TNC Staff Up-Close: Kimberly Meitzen

Texas native loves her work with water

Story Highlights
  • From Texas, Meitzen moved first to South Carolina to study water flows, and then to North Carolina to do freshwater work which describes as her "dream job."

It may sound counterintuitive, but Kimberly Meitzen is interested in water because she grew up in the desert. The El Paso, Texas native used to run along levees on the Rio Grande, where there was often no river water to be seen. “That made me appreciate the value of water,” she says.

That’s one of the reasons she decided to study river systems – earning her PhD in geography from the University of South Carolina. She joined The Nature Conservancy earlier this year as a post-doc conducting freshwater flow analysis.

“Living in the desert, I was also drawn to rivers and ravines, because they were the few green areas to be seen,” she explains. “During my undergraduate experience at the University of Texas at Austin I became an avid canoeist and kayaker, spending a lot of time on the water. It was just a natural, organic path to my career choice.”

Her undergraduate honors thesis at UT – Austin looked at the effect of a large flood event on the Texas landscape and how flood waters moved sediment through the river system. She came east to study in South Carolina with Dr. William L. Graf, who has done extensive work on water resources. Her graduate dissertation focused on the ecological relationship between river processes and bottomland forests in Congaree National Park, an old-growth bottomland hardwood forest on the Congaree River floodplain. “The outcome was providing flow recommendations for the relicensing of the dam – determining what the optimum flow requirements were for the various key indicator species in the river and floodplain.”

Soon after she arrived in South Carolina, the east coast was plunged into a record drought – prompting conversations that were unusual for the area. “One of the things that fascinates me as I have moved further east is that it isn’t until you get into extreme droughts that people understand the value of water. But, water should always be viewed as a valuable and potentially scarce resource, and should be pro-actively managed for human and environmental benefits.”

Her work at the Conservancy will focus on four river basins that capture the natural diversity of North Carolina from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Coastal Plain – she will wade through a tremendous amount of river flow and biological data from a variety of sources to determine the flows necessary for supporting healthy river ecosystems.

She’s already well engaged with the study. “I’m essentially living my dream with this job,” she says. “It is work and it is play for me.” In addition to her work with the Conservancy, she looks forward to the weekends that she and her husband, Walt, will kayak and explore the rivers and streams of North Carolina. 

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