Make Water Provocative: The Key to Connecting Resources, Audiences, and Meanings

If the goal of interpretation is to reveal meanings, this is because we believe that resources possess inherent meanings. Water, one might argue, is only two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom. But most of us would argue that it is more than that. Water is power, art, community, energy, renewal, opportunity – ultimately, it is life itself.


Water has many different meanings, and means many different things to different people. The goal of water interpretation is to reveal these meanings, to facilitate connections between people and water – perhaps even to illuminate new ones.  But for this to happen, the interpreter must relate the resource to the audience’s own experience – and one of the most effective ways to do this is to use universal concepts.

Linking What We Experience With Bigger Concepts

Interpretation is not just based on facts, but on associated meanings. A program might present a concrete resource – something the audience can experience directly – in service to an abstract concept. Examples of concrete resources are objects, people, places, or events. These resources might be connected to abstract concepts, such as systems, ideas, or values. Many of the greater concepts that we wish to explore in our programs are abstract, such as conservation, stewardship, or scarcity. A program seeks to link the concrete and the abstract, the resources and the concepts, to reveal meaning.

For example, a program taking place by the side of a stream has multiple concrete resources: the water, rocks, soil, the surrounding vegetation, etc. The audience can see, smell, touch, and hear (or even taste) these objects. The program might discuss these objects with relation to the abstract concept of watershed health. This concept ties directly to the objects – how does the water look? Is it clear? Is the streambed cluttered with trash? – but the concept of watershed health itself cannot be directly experienced.

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Make Water Provocative: Building a Foundation

Interpretation is not just the delivery of information.  It is revelation, a moment when an audience member makes new and meaningful connections.  So how can interpreters facilitate these interpretive moments?

If you’ve ever been an interpreter, you know that you never really leave this type of work behind, even if you no longer practice it daily.  A lasting remnant from this part of my career was my memorization of the so-called “interpretive equation.”  This equation details what is needed to achieve an “interpretive opportunity,” the moment when interpretation takes place.

The equation, written in non-mathematical formula, goes something like this:  Knowledge of the resource, and knowledge of the audience, combined with the appropriate techniques for both, are necessary to produce an interpretive opportunity.

In other words, any successful interpreter needs:  knowledge of the resource, knowledge of the audience, and appropriate interpretive techniques for a given situation.


CFWE’s Kristin Maharg interprets during the Upper Colorado Basin tour.

Knowledge the Interpreter Brings

The first one is perhaps the most obvious:  knowledge of the resource.  What are you going to talk about, and what research do you need to conduct to describe it all comprehensibly?  If you’re going to talk about the water-energy nexus, what facts and figures do you need to back up your discussion points?  What terms and concepts do you need to define?  What information do you want to cover?  What meanings are inherent in this subject (more on this later!)?  We must learn about our subject before we can present it to others.

Knowledge of the audience, however, is an equally important component.  To whom are you going to present?  Children, families, adults?  Are you talking to people who have never heard of the topic, who have some knowledge, who already have a fair amount of expertise?

As you can imagine, you would probably craft a significantly different program based on these answers.  Continue reading

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Make Water Provocative: A Series on Interpretation

CFWE's Program Assistant Jennie Geurts

CFWE’s Program Assistant Jennie Geurts

Have you ever walked away from a program – perhaps a campfire talk, or a tour of a water diversion, or even a PowerPoint presentation – feeling inspired, identifying new connections that you had not previously realized, eager to learn more, determined to try new things?

If you have, you have fulfilled every interpreter’s dream. Those reactions are what interpreters hope to inspire in audiences. But how do we achieve this? Although a magic formula remains frustratingly elusive, interpreters have honed some best practices and principles over the years, which may be helpful in your program development. This interpretive series will outline a few of these practices.

Before I came to CFWE, I worked as an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service. I learned interpretive principles recommended by the Interpretive Development Program, and I was certified for guided interpretive programs. I later applied the principles I’d learned to my graduate work, writing interpretive labels for museums. The interpretive practices I learned were certainly not limited to the NPS, and can be applied to any number of interpretive activities, from classroom presentations to outdoor education to tours of specific sites.

Interpretive practices can easily be applied to water topics. Many educators and interpreters already use these principles, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

Interpreters seek to facilitate a connection between the audience and a resource, revealing different meanings associated with the resource. For CFWE, the resource is, of course, water. Individuals will identify different meanings in water, but as interpreters we strive to provide access to these meanings, and to raise awareness of other connections.

The field of interpretation owes an immense debt to Freeman Tilden and his 1957 book Interpreting Our Heritage. Tilden outlined six principles of interpretation, and I have always found the fourth principle to be the most important for an interpreter to remember:

“The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.”

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The Road Not Taken

By Julia Gallucci, water education coordinator, Colorado Springs Utilities

roadlesstakenWhen Robert Frost wrote his poem he probably wasn’t plagued by water issues, and neither are most Colorado citizens. While water is our bread and butter, how often do the rest of us think about, for example, the State Water Plan?

Two organizations, Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado intend to brief the Colorado business community on Colorado’s Water Plan. These lobbying groups are interested in framing what Colorado Business wants around water, and they hope to use this framework to weigh in on the State’s Water Plan.

This is an excellent beginning to an independent State Water Plan public process, one from which, perhaps, the IBCC can draw ideas. Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado have designed a “road show” which they successfully presented in Colorado Springs on April 2nd. In cities across Colorado, they leverage the connections and monthly forum of organizations like Chambers of Commerce to bring together state water experts like John Stulp and local experts like Wayne Vanderschuere to explain local and state water planning and what we are about. Then the organizers present their Water Principles from the Colorado Business Community as the proposed framework for how Colorado Business considers water and what they want from future water planning. After an information-packed session, they ask for input and feedback on their Water Principles and the State’s Water Plan. (For those of us who live within the Arkansas Basin, you also may get involved via the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s new webpage.)

What were my parting thoughts? A solid, ninety-minute informational session, for the uninitiated, begged more questions than it answered. A State Water Plan public process is the road less traveled. This road will require enormous fortitude if our anticipated result is that citizens of Colorado will volunteer informed feedback. My hat’s off to this effort. It is a good reminder that it will take more than all of us.

Julia Gallucci is the water education coordinator for Colorado Springs Utilities and connects with thousands of adults and children each year.


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H2O Radio

There’s a lot going on with audio water programming. What could be better!? Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to tune into Connecting the Drops– the program CFWE and Rocky Mountain Community Radio stations partner to produce. But today, we’re focusing on a similar program: H2O Radio, which just released a new story Snow Job, on the work of measuring snowpack. 

Frani Halperin is producer and co-host of H2O Radio

By Frani Halperin, Producer, H2O Radio

H2O Radio is an audio magazine about water. It started like many ideas do, while sitting in a restaurant. Our host, Jamie Sudler and

I were already interested in water issues and felt a growing concern that the constraints on water both locally and worldwide weren’t

getting enough attention. We started a habit of asking our server (as they brought water to the table) if they knew where that water

had come from. The results from our random sampling were pretty revealing. Some did— but many hadn’t a clue— and that was


We decided that we wanted to change that. Our goal was to expand what people pictured when they thought about water. Images of

mountain lakes or swimming pools would surely come to mind, but so should ones of hamburgers or energy or plastics because water

plays a role in nearly every aspect of our lives.

So how do we do accomplish our goal? Our tagline is “Following Water Wherever It Leads.” And that’s what we do. We track water

through many topics and report on what we find. Our topics so far have ranged from beer to bovines, and our stories have included

voices from Taos to Tel Aviv. We think if people better understood the myriad ways in which water touches their lives, they might get

more involved in protecting and conserving this resource upon which all of our lives depend.

We produce shows in various formats: Longer in-depth pieces, as well as a short weekly segment called “This Week in Water” which is

posted every Sunday and is a wrap-up of water in the news.

And although we have a global perspective, we take pride in being a Colorado nonprofit. For that reason, we have been involved in

keeping Coloradoans up-to-date on the State Water Plan in development. In early March, Jamie hosted a live

call-in show on KGNU with James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Abby Burk with the Audobon Society

and Sean Cronin, the Chair of the South Platte Basin Roundtable. There are plans to continue the panels in the coming months.

We take our role seriously. We interview experts— from engineers and scientists to legislators and politicians in order to get the facts.

But we also try to make our stories personal so we talk to ordinary citizens to ask how water issues affect their lives. Why? Because

we’re all in this together. We see H2O Radio as a conversation about water and our collective water future together. For that reason, we

welcome input and feedback and encourage listeners to send story ideas they’d like us to cover or investigate.

Learn more at:, follow us on Twitter at @H2OTracker or check us out on Tumblr at

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New Leadership is Growing

Class of 2014 during their March training with CFWE and MORF Consulting in Greeley

Class of 2014 with CFWE and MORF Consulting in Greeley

CFWE is proud to announce our 2014 class of Water Leaders! This diverse and talented group of mid-level water professionals have started a journey to develop their leadership potential. The first training on March 17-18 focused on self-awareness and functional team-building. The group also examined how regional leaders have effectively built water teams in northeastern Colorado by numerous guest presentations and excursions at the Poudre Learning Center in Greeley.  Subsequent trainings will be in Fraser on May 15-16, Pueblo on July 31-August 1 and Denver on September 18-19. Join us in welcoming them to your community!

Congratulations to:
Jason Carey, River Restoration
Adam Cwiklin, Town of Fraser
Aaron Derwingson, The Nature Conservancy
Julia Galucci, Colorado Springs Utilities
James Henderson, 711 Ranch
Dawn Jewell, City of Aurora
Laurna Kaatz, Denver Water
Aimee Konowal, CDPHE Water Quality Control Division
Steve Malers, Open Water Foundation
Maria Pastore, Grand River Consulting
Klint Reedy, Black & Veatch Corporation
Gigi Richard, Colorado Mesa University
Jennifer Shanahan, City of Fort Collins
Enrique Triana, MWH Americas
James VanShaar, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Since 2006, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Water Leaders Program has provided training in conflict negotiation and interpersonal communication to over 80 participants across Colorado. Water Leaders participants benefit from extensive self-assessment and networking opportunities with similarly accomplished colleagues.


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As Big As It Gets: Clean Water Act Rulemaking

By Mark Scharfenaker

Everyone seriously interested in water quality throughout the United States has 90 days to let EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and federal lawmakers know what they think about the agency’s newly proposed rule intended to clarify just where in a watershed the protections of the Clean Water Act cease to apply.

This long-awaited rulemaking aims to define CWA jurisdiction over streams and wetlands distant from “navigable” waters of the United States…the lines of which were muddied by recent Supreme Court rulings rooted in a sense that perhaps EPA and the Corps had strayed too far in requiring CWA dredge-and-fill permits for such “waters” as intermittent streams and isolated potholes.

This rule is as big as it gets in respect to protecting waterways from nonfarm pollutant discharges, and the proposal has not calmed the conflict between those who want the jurisdictional line closer to navigable waters and those who want it to reach deep into and through every watershed.

EPA chief Gina McCarthy asserts that it is “simply not the case” that the rule would expand the reach of the CWA. “Our proposed rule will not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the Clean Water Act. In the end — the increased clarity will save us time, keep money in our pockets, cut red tape, give certainty to business, and help fulfill the Clean Water Act’s original promise: to make America’s waters fishable and swimmable for all,” she wrote in an Op-Ed piece.

“America’s waters and wetlands are valuable resources that must be protected today and for future generations,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “Today’s rulemaking will better protect our aquatic resources, by strengthening the consistency, predictability, and transparency of our jurisdictional determinations. The rule’s clarifications will result in a better public service nationwide.”

At the state level, both the Western Governors Association and the Western States Water Council have expressed concerns about the rule.

Western Governors assert that “as co-regulators of water resources, states should be fully consulted and engaged in any process that may affect the management of their waters.” WGA adds that “the conversations to date have not been sufficiently detailed to constitute substantive consultation” and “Western Governors strongly urge both EPA and the Corps to engage states as authentic partners in the management of Western waters.”

Top-shelf environmental organizations are backing the rule, while early Republican voices are sounding alarms.

Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, made the following statement: “This is good news for boaters, anglers, swimmers and families who rely on clean drinking water. EPA took an important step to finally rescue these waters from legal limbo. Even though these are common-sense protections, the polluters are sure to attack them. People who care about clean water need to make their voices heard in the comment period.”

Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited also voiced support for the rule. “Today’s proposal speaks to the heart of the Clean Water Act—making rivers more fishable and swimmable,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The waters affected by today’s proposal provide vital spawning and rearing habitat for trout and salmon. Simply stated, the proposal will make fishing better, and anglers should support it. Restoring protections to these waters ensures healthy habitat for fish and a bright future for anglers.”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., however, minced no words in blasting the rulemaking: “Today’s proposed rule by the EPA and Corps of Engineers is a massive expansion of power over the nation’s water resources. The Clean Water Act is written to include only navigable waters, but with this new rule, the agencies are giving themselves the authority to regulate everything from the nation’s largest rivers to small irrigation ditches found on family farms in Oklahoma. This rule will only make the agencies’ authority more confusing and difficult to navigate, and we should not underestimate the devastating impact this rule could have if it becomes final. It shows that President Obama is no friend of private property rights or Oklahoma’s economy.”

In the House, Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., remarked: “The last thing people need is for the EPA to come knocking on their doors telling them their ponds are too dirty or their puddles are too muddy. It violates our personal freedoms, and puts an unnecessary burden on both families and businesses alike. This is a massive power grab by the government, and would give the EPA regulatory power over nearly every body of water in America. We should not allow that to happen.”

Bottom line is that the proposed rule is now ready for prime time, and EPA and the Corps have promised a nationwide effort to collect input from all sides, which hopefully will finally produce a rule that finds the sweet spot between the extremes without triggering a new round of legal challenges that will keep landowners, politicians, environmentalists and regulatory authorities…not to mention the well-being of ducks, geese, fish and our riparian habitats…in a continued state of uncertainty.

As McCarthy said so succinctly, “we need everyone to be part of the conversation” to get this rule right.

Mark Sharfenaker has been a writer and editor for the American Water Works Association since 1986 and the AWWA website editor since 2008, his contributions to the Your Water Colorado Blog include The Value of Water. He moved to Colorado in 1982 after a 10-year stint in Montana, where he earned an undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Montana and learned the joys of fly fishing and the wonders of western waters.


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