Many people never think twice about where water comes from - it falls from the sky, it is easily available through any faucet, and it covers 71% of the globe. It seems a nearly infinite resource.
Chris Bromley '97 knows it's not - and as a water rights attorney, it's his job to help individuals and businesses find the balance of the many demands on water.
Bromley has carried a lifelong interest in water use and availability.
"I was born and raised in Colorado, in an arid western state where irrigation is required for anything really to grow," said Bromley, who earned a degree in politics from Whitman and a Juris Doctor from Gonzaga University School of Law. "There are a lot of people, when I tell them I'm a water rights attorney, they just look at me like, ‘What? What are you talking about?' But there's a growing awareness of the importance of water - we can't live without it. It's really a finite resource. And we have a growing population, and growing needs - you have to make it work. That's where water attorneys and engineers come in. We try to figure out how to help people make it work."
Among the clients Bromley has assisted in navigating water needs is Bogus Basin Recreation Area near Boise, Idaho. This year, for the first time the ski resort is running 24 machines making snow on the mountain, the culmination of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar effort to build a holding pond to capture water. Bromley was key to the effort.
"I scratched my head about Bogus and water rights and snow making for 10 to 15 years," said Bromley, who loves skiing and was on the varsity ski team while attending Whitman. "I would go ski at Bogus and ride around on the chairs and notice that there was no snowmaking, even though there were pipes on the ground. I could never figure out why it wasn't being used."
At the time, Bromley was a deputy attorney general for the Idaho Department of Water Resources. He discovered the resort had previously considered drilling a well to access underground water sources for snowmaking, but the geology wasn't right. But Bromley knew there was an easier way to access water.
"What surprised me was that nobody had looked at it from capturing surface water. I'd mountain bike in the summer and ski in the winter, and I could hear water all over the place up there," he said.
He approached General Manager Brad Wilson, and eventually worked with Bogus to create a plan to create ponds to capture runoff and surface water and store it for winter snowmaking. By then, Bromley was a founding member of McHugh Bromley, PLLC, and was able to help Bogus negotiate the water rights.
Given that water is a finite resource, it may seem a waste to capture it for use by a ski resort. But it actually has advantages beyond the economic boost the ski area sees from having more consistent snow coverage.
"You have snow on the mountains, and it melts in a big hurry in April, May, June," Bromley said. "That's water that is going to flow out of the basin without being used - nobody is going to benefit from it. So Bogus is able to capture it when it's not needed for downstream use."
The snowmaking machines put the water back on the mountain in a crystalized form. The machine-made snow forms a dense base that melts slowly in the spring, creating a slower runoff, which can help downstream farmers who need more water later in the growing season.
Being able to understand the science behind hydrology and geology is a big benefit for Bromley, and something he credits the broad-based education he received at Whitman for providing.
"You get exposed to all sorts of different classes at Whitman. Water law involves history, politics, religion, science, math, law, policy, .... it involves everything," he said. "A liberal arts college exposes you to how do scientists think, how do politics majors think, how do the sociology majors think? You learn all of that."
Students interested in water usage can pursue many fields, including law, engineering, hydrology, politics or nonprofit work. Hydroelectric power is an increasing issue as governments look for renewable clean energy sources but also balance water usage, fish migrations and other issues.
"Ultimately, if you want to get into the career, you have to be able to understand, ‘OK, what do the hydrologists see? What do the engineers see? What do the policymakers see? You have to be able to understand all that to come up with good solutions," Bromley said. "That's the benefit of a liberal arts college - it exposes you to all these things. It educates you on the way that different people think, and it doesn't track you into a particular academic path. I see that benefiting me every day."