"Hey, this is a good conference! Frank Titus is speaking!"
That brief email (with enclosed link), sent by me on 14 November 2005, announced the 2006 New Mexico Xeriscape Conference, at which hydrogeologist Frank Titus was speaking. I have good friend and colleague John Hawley, electronic packrat that he is, to thank for saving it and sending to me a few days ago. John mentioned Frank's involvement with the 1960s 'hydrogeology mafia' (my term, not John's) at the University of Illinois and Illinois State Geological Survey.
John said that my email reminded him of my close ties with Frank. And Frank was one of the ones who piqued my interest in water planning and management, an interest that did nothing but grow since those exciting days in Albuquerque from about the mid-1990s to 2006.
Why all this fuss about Frank Titus?
He died on 21 December 2013 at age 85.
John Fleck wrote a wonderful retrospective of Frank's New Mexico career in which friend and colleague Bruce Thomson referred to Frank as "sort of the conscience of the water community". Bruce nailed it.
My experience with Frank dates from about the early to mid-1990s, when concern over the (ground)water supply in the Middle Rio Grande Basin (MRGB = greater Albuquerque area) was gathering momentum. Much of this concern crystallized after a seminal 1992 study by the aforementioned John Hawley and Steve Haase that painted a more realistic picture of the MRGB's groundwater reservoir, far from the vision embraced by Chamber of Commerce types. No longer did we have Lake Superior beneath our feet; maybe Lake St. Clair.
Regional water planning mandated by the State of New Mexico was in the offing in the early to mid-1990s At that time I was not involved in this effort, but Frank and a number of others were promoting and organizing planning efforts. Soon I was brought in, not because of my expertise, but because the organizers wanted an institution to serve as an 'honest broker'. The University of New Mexico was the logical (only?) choice and, more importantly, could provide free meeting space. As director of the UNM"s Water Resources Program and ersatz 'Water Czar' I became the liaison between the MRGB 'inner water planning circle' and UNM.
A small group of us met frequently in the winter, spring, and early summer of 1997. The group's regulars were Frank, F. Lee Brown (the 'Southern gentleman' UNM economist), Michele Minnis (UNM psychologist and communications expert), Chris Nunn (water economist and planner), and I. Steve Hansen of the USBR was initially involved but then he was transferred. I am sure I'm omitting one or two others.
What did our group do? We talked about mobilizing support for the MRGB planning process; identifying key stakeholders, pitfalls, and issues; raising money; convening an assembly; etc. I recall writing a full-page ad for one of the local papers - you know, the kind with the names of a zillion A-listers, saying how they supported MRGB water planning, Mom, apple pie, chile rellenos, etc. I recall taking flak because some A-listers were not listed and some B-listers were. Go figure!
I had not worked with Frank until this working group. I had known him by his hydrogeological reputation and had met him on a few occasions. But here we were in a small room thrashing out water issues and the best way to do things. I admired the way in which he worked: he was insightful, pulled no punches, and told it like it was. I did not agree with everything he said, nor did the others, and at times, heated discussion ensued and Frank became a bit heavy-handed. But I am convinced we crafted a better approach to the planning process because of his presence and contributions.
We held our first Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly in the summer of 1997 on the UNM campus.
I stayed involved with the MRGB planning process for just a few years after that. But I still kept in touch with Frank. We both served on a City of Albuquerque water advisory committee for a few years. One night we arrived together and I saw him exiting his vintage British roadster (MGB or Triumph?). I was driving my red Mazda Miata (Japanese faux British roadster) so we bonded even more after that, although Frank gave me grief for not owning a real British roadster. I countered by claiming poverty, that I could not afford the optional mechanic available with all British roadsters.
I left New Mexico for the wetter climes of western Oregon in late spring 2006. Frank continued to work hard on MRGB water issues, especially on the regional water budget, which he was revising at the time of his death. Doesn't surprise me; that's the way I would like to go as well. But I'm unsure that anyone would want me to do a water budget at age 85.
Frank not only made me made me a better WaterWonk, but also a better person as well. I suspect many others could say that.
I know where Frank is now, and he's no doubt organizing a water assessment and devising a planning process. And he's not pulling any punches.
Come to think of it, delete that 'sort of' from this post's title.
“There is no source of water available to us outside of the supply we now have so we’ve got to learn to live with what we’ve got.” - Frank Titus, 1997 Water Assembly, quoted in the Albuquerque Journal