Women of Impact: Sharon Megdal

Oct. 19, 2023
Sharon Megdal

After directing the Water Resources Research Center for nearly two decades, Sharon Megdal was recognized by the Office of Research, Innovation and Impact for her influence on the water policy industry in Arizona and beyond.

Once an economist, studying and teaching topics like tax regulations, Sharon Megdal found a passion and a divergent career path in the business of water. Now, after several decades of working in and researching water policy, she is a 2023 recipient of the Women of Impact award from the University of Arizona.

Megdal earned her PhD in economics from Princeton University and subsequently started her career as a professor of economics at UArizona. However, her career trajectory would pivot with her appointment to the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), where she was first introduced to the world of water policy.

“Being appointed to the Arizona Corporation Commission was a turning point,” Megdal said. “After the appointment, I was away from the University for 15 years and in that time, I was reincarnated as a water person.”

During those 15 years, Megdal served many roles, including commissioner of the ACC and executive director of the Santa Cruz Valley Water District. Gaining years of water policy experience, she returned to UArizona when the Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) hired her to serve as the associate director.

The WRRC conducts water policy research and analysis with the College of Agriculture, Life, and Environmental Sciences, and is a Cooperative Extension center that disseminates their findings through publications, conferences, lectures, and seminars. Megdal became director of the WRRC in 2004 and continues to serve this role in 2023.

In addition to her administrative role in WRRC, Megdal is also a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, a mentor to graduate student researchers, and serves on multiple boards, including UArizona’s Presidential Advisory Commission on the Future of Agriculture and Food Production in a Drying Climate.

While Megdal is taking on an extensive list of responsibilities, she doesn’t see it as overly cumbersome. 

“Water is my passion, so I work hard and often long hours,” Megdal said, “but I like to describe it as too much of a good thing.”

As a culmination of decades of work in water policy, Megdal was recognized as a 2023 Women of Impact awardee, a nomination supported with testimonials from several of her peers throughout the state.

The Women of Impact award, given by the Office of Research, Innovation and Impact, annually recognizes 30 remarkable faculty and staff who have significantly contributed to UArizona’s missions as a top-tier research institute and community-serving university.

Across the board, her peers referenced Megdal’s knack for mentoring students and her willingness to put the needs of others before her own to bring effective change to the industry. One testimonial was from Leslie Meyers, chief water executive for the Salt River Project, who is responsible for providing water to over a million Arizonans.

“Sharon’s recognized not just locally and nationally, but internationally for her ability to bring diverse groups of people together to create a common understanding, drive innovation and get real world solutions on the ground,” Meyers said.

But when asked about her collection of career accomplishments, awards, and titles, Megdal said she is most proud of her impact on others in the state and at the University.

“Sometimes people thank me for what I am doing, and in that moment I am proud that I am able to contribute to the general understanding of what is going on in the water picture,” Megdal said. “I am lucky to work with many different people, including students. I am proud I can mentor and educate them as they start their careers.”

All 30 Women of Impact will be recognized at the awards celebration at the end of October, where, for the first time, there will be Young Women of Impact honorees alongside them.