Water, Water, Everywhere

Childhood fun unwittingly inspired law professor Lara Fowler’s passion for water as a public good.

Sea kayaks on beach in Mexico

Lara Fowler grew up “messing around on the water—on boats, kayaks, and on a hand-built fiberglass canoe that we’d go out on for crazy trips.” Those enjoyable times gave her both comfort with and respect for water. Her father worked for the Union Pacific Railroad and was often posted to remote locations—Idaho, Wyoming—so Fowler experienced bodies of water most people haven’t seen.

Fowler serves on the faculty of both Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, focusing on environmental, energy, and natural resource law. At the end of her freshman year at Dartmouth, she took a class on water resource management and wrote a paper on the evolution of Native American water rights; it became her senior thesis and granted her a minor in water resource management. She still didn’t know, though, that after graduation and a string of different jobs—babysitting, teaching Japanese at a community college, hanging clothes at the Salvation Army—she’d be working as a water resources coordinator with the Oregon Water Resources Department.

That part of Fowler’s career taught her a great deal about the historical and cultural significance of water and its importance to the livelihood of indigenous people. It also made her acutely aware of water as a public good, a human right as designated by the United Nations. “This conversation is so much more important in the context of climate change,” she says. “We don’t know how our systems are going to handle the impact on water in the future, but we can use people’s love of water to find common ground, to involve conservationists, engineers, artists, and poets to further this holistic idea of water.”

As her father took her, Fowler often takes her children out kayaking and canoeing. And last spring, she, her kids, and many of her students spent hours on Spring Creek in Centre County, pulling out invasive leaves and clearing the stream of grapevines.  —SI

Fowler family

Lara Fowler in kayak
Down to the Waterline
Lara Fowler spent childhood vacations in her family’s hand-built canoe and
has kayaked in rivers from Baja, Mexico to Central Pennsylvania.