Welcome Richael Young!

Richael joined Sustainable Conservation in 2024 as the team’s Senior Director of the Water for the Future program. With a background in economics, engineering, and entrepreneurship, Richael brings complementary skills for water resources management and policy. Richael’s career has been guided by her values of stewardship, excellence, and trust. She is passionate about driving impact in water sustainability and proud of her track record implementing trusted water policies and technologies across the U.S. West. 

Before joining Sustainable Conservation, Richael was CEO and cofounder of Mammoth Water, a company that developed software for water accounting and water trading. Richael has consulted on the design of demand management programs across the U.S. West, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Washington, and Wyoming. Following Mammoth’s acquisition, Richael served as a senior economist at ERA Economics, where she supported water agencies, environmental nonprofits, and agribusinesses with designing and evaluating cost-effective water policies and projects. Richael has presented her work at the White House Water Summit, Stockholm World Water Week, Techstars Sustainability Accelerator in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, and the Imagine H2O and Milken Institute’s California Water Policy and Innovation Challenge. 

We’re in between storm systems in Northern California right now. In preparation for upcoming rain, what’s your favorite rainy day activity?

“As a kid I really loved puddle jumping — I suppose I’ve always loved to play in water. These days, I typically like to spend my rainy days indoors, playing board games with my husband. I also love doing some “windshield reconnaissance” a couple days after a big rain event to drive around and see the effects of storms, whether it’s flooding or just seeing rivers and creeks swell up. I think that’s such a special way to see your neighborhood or community transform. In particular, some of my fondest memories are just from a few years ago — my parents have a ranch in Tucson where they recently had a big monsoon season. It was magical to see how much flooding was on the property and the wildlife response to it.”

What is your role and general responsibilities at Sustainable Conservation?

“As the Senior Director of the Water for the Future program, I feel very fortunate that I’m leading a well-established team at Sustainable Conservation. The Water for the Future team is tackling some of the most complex challenges facing California as we confront a flashier climate with both wetter and drier years. My job is to provide strategic guidance and to support the team in ensuring that we deliver on very ambitious water goals.”

Last fall, we connected our organization’s programs through the underlying thread of water sustainability in Our Watershed Moment campaign. How does your role contribute to the cross-program mission of the organization?

“In California, water touches everything. It’s more than the water in our home. It’s the food we eat and the clothes we wear. It’s both our economic engine and our playground. And it’s not just ours — we share it with diverse ecosystems and species in California. It is such an important resource that touches on these various aspects of our way of life. It’s integral in how we think about these other areas of Sustainable Conservation’s work with having healthy soils, with restoring habitat, and with how we support water quality goals and nutrient management in our dairies and broader agricultural ecosystems. Water touches all these different aspects of Sustainable Conservation’s work, and so my role is to identify the water linkages and work with the other teams to advance holistic approaches.”

What attracted you to the role and the work?

“I have long admired Sustainable Conservation’s work and in particular its efforts to work in collaboration with, and not in opposition to, a number of different stakeholders. We collaborate with growers, conservationists, and policymakers to advance California’s water policy. I think the organization sits in a unique position to do what other interest groups cannot, which is to develop practical and science-based policy that we can further help to implement. That practice-to-policy work is especially exciting and fulfilling to me — that approach is ultimately what drew me to this role at Sustainable Conservation.”

Why are you personally motivated to help pursue a sustainable California water future?

“I grew up in California, and I think most Californians have a water awareness. I remember a drought when I was a kid, and my teacher telling me that there wasn’t enough water for all uses. In particular, we might see fish kills because there wasn’t enough water for both human and environmental needs. As a kid, I was absolutely terrified at the thought of fish dying because they didn’t have enough water. I ran home, grabbed the hose in our front yard, and dragged it out to our street where there was a storm drain. There was this placard on top of the storm drain with a picture of a fish that said, “No dumping, drains to bay.” I was certain that I was helping to share my water with fish, so I turned on the hose full blast in hopes that I would prevent a fish kill. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was totally wasting water in my efforts to help. But I’ve long had this sense of wanting to make sure that all of our needs are met and live in a way that we can be good stewards. I hope to be proud of the work I do in my career and make our state not only a water secure place for humans, but for wildlife too.”

Can you talk about your professional path before Sustainable Conservation?

“I previously worked in the private sector as an economist and entrepreneur. Out of graduate school, I cofounded and was CEO for Mammoth Water, a company that developed sophisticated water markets and water accounting software. Mammoth’s technologies helped growers stay in compliance with highly regulated water rights. After Mammoth was acquired, I joined ERA Economics as a senior economist, where I helped a number of agribusinesses, nonprofits, and water managers with program development, technical analyses, and water risk assessments.”

What about your specific professional experience aligns closely with Sustainable Conservation’s work, and how does your experience bring a unique background to the team?

“I have a range of experience in working on the ground with farmers, water managers, and environmentalists to create water markets that work for those communities. These markets have to be highly customized to that specific place. That’s a central theme in water management work—that it needs to be really thoughtful about the local context and works for the set of social, economic, and environmental needs that that area faces. That experience is very aligned with how Sustainable Conservation also thinks about its water work and wanting to make sure we don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

I do think my entrepreneurship background is something unique that I bring to the team. What I loved about working in a startup company and being an entrepreneur was taking the perspective of customer discovery, where you’re trying to understand stakeholders’ pain points, what keeps them up at night, what challenges they’re facing on the ground, and learning how to find solutions or create value for them. That’s something that will be important as we transition to sustainable groundwater management, is thinking about the pain points that our different stakeholder groups are facing, and how we can bring that lens of problem solving and creating new opportunities from these challenges. I’m very excited about integrating this perspective into my new role.”

What upcoming program, initiative, or partnership are you most excited to get working on?

“I think there are a couple that are especially exciting to me. The first is the multi-benefit land repurposing programs that we’re working on. There are so many great opportunities for land repurposing; we’ve got a big challenge in transitioning to sustainable groundwater management that means a lot of acres will need to come out of agricultural production. It’s a huge challenge, but it’s also a unique opportunity in terms of landscape-level land use planning. My hope is that we can make the most of this opportunity in a way that’s good for our climate goals, good for ecosystems, and minimizes impacts to the local economies.

I’m also really excited about our groundwater recharge work and taking some of the lessons we have learned at pilot scales and identifying the challenges and opportunities to scaling up. I’m hopeful we can create an iterative process for identifying what’s happening on the ground, how we can scale it, and how we can target recharge to be most impactful. I’ll also be on the lookout for what support is needed at the state level to make this work more efficient and functional for water districts and growers, and how we can use tools like incentives to increase participation in recharge.”

What do you like to do when you’re not pursuing a secure California water future?

“Outside of work, you can typically find me spending time with my incredible husband Zach. We enjoy camping, playing board games, golfing, and cheering for the Golden State Warriors. I also like to say I’m on a mission to meet as many cats as possible in my lifetime. I love to go on walks and meet the neighborhood cats and just check out all the cool trees and architecture on the journey as well.”

We believe in the power of relationships to reveal creative strategies that protect the natural resources on which we all depend. Let’s explore new ways to stick together in support of a healthy California. Connect with us!