Current, Future Water Security Challenges Explored during September Alumni Hour

Increasing challenges and conflict over access to the essential resource of water in a climate change-driven world will have a major impact on our nation’s homeland security enterprise, according to an expert panel during the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s September Alumni Hour. 

Clockwise from top left: Tom Mackin, Chris Vicino, Michael Larranaga, and Katelin Wright

Led by CHDS instructor and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Prof. Thomas Mackin, who served as moderator, the alumni panel included R.E.M. Risk Consultants Managing Principal Michael Larranaga, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Director of Security Services and Emergency Management Chris Vicino, and Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Senior Immigration Services Officer Katelin Wright. 

After introducing the panelists and noting the diversity of their expertise, Mackin said the panel would help CHDS alumni attendees understand what threatens the security of our water systems, why it matters to all of us particularly with regard to the water-energy-food nexus and how we are so intimately interdependent, and how water security differs from more traditional security concerns, including how we must adapt our systems to the threat posed by climate change.  

During the online event, the panel discussed everything from the intrinsic necessity of water despite Mackin commenting that “people take water for granted,” and existing limitations on access to the resource in certain parts of the world, including drought-stricken California and the American West, to the battle over water between corporate interests and the general public, and the widely anticipated climate-driven migration and legal battles over water now and in the next quarter century. 

Wright (Master’s Program cohort 1901/1902), whose CHDS Master’s thesis entitled, “The Perfect Storm: Environmental-Induced Migration to the United States” (2020) won the Outstanding Thesis Award, noted that by the year 2050 hundreds of millions of people are expected to be internally displaced by the effects of climate change including as a result of water security issues. She also noted the interconnected nature of water, energy, and food, as well as the increasing future demand for all three that could become a serious point of contention.  

And she cautioned that whether it is water security or climate security, the consequences of a warming world will affect all our lives both personally and professionally. 

As for potential solutions and the challenges inherent in finding them, Mackin pointed out that here in Monterey County, CA, where the Naval Postgraduate School is located, local residents have been at odds for years over a proposed desalination plant project, largely due to the expense of such a project, while the panel noted that desal may be one of the only real ways to create new potable water supplies in the future. 

In conclusion, the panel argued that collaboration among all stakeholders will be necessary to reach any solution, including saving water to the maximum extent possible. At the same time, the panel also sounded a note of optimism that the younger generations seem more environmentally aware so there could be hope for the future.

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment |, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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