James S. Famiglietti directs the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling and is a professor of earth system science and civil and environmental engineering at UC Irvine. In 2012, he gave 50 lectures all over the world on water while serving as the Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lecturer of the Geological Society of America. Before participating in a panel on our struggles to survive the water wars, he explained his strategy for getting people comfortable with the idea of drinking sewage in the Zócalo green room.
What weapon would you choose in a zombie apocalypse?
I’m thinking some kind of spear. Don’t ask me why.
What dessert do you find impossible to refuse?
A hot fudge sundae. Actually it’s a long list, but that one’s at the top.
You delivered 50 lectures on water in a year. What was the most difficult part?
The most difficult part was the travel and keeping up the energy level and the enthusiasm. You do begin to understand what it’s like to be a public figure, a musician or some kind of performer who had to go out every night. It was kind of like that. I definitely had my highs and my lows.
What question did you get asked most often?
Can we really run out of water?
What’s the greatest example of man-designed hydrology you’ve seen on the planet?
I guess the Three Gorges reservoir and dam. It’s a monstrous reservoir in China, about a mile wide. So in terms of water management, that’s probably number one of the things that I’ve seen.
Where do you come up with your best ideas?
Either in the shower or overnight, when I’m sleeping. When I’m not trying.
What’s the last habit you tried to kick?
Drinking coffee. Failed miserably.
How do you respond to people who are disgusted by the idea of drinking sewage?
We’re already drinking sewage! I say it in a nice way, though. With our surface water, that’s what we do. The town that’s the furthest upstream has the cleanest water—they use it, they treat it, they put it back, and it’s a little dirtier for the next town downstream.
What relaxes you?
Playing music—piano and guitar.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be yourself. Simple. Short and sweet.