“It’s my job to ensure that we
are sorting through the maze of
complex resource issues and
operating in a manner that our
stakeholders can support.”
—Lorri Lee, BSB/A ’97
Lorri Lee, BSB/A ’97
Director of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s
Lower Colorado Region,bringing water to
the desert Southwest and working to conserve
the unique habitat for generations to come.
Most of us don’t think much about where our water comes from. We just open the tap, and there it is ready to sustain us—and our lawns, dishes and laundry. But that’s not the case for Lorri Lee, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSB/A) ’97. In her role as regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (USBR) Lower Colorado Region, she works to ensure that citizens in three Western states get their fair share of water from the Lower Colorado River.
From entry level to executive
Today, Lee holds a high-profile position at the USBR, but when she began her career there 28 years ago, she was just another high school student working at the local A&W Restaurant. “A wonderful typing teacher saw potential in me and asked me if I was interested in applying for a job she knew about at the USBR,” Lee remembers. “The idea of working in an office was very appealing to me.”
Lee started her new career in the human resources department and rose through the ranks, gradually taking on more responsibilities. “When I started, I didn’t know what the USBR was all about, but I quickly learned that its mission is just phenomenal,” she says.
Bringing water to the Southwest
That mission, which impressed her as much in her teens as it does today, is to manage, develop and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public. Simply put, Lee’s office is responsible for the last 688 miles of the Colorado River, known as the Lower Colorado Region. When three states in the region—Arizona, California and Nevada—experienced disputes over rights to the water, the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court placed the Secretary of Interior in the role of water master for the lower Colorado River. “My office oversees and administers contracts for water on his behalf,” explains Lee. “We also maintain Hoover, Davis and Parker dams.”
Lee is relishing her current role, which she began in 2007. As director of a region that spans more than 200,000 square miles, she deals with a broad range of hot-button issues and a multitude of interested parties. “I am responsible for 840 employees in the region, the budget and our other resources,” she says. “It is my job to ensure we are sorting through the maze of complex resource issues and operating in a manner that our stakeholders can support.” Those stakeholders include the governments and citizens of three states and an array of non-government organizations in the United States and Mexico.
Although Lee found success at the USBR with only a high school diploma, she eventually realized that she wanted to earn a college degree to give her a higher level of confidence when she worked with engineers and other highly educated colleagues. “Once I completed my degree, I didn’t have to worry about someone second-guessing me,” says Lee. “My degree has opened doors for me that I wouldn’t have been allowed to walk through otherwise.”
New home development overlooking the shores of Lake Mead, approximately 11 million acre
feet of water, impounded by the Hoover Dam.
A message of conservation
For Lee and the USBR, water management goes beyond doling out the appropriate allotments to the right parties. It also is about protecting the endangered species and native habitats that are an intrinsic part of the Colorado River. “We have a 50-year program to address the needs of the native fish, birds and mammals along the Colorado,” says Lee. “To that end, we are working with our partners to create over 8,100 acres of new habitat for wildlife.”
Lee also is committed to fostering a sense of stewardship and responsibility in youth. “We all have a responsibility for our water and our environment, and we are doing a lot with our youth to make sure they understand the importance of this,” she says. “I think we are doing it better than we ever have, but we are not there yet. “Lee’s organization promotes math and sciences in the schools to prepare young people for future employment. “I want to help them understand the important jobs that are out there in public service where they can make a real difference,” she says.
Although Lee’s real reward is the fulfillment she gets from her role at USBR, she also has received accolades from her peers for her outstanding contributions. She has been honored with the Superior Service Award and the Meritorious Service Award—two of the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) highest honors for career employees. “DOI is an amazing organization,” she asserts. “They provide the resources that allow me to do important work and also say thank you for a job well done. I am very fortunate.”
For more information,visit www.usbr.gov/facts.html.