06 January 2010

Farewell to an Icon: "Southwest Hydrology" suspends publication

The January/February 2010 issue of Southwest Hydrology, published at the University of Arizona, has announced that it will suspend publication for the indefinite future. A short message to readers by the SAHRA Associate Director for Knowledge Transfer, Gary Woodard, stated:
"Publication of Southwest Hydrology is being suspended following this issue in part because of the nationwide recession and because funding from the National Science Foundation, which covered the gap between revenues and expenses, ceased in December.

The end of NSF support is no surprise; Southwest Hydrology began planning for it nearly three years ago by reducing expenses, boosting ad revenues to all-time highs, soliciting sponsorships, and hosting symposia and workshops. Unfortunately, the revenue gap persists.

SAHRA, the umbrella organization for Southwest Hydrology, is not giving up on the publication. I believe it’s been the most effective knowledge transfer effort that SAHRA has produced, in large part due to the dedication, leadership, and incredible effort of Betsy Woodhouse..."
I work right next-door to Betsy, as well as several others who have contributed to her work as Publisher, and I believe that Gary understated that effort by a wide margin. (I work with Gary too, by the way.) Southwest Hydrology is a unique publication in both scope and quality. It is a blend of science and applications, academic research and commercial trade, journal and magazine. It addresses what is quite possibly the most underappreciated niche market in the entire country: water users. That's everybody! Southwest Hydrology covers this essential topic over a wide region that is home to about a fifth of the national population, and it is the only publication to do so anywhere in the country (to the best of my knowledge). And it's FREE!

This is not necessarily the end of SAHRA itself, but 2009 marked the official end of the second cycle of 5-year NSF funding for the Science and Technology Center (STC) at the University of Arizona. In ten years of overall NSF funding, Southwest Hydrology published nine annual volumes with Betsy at the helm; that says a great deal on its own for the dedication of the SAHRA staff and the eagerness of the hydrology and water resources community in the southwestern U.S. for this kind of material and media outlet. Aside from the requisite website, Southwest Hydrology served as the flagship publication of the NSF STC for Sustainability of semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (read the caps for SAHRA's acronym), moving academic work and technological advances into the public realm. That's the knowledge transfer that Gary mentioned (and has in his title): public engagement and provision of expertise and guidance for decision-makers at all levels of society, from the gardener who wants to know if their citrus trees need a frost blanket tonight, to the homeowner who wants to learn how to recycle their roof runoff into their irrigation needs, to the state regulators that need local input on water allocation and policies, to the federal agencies who need a direct pipeline to what is new and exciting in water research and marketing at the academic and local commercial levels.

There is a brief "SWH HydroFacts" part of every issue of Southwest Hydrology, and this last issue lists some notable achievements of the publication as gathered by Gary Woodard:

The number of issues, published at a quarterly rate in the first volume and bi-monthly after that, certainly established both the longevity of the publication as well as credibility in the essential and important topics covered. Each issue had an individual theme on which many of the feature articles were oriented, and no theme was duplicated over the entire 9-year run of Southwest Hydrology. You can check out the complete archive of issues and topics addressed, in full digital glory and for free, on the journal website. The diversity of authors and contributors (of which I finally became one in this last issue, by the way) was drawn from the full breadth of the hydrology and water resources community, nationwide (that is, not just in the semi-arid Southwest), reflecting both the interest in these issues across the country as well as the wide, and consistently growing, subscribership. People in Alaska, and Maine, and Florida actually care about hydrology in semi-arid regions! And to top off the noted subscribership at the time of this last issue, Betsy once estimated for me that actual readership exceeds the official (by mail) subscribership by 50-100% given that issues are passed around offices and among colleagues, and not counting at all the on-line access to the full contents of every issue. 10-20K readers for a free publication on regional issues in a niche topic? I should think that's something worth following up on, maybe even expand to a larger region...hint hint hint to publishers out there!

And finally, as an enduring testament to the sustained quality of Southwest Hydrology's publication, there have been just a few well-deserved awards over the years:
  • Excellence, color print magazine, Awards for Publication Excellence (APEX), 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009
  • Excellence in Technical Communication, Society for Technical Communication Southwest Region, 2005, 2006, and 2007
  • Excellence, magazine publication, Tucson Chapter, International Association of Business Communicators, 2005, 2006, 2008
  • Excellence, magazine publication, Pacific Plains Region, International Association of Business Communicators, 2008
  • Merit, magazine publication, 2009, Global Environmental Communications ECO Awards

It's sad to see Southwest Hydrology go into a suspension of publication, but Betsy is moving on to a position with the Institute for the Environment at the University of Arizona, and who knows? Maybe the kinds of things we've become accustomed to seeing in Southwest Hydrology will reappear sometime in another organized publication, maybe in print, more likely on-line someplace where a well-funded group has the time and talents to put forth such an effort. The original will be a tough act to follow...