufacturers, bankers, and others in the region who want help with branding the region through activities like water conferences that bring technology and educational venues to our region.
Fresno State is host to a number of water research initiatives. How are you trying to build awareness for that work within the community?
We have a lot going on, including efforts to incubate companies in water and clean energy. The idea is to promote ideas that solve Valley water problems and develop successful businesses around these activities. We are active in facilitating ordinances and policy for water throughout the San Joaquin Valley. We work closely with many of the county governments. We have also started a serious effort in addressing the needs of Disadvantage Communities, or DACs. There are a number of these DACs in our immediate region that lack access to clean drinking water. We hope to improve both the navigation and awareness of our water efforts by making the California Water Institute the front door for all things water at Fresno State. The new office for the CWI will be located in the Jordan Research building currently under construction.
What has been the biggest challenge faced by CIT, David?
An ongoing challenge is to figure out what are our priorities and trying to match funding to help meet the challenge. We are largely a grant- and contract-funded organization, so we retain the right to go broke if we guess wrong.
What has been your proudest accomplishment, David?
Certainly one area of accomplishment is to see some of the many hundreds of students who have worked or been involved at CIT since 1980 out in the real world. Some now work for government agencies, some work for or have their own business, while others are now teaching at the high school and college level.
What professional goals would you still like to accomplish, David?
I certainly want to help achieve the President’s goal of making water part of Fresno State’s DNA. It would be great if every incoming freshman could take a class about water in society. Where did that water come from in the kitchen faucet? I doubt many would be able to tell you about the long journey before entering the pipes at their home.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it, David?
One of the jobs that I worked to put myself through Fresno State was as a gold miner. We worked taking gold out of gravel mines (mostly located around rivers) up and down California. We worked hard, never knowing when the effort would pay-off by hitting a gold streak in a gravel pit. It is similar in a way to CIT’s grant writing efforts, we never know which one will be funded.
Who has been a mentor for you and what did you learn from him/her?
Certainly my boss in the gold business showed me when working smart and hard you could accomplish an amazing amount of work. At CIT, the two previous directors whom I worked for taught me the technical and engineering side of water that was invaluable to my future success.
What do you like to do in your spare time, David?
I like to work with my hands, which is NOT part of my day-to-day job at CIT. So my project the last couple of years has been restoring a 25-foot cabin cruiser. My wife noted that I have fixed everything, so it must be time to take the boat out on the water. I am looking forward to lots of hours of boating in my future.