Betsy Otto is Senior Director of River Advocacy for American Rivers a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. She currently directs the organizations clean water campaign, and has worked at the national level for over a decade to promote sustainable and integrated water management, including water collection, urban runoff and sewage treatment systems. After an early career in business consulting, Betsy left to pursue a life-long passion for the environment. She has devoted herself to environmental policy and urban planning, with a mission to more intelligently link green and hard infrastructure. She believes that by bringing together watershed science and a pragmatic approach to public policy and politics we can invite communities to see a new way to meet their economic, quality of life, and environmental goals.
A Midwest native, Betsy worked with Openlands Project in the early 1990s to draft an award-winning Chicago metro greenways plan with the regional planning agency. The plan resulted in significant open space acquisition as well as bike and water trail development, and served as a catalyst for planning cooperation throughout the fragmented six-county metro area. She has authored many publications, including Ecological Riverfront Design, an American Planning Association report that provides basic principles and practical examples for incorporating real ecological improvements in waterfront developments, and Paving Our Way to Water Shortages, a groundbreaking analysis of the millions of gallons of potable groundwater lost annually as polluted runoff from new sprawl development. In 2005, Betsy led an effort to include over $800 million in first-ever stormwater mitigation funding in the federal highway bill, culminating in a winning vote on the U.S. Senate floor despite tremendous opposition from road-building interests. Betsy speaks frequently in various forums, and has provided testimony before Congress on the alarming U.S. water infrastructure funding gap that threatens hard-won water quality gains. In 2004, her efforts and those of her colleagues helped garner American Rivers an award from the national association of state water pollution control agencies (ASIWPCA) for successfully bridging the divide between environmentalists and regulators to fight for increases in federal clean water funding.
Betsy believes that clean water will be a major issue in the 21st century, and she is concerned with how water supply and treatment will shape our natural and urban areas in the future. As a Loeb fellow she studied innovative water management approaches, such as rainwater harvesting and decentralized sewage treatment, as well as planning tools, political structures, and market mechanisms that can sustain more rational water systems investments.