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U students take first place at a regional public policy challenge aimed at finding solutions for an affordable and sustainable water supply.

By Melinda Rogers, University of Utah Communications Specialist

For those living in the west, concern over droughts and a scarcity of water in the future are issues on the minds of many. But supplying an adequate and affordable supply of drinking water to citizens isn’t a quandary limited to Utah: across the U.S., communities are assessing how to handle what’s emerging as an important public policy question —how to deliver drinking water while balancing a variety of economic, water quality and political considerations in the process.

A group of University of Utah students took on the challenge of finding answers to those questions recently through participating in the third annual Policy Solutions Challenge, a national competition between teams of students studying public policy, public affairs and public administration. Teams work together for several months to research solutions and draft proposals on a specific public policy problem in the U.S., which culminates in a competition where a panel of judges evaluate the solutions based off of students’ research papers and a live 15-minute presentation from the teams.

Water Policy TeamAt the western regional competition hosted at the University of Utah earlier this month, U students Christopher Collard, Gavin Noyes, Tyler Murdock and Liz Larsen earned top honors for their multi-pronged approach to creating policy solutions designed to mitigate the potential for a water crisis in the U.S. The team proposed to increase collaborative regional planning, including the establishment of water markets; to improve investment in watershed programs and to expand urban efficiency and conservation policies.

Such solutions would help to secure an adequate and affordable water supply at a time when many regions of the U.S. face challenges to freshwater drinking supplies as a result of global climate change, population growth, aging infrastructure, pollution and a variety of other risk factors, the U students asserted at the competition.

Their proposal —judged in the final round by Wayne Pullan, area manager with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Jeff Niermeyer, director of Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities; and Tim Bardsley, research integration specialist at Western Water Assessment funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—beat out other teams from the University of Oregon and University of Southern California.

“The students’ victory is a big deal because it shows that we have a quality public policy and public administration programs at our university. Our students are being taught skills to deal with very complex, current problems in our society,” said Cathy Chambless, advisor to the team of U students. “It’s a positive recognition of our students’ skills.”

Following their victory at the regional championship, the students will now advance to the national Policy Solutions Challenge in Washington D.C. on March 20 and March 21, where they’ll compete for a national title.

The experience of participating in the competition was both rewarding and educational, said Liz Larsen, a student in the U’s Executive MPA program.

“It was a really rewarding experience and an honor to represent the U,” said Larsen. “The challenge gave us an opportunity to pull together many of the different concepts we have been concentrating on in our respective public policy and public administration programs and apply them to a current policy issue. “

To learn more about the Policy Solutions Challenge, visit


Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. Got a story idea for her about interesting events going on campus? E-mail