Featured Member: Barbara Johnson

Job Title and Employer:

PhD Student in Natural Resources and Sustainability, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of   Alaska Fairbanks

Professional Background:

Barbara Johnson is an economist with over five years of consulting and research experience in Alaska. She received her MSc in Resource and Applied Economics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2016 . She is currently working on her PhD, researching the economics of water service provisions in rural Alaska. Barbara’s research covers a myriad of topics that include polycentric decision-making, risk management throughout the lifecycle of infrastructure, and data disaggregation and learning about rural Alaska’s many perspectives.

Barbara enjoys applying economic models to multicultural settings, which necessitates identifying the bias and limitations of these models. Barbara also shares her passion for water economics by mentoring undergraduate students and teaching university level courses. This summer, she really enjoyed developing and teaching "Introduction to Applied Economics - the Economics of Rural Alaskan Water Infrastructure", at Outer Coast College. She is now exploring how to offer this course again, and to a wider audience.

An Interesting Project She Recently Worked On:

In June, Barbara completed the development of an affordability framework to determine the affordability of residential water and sewer rates across rural Alaska. This affordability framework was commissioned in 2015 by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) Village Safe Water Program (VSW).

Broadly defined, affordable residential rates are rates that residential users are able to pay without giving up other essentials goods and services. Setting affordable rates is key to ensuring long-term access to water and sewer services as households that cannot afford local utility rates will stop paying, and will likely get disconnected. Unaffordable rates impact the ability of households to access water and sewer services, and hinder the utility’s ability to cover their overhead and maintenance costs as disconnecting customers results in a smaller customer base. Barbara developed the first iteration of the framework for her master's thesis in 2016.

In 2018, Barbara was hired by VSW as a contractor to finalize the framework. During this second stage, the framework's findings were validated through community meetings and interviews in 13 randomly selected villages across Alaska. During these trips, Barbara learned about the challenges rural utilities face, and some of the ingenious ways local governments have devised to address them. Barbara is thankful to the Tribal and City governments, water and wastewater operators and other interested parties who helped refine the framework.

This framework is now used by ADEC in combination with other criteria to determine eligibility and funding levels for proposed sanitation infrastructure improvement funding for rural communities, including improvement grants from the VSW Infrastructure Protection Funding Program and micro-loans through the State Revolving Fund (SRF) Program.

Barbara has also been instrumental in the effort to design and implement AWWMA's new membership management system and website. Please take some time to look around and provide feedback! 

Reason for Joining AWWMA and How Membership has Benefited:

Barbara joined AWWMA to connect with people working in Alaska in the fields of water and wastewater provision. Alaska is a large state, and AWWMA provides many opportunities to connect with people across the state, such as at the annual conference, during young professional events and through volunteering opportunities. Last summer, Barbara joined the AWWMA Board of Directors as Membership Chair. In this role, she checks in with existing members, and welcomes new members to our community. She is always on the lookout for new ideas to better serve our members, so if you have any, or would like to volunteer, please reach out to her. Barbara has also enjoyed helping redesign the AWWMA website, ponder new features for our newsletter (don't hesitate to send us your submissions) and, her favorite, post water related word puns to our Facebook page.

Submission Form for the AWWMA Newsletter

Click here to submit features or nominate someone to be highlighted in the AWWMA newsletter. We look forward to sharing your work and words in upcoming letters!

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