Author Archives: Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Managing Water with Data: Q&A with Lauren Ris

By Nevi Beatty

laurenrisprofileLauren Ris is the assistant director of water for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR), she served as interim director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year, and has been serving as a member on the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s board for the past two years. As the assistant director for water, Lauren develops and implements water policy. In this interview with former CFWE Intern, Nevi Beatty, Lauren describes how she and DNR use water data to manage water resources.

Nevi: How long have you been in your current job?

Lauren: About five years. I started out with DNR as the legislative liaison and I was in that position for a little over two years. I’ve been in my current role, assistant director for water, for about 2 1/2 years.


N: How does water data impact the decisions you make at the DNR?

L: I personally don’t work a lot with the actual data, but the DNR has a lot of smart, talented people whose expertise is collecting and analyzing water data. My job is more about making sure we make policy decisions based on the best data and science that is available.

I would say that what is even more important, or equally important, is how the data is collected. Specifically, making sure that the process we use to collect the data is inclusive of stakeholders and transparent about how we went about getting the information. Also making sure it is accessible so people can see how we are using the data and how it has informed our decisions. That way they do have access to that same information source.

The DNR does use water data directly when considering how to prepare for an expected issue with Colorado’s water. For example, planning for and managing a drought requires diligent monitoring of a variety of dynamic water availability and climate factors in order to gauge the severity of drought. I’m a couple steps removed from the actual data collection and analysis, but I certainly see the end product, help translate it to policy makers, and use it to guide the decisions we make at the DNR to a higher level.

N: What are some of the DNR’s recent decisions that have been influenced by water data?

L: Colorado’s Water Plan was founded on a data set that we referred to as SWSI (the Statewide Water Supply Initiative) and that really formed the technical foundation for the water plan. However, the process for that was super important.

We could have written Colorado’s Water Plan and had no stakeholder involvement, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as useful or reliable. We held over a thousand public meetings and over thirty thousand public comment on the data that formed the water plan. Therefore, it was super important that we had the quality data that we collected through SWSI, but it was the whole process of involving the round tables throughout the state, and making sure that the data was representative of all parts of Colorado.

A few years ago the CWCB adopted higher Statewide Floodplain Rules and Regulations, requiring all communities in Colorado to adopt the state’s higher standards. National data trends were used to support the policy decisions. Findings show that regulating floodplains to a higher standard than the minimum required by FEMA provides greater protection to life and property.

N: What are some ways that the experts at the DNR collect the data that you use?  

L: It’s so varied. At DNR we have several different divisions. The most obvious water divisions are the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and the Division of Water Resources (DWR). DWR is in charge of administering all of the water rights through Colorado, they’re kind of like Colorado’s water police. So DWR uses a database called HydroBase that has all sorts of stream flow data, lake level data, and water rights data that you can overlay on top of each other and determine what water rights are in priority when. That forms the basis for when [DWR] puts a call on a, for example a river, whose water rights are a priority. So water data is used directly in making those types of decisions.

Another example is CWCB’s annual process where the CWCB board hears recommendations from the staff about instream flow acquisitions and protections. This is largely based on using a tool called R2Cross which, similarly to SWSI, models instream hydraulic parameters to develop instream flow recommendations in order to preserve or improve the environment.  So the board uses this data to construct their instream flow recommendations. And again, this data is reliable because the process we use is transparent and accessible so that people who are outside the State system can easily verify and check what the State is doing in regards to water use. Both the CWCB and DWR have a couple things in the works for improving our data’s accessibility.

N: How does the DNR ensure this data is accessible?

L: We make our data transparent and accessible so people have information available to them about what the state is doing. Currently, DWR and CWCB are developing water management systems called Decision Support Systems in each of the state’s major water basins.  The goal is to develop user-friendly databases that are helpful in the administration and allocation of water in Colorado while providing data and models to evaluate water administration strategies.

N: What audiences are using this water data and how are they applying it after you make it accessible?

L: Similar to CFWE, at the state we have a variety of audiences that use that data such as water engineers and water attorneys that are involved in water court cases that need a robust data set to do their work. We have legislators, as another audience, who need a much higher-level, bigger-picture data set and they’re looking for recommendations on policy problems that are based on a sound summary of data from us. The general public would be a broader audience—for example it was news to my mom that we get water from the West Slope—she’s a very different audience from our water engineers interacting with the water resources. Environmental organizations also partner with us on a variety of different efforts: water utilities, local governments, etc.

N: Why do you serve on the CFWE Board?

L: I serve on the board for one because DNR holds a seat on the board. Aside from that, I think the work that the foundation does to educate and help inform the public, so we can make better and more informed decisions about water and our water future, is really important and so complimentary to the work we do at the state level.

I also really appreciate the perspective of the foundation. One thing that, I think, offers a lot of credibility is the fact that the CFWE really makes it a number one priority to be a balanced, nonpartisan, fair source of reliable information. Because you can have the best data, the best scientists, the best staff but if you’re known for having that influenced perspective then your credibility is invalid.

N: What is DNR’s mission and why is it important for CO?

L: Generally, the mission of the DNR is to safeguard the natural resources of CO, make sure we are making balanced decisions for future generations, and that we are inclusive of all interests, water interests specifically, and making sure that we are heading toward a sustainable water future.

N: How does the water data you collect tie into this mission and achieving the goals you have for the future?

L: It’s really important that the policy decisions you are making are backed by the best available data and science. There are always improvements to be made about how we collect data and how it is analyzed.

There’s a lot of room for innovation, but I think the decisions we are making today are narrowing the scope of available options to future generations. It’s important that we use the best data and information we have, but we aren’t going to be able to move forward and take action on that information if we don’t have buy-in on that information and if we don’t have a well-informed public. I think that ties into your question about how important the foundation is. The mission of CFWE is to help facilitate getting that information out and translating information that is super technical, and I think that’s been one of the real values of the foundation. Water is so complicated from a scientific stand point, but also water law and water policy is so multi-faceted and there are so many competing interests that are so unique in Colorado. Having an organization that is devoted to breaking down and making information surrounding water accessible and understandable to the general public is so important if we are to be able to move forward and use the data that we collect to make well-informed decisions.

N: Do you have any wisdom you have gained to share with the CFWE audience?

L: I hesitate because I am relatively new to this field. In Colorado there are people who have worked in this field for 30 years and they have built their whole careers around this so as someone who has just come into this in the last few years or so I’m hesitant to offer words of wisdom because I still have so much to learn.

However, being relatively new to this field, I would say it is so important to keep an open mind, not be afraid to step out of old paradigms, and move past this East Slope West Slope divide that is separating Colorado. I hope that in the future we are able to see past the regional differences in Colorado and we can think more holistically about how to create balanced solutions for the state as a whole moving forward. And the water plan takes us one step down the road but there is still so much to do.

N: Have you noticed or learned anything new about CFWE before you came on the board?

L: Yes. Before I came on the board, I primarily knew of CFWE through the basin water tours and through Headwaters magazine. Since becoming a board member, I was really surprised and impressed with the size of the board and all the different interests that are represented in Colorado. I think it is so important to have that diversity of voices on the board.

The other thing I was surprised to learn is the variety of programs that the foundation offers with such a small staff.  Maybe that is the big take away for me that with such a small staff they are able to accomplish so much not to mention managing the huge board which is a task in itself.

Find further coverage of water data in the Summer 2017 Data Issue of Headwaters magazine and check out the latest episode of our radio series, Connecting the Drops Using Real-Time Data to Encourage Water-Wise Habits.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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Lessons in Ag Water

By Greg Peterson, the Colorado Ag Water Alliance


Weld County farmer Dave Eckhardt at the crossing point of the Western Mutual and Union Ditches near La Salle, CO.

I could be wrong, but Longmont farmer Jerry Hergenreder is probably twice my age and can set a dozen siphon tubes while I’m still struggling with one. By the tenth attempt, I was gazing longingly at the center pivot sprinkler in the next field wondering how he does this at 6:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. to irrigate his sugar beet field. Despite seeming inefficient, this method of irrigation is ideal for certain crops, producing better yields than more “modern” irrigation methods. However, this revelation didn’t compare to when I learned that you only get one mature ear of sweet corn for each stalk or how to tell a bale of hay from a bale of alfalfa (one is greener, but be careful, sometimes they mix hay and alfalfa). These lessons are important, especially for a city slicker like me who consumes food every day but doesn’t really understand the infrastructure, work, and water necessary for the food I eat.

Jerry Hergenreder’s farm was just one stop on a recent tour by The Colorado Ag Water Alliance for people outside of agriculture to learn more about irrigation, conservation, how water is used in agriculture, and what problems farmers face. Water resource engineers, consultants, legislators, lobbyists, students, conservationists and congressional staff joined us on two tours: one in the Greeley area and another in Longmont, Fort Lupton and Brighton.

It was a great opportunity to meet farmers and ask them directly how they use water, the different types of irrigation they use and why they grow certain crops. Both tours began with a presentation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Division of Water Resources and an overview of the value chain of agriculture in Colorado. With this as the backdrop, we quickly got into the fields.


Kendall DeJonge, USDA-ARS agricultural engineer, describes the drip irrigation system at the USDA testing site in Greeley, CO.

Up in Greeley, the tour explored several sites including the Eckhardt Farm and Fagerberg Farm, ditch diversions, recharge ponds, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture- Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) testing site. Speaker after speaker emphasized the importance and complexity of return flows and showed how farmers along the South Platte are interconnected through water and irrigation practices. In Longmont, Fort Lupton and Brighton, we also toured the Fulton and Brighton Ditches, spoke with ditch riders, and visited Sakata Farms and River Garden Vineyard, the only vineyard in Weld County. The programs also included presentations on ditch administration, soil health, and the state of young farmers in Colorado.

On the tours, the impact of Colorado’s growth is hard not to notice. Rapid urbanization, the transfer of water rights to municipalities, traffic and even trash, are now everyday obstacles farmers along the Front Range. With all of this growth and change, CAWA wants to emphasize that agriculture isn’t a relic of an older time that needs to make way for progress. These farming communities provide a lot of social, economic, aesthetic and environmental benefits that we may not be fully aware of.

CAWA is working with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and National Young Farmers to host a similar tour late September in Rocky Ford.  You can learn more about us and stay informed at

CAWA relies on grants and sponsorships for most of our funding. These tours wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Metro Basin Roundtable, Agfinity, Colorado Corn, Northern Water, Denver Water, Aurora Water, Pawnee Buttes Seed, the City of Longmont and the West Adams and Boulder Valley Conservation Districts.

bio pic

Greg Peterson has recently been involved in water issues in Colorado after receiving a Masters in Political Economy of Resources from The Colorado School of Mines and working as a teacher before that.  He has worked as a research associate at the Colorado Water Institute and is currently working with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and enjoys learning about economics, agriculture and rural Colorado. 

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Watersheds are for Learning

By Sarah Johnson, MAEd, Water Educator Network Coordinator, Colorado Foundation for Water Education


I love to teach. I am a connector. Thinking like a watershed is my nature, not my job. Rivers connect us to each other across communities, landscapes and time. We are part of our watersheds and influence our rivers; not separate. It is our profound responsibility to live and model stewardship of our waters ensuring their healthy existence for time to come. Now more than ever, it is critical that we work collectively to increase understanding of watershed systems, river science, water conservation, and climate literacy, and encourage participation in public life. And so, I am a watershed educator.

Fostering relationships with colleagues: veteran educators, emerging professionals, university students, water resource managers, urban leaders, rural experts and others across Colorado and beyond for the past two years has been a tremendous joy. Celebrating the success stories, listening to the learnings, and together sourcing and implementing proven resources and tools to increase effectiveness in meeting water education and outreach goals of organizations and agencies across the state has been energizing.

Learning from these experiences of offering workshops, building a network of educators, and sharing proven resources a few strong themes have emerged that may guide the future of water education across Colorado.IMG_3120

  1. Educators are Experts – Educators are experts at teaching, connecting with learners, and making content relevant to various audiences. Educators are professionals who have committed their lives to life-long-learning and are always seeking new ways to teach and reach their students of all ages. Learn from them how to turn our libraries of water information into relevant and accessible knowledge for communities. Leverage educators’ expertise often.
  2. An Abundance of Water Information and Content—Water Resource Managers and policy experts have oodles of water related data, information and content. These professionals need strategies, mechanisms and tools to share their data and content appropriately with their audiences and methods for making the content relevant to their learners. Share information effectively.
  3. Building Long Lasting Communities of Practice—To successfully transform educators’ and outreach professionals’ practice, continual support from colleagues and resource experts is necessary. Building collegial communities of practice among mixed groups of master educators, less experienced educators, water resource managers, and professional development coordinators can be powerful mechanisms to support increasing effectiveness of water education across Colorado. Foster strong learning communities.
  4. Direct Water and Snow Experiences—I came to love rivers, lakes and snow because I experienced them directly going fishing, floating, swimming, picnicking, spending time streamside pondering life’s biggest questions, cross country skiing, shoveling the drive, and embarking on backcountry hut trips. Always conduct water education experiences near a body of water (frozen or liquid) and include a quality direct experience during your program no matter how long or short. It is the direct experiences that typically have the strongest memorable impact while offering a bit of inspiration and fun. Get outside.

Coordinating the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Water Educator Network has significantly impacted my career trajectory and for this I am forever grateful. I will continue to connect people to people and people to projects across Colorado and beyond. I am committed to life-long learning and am addicted to exploring and implementing the newest best practices. Creating programs and opportunities based in places, and sharing watershed stories with learners and colleagues energizes me. There is currently great momentum and opportunity to prioritize working collectively to increase watershed literacy in the headwaters state and across basins. Let’s work together to see what more we can create to increase our collective effectiveness.

I will continue to reside in the Crystal River Watershed on Colorado’s Western Slope. Follow my latest projects and endeavors with Wild Rose Consulting as you may find yourself attending (or supporting) the 2nd Annual Educator River Institute at Western State or the Grand County River Workshop in 2018 among other projects that are to come.

IMG_4126Sarah R. Johnson coordinated CFWE’s Water Educator Network February 2016 – June 2017. Learn more about her current projects at and reach her at


In a June letter to CFWE’s Water Educator Network members, Stephanie Scott, CFWE’s program manager, wishes Sarah the best:
The Water Educator Network would not be what it is today without the amazing Sarah Johnson. I am so thankful that she has been on board with us to help get the program started. It is no secret to anyone who has attended one of Sarah’s workshops that she gets a little more than excited about water education!! Sarah will continue to share her passion for water education here in Colorado and across the country as she has done with us. Thank You Sarah, for all the guidance for the Water Educator Network!!


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Reducing Algal Blooms at Barr Lake

unnamedBy Amy Conklin, the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association

Have you ever taken a picnic or gone for a hike at one our local lakes only to find it a green, stinky mess because of all the algae?  Did you think, ‘Why doesn’t someone do something about this?’  Well, they are.

Since 2002, the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association (BMW) has been working to identify what causes the stinky algal blooms and find ways to prevent them.

What BMW found is that excessive nutrients coming from human activities are feeding the algae and creating the excessive blooms.  This process is called cultural eutrophication.  It means that the products of urban living, stormwater, wastewater and other runoff, act like fertilizer on a lawn and turn Barr Lake green.

At Barr Lake, one result of all the algal blooms is high pH (an alkaline condition) and low dissolved oxygen (DO). Like us, fish need oxygen.  When the DO gets too low, fish get stressed and can die.  We don’t want the majestic eagles or noisy osprey at Barr Lake to go hungry!

Barr Lake receives water that drains from the urban Denver metro area.  In fact, about half of Colorado’s population lives in the BMW watershed.  Very few know that the good folks at BMW are working hard to keep the water in Barr Lake and the Denver metro area clean.

One of the first questions BMW had to answer was how clean is clean?  The levels of nutrients needed to keep the algal blooms at manageable levels, at levels where all the uses of the lake could occur, are laid out in laws and regulations.  The answer to how clean is clean, what are acceptable levels of nutrients, has been well researched.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that 90% of the nutrients getting into the lake need to be removed to achieve acceptable levels of nutrients.

BMW developed a multi-pronged approach to get the nutrients out of the water.  They’re working with the publicly owned wastewater treatment plants to increase removal of nutrients from wastewater.  They’re also working to clean the stormwater that runs down gutters into the stream and they’re working on ways to keep nutrients from re-entering the water column from the lake sediments.

The plan is already working with billions of $ being spent but it will take many years before the water is so clean that there aren’t stinky algae blooms.  You can do your part:

  • Fertilize your lawn ONLY with products that don’t contain Phosphorus.
  • Pick up after your pet.
  • Use a Commercial car wash.
  • Keep grass clippings and leaves out of the gutter.
  • Use a commercial company to change your oil.

With all of us working together, we can keep our water clean.

Listen to the recording of our April 2017 webinar presented by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and offered in partnership with Colorado Water Congress with support from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. to hear more of the BMW story. Read more about nutrients as nonpoint source pollution in the CFWE blog posts, The Runoff Conundrum, Preventing Water Pollution Starts in Your Backyard, and In Bloom.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverFind further coverage on these topics in the Public Health Issue of Headwaters Magazine and learn more about water quality in CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Quality Protection. Then stay posted for new content on data in the upcoming summer 2017 issue of Headwaters.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

Amy_ConklinAmy Conklin is proud to offer her services for finding solutions to water issues.  With a Masters in Water Resources Management and experience in the public and private sectors, she brings diverse groups together to solve water issues.  Recently, Amy developed a 12 minute video describing the process for developing water messages.  It can be found on YouTube and  Amy is currently working as the coordinator of the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association and is also working with the Colorado Stormwater Council to develop a Statewide Water Quality Education Campaign.  You can learn more about Amy at LinkedIn,

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What I learned at Water Fluency: Part 1

By Rebecca Callahan
Originally Published on Currents: Water Sage’s Blog on Water Rights and Water Data


The 2017 Water Fluency Class had a barbecue outside the Colorado River District offices in Glenwood Springs with participants, speakers, as well as other experts and friends nearby.

[In early May], I had the distinct pleasure of spending time with more than 30 other Coloradans who, whether for work or for fun, felt the need to learn more about water in our State. The Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Water Fluency course is in its third year. It’s a 3-month education program complete with in-person lectures, site visits, homework assignments, online lectures, quizzes, and group discussions. Attendees run the gamut of the water resources community: engineers, fly fishermen, city/town officials, regional board members, “river-huggers” and me, a corporate marketer. Attendees were there for as many reasons as there are ways that water flows. We were there to learn from the experts; to better understand the state of water in the State of Colorado; to better understand different points of view from different walks of life so we could go back to our personal and professional lives and make informed decisions.

And, wow, what a success it has been so far. Several of us even joked it should be a pre-requisite for the 1,000-new people moving to Colorado each month. Below is a quick snapshot of what I’ve learned so far. I have 2 more in-person events to attend and lots of homework to do between now and the end of July. I’m surprisingly excited about that, having been out of school for over 15 years.

#1: Onions are our friend


The 2017 Water Fluency class met in Grand Junction in early May.

Walking in the first morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I understand what people were talking about? Was I going to be bored? Overwhelmed? Given my background in marketing in the travel industry, switching to the water resources industry has been a big leap. It’s been a vertical ramp up and while I’ve learned an enormous amount in the past 6 months, I wasn’t sure how much I’d like talking about water for two days. And, when I looked at the class roster, I got concerned—public servants and engineers and conservationists? Would I have anything in common with them?

But then we did an ice breaker where we went around the room and introduced ourselves. And I kept hearing analogies of peeling onions—even those who were water resource professionals felt the same as I did—that every time we learned something, we realized how little we knew. And throughout the two days, I realized it wasn’t just talk. Folks were as engaged and questioning as I was. I’m confident when I say everyone came away learning something.

Oh, and my concern about talking about water for two days? Not a problem. There were a few times where things got a little too technical for me, but overall I was riveted because of the amazing speakers with incredible insight and historical knowledge.

#2: Colorado is the best
wf_2We had a chance to do site visits to rivers and water sanitation stations in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s an area I’ve gone to since I was a kid but I’ve never looked at it the way I did that day. And it wasn’t just that it was a bluebird day with Mt. Sopris in the background. It was getting up close and personal with the Crystal River and the surrounding habitat and seeing how it directly impacts the farm lands it irrigates. It was listening to the Roaring Fork Conservancy discuss how it’s trying to define what a “healthy” river is while trying to bring other stakeholders (recreation, agriculture and municipalities) to the table to discuss the best way to manage this finite natural resource. It was visiting Carbondale and learning that their open ditch system provides free water for landscaping for anyone who lives by the system and wants to build a pump. And how much money that system is saving the town. And that the ditch system was built over 100 years ago to supply the agricultural community that first settled there. There is so much history and ingenuity in this state, all with the goal of ensuring stakeholders get their fair share of water.


Justice Hobbs speaks to the Water Fluency Class.

We had the opportunity to listen to Justice Hobbs speak about the history of Colorado. He described the way water shaped the development of this state that people are flocking to. He made history come to life. Amy Beatie from Colorado Water Trust did the same with water law and instream flows. Never have I thought law was so interesting … she brought it to life because she is passionate about what she’s doing. I have a newfound respect for the forethought on how water is managed in Colorado.  All the experts in the room agreed that while it may not be perfect, the government regulations for managing water and the legal procedures for how water conflicts are resolved are well thought out, fair, usable and flexible. These are all things you hope for in your government and legal system. It’s a structure other states in the West can look to as a model to follow.

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Colorado Water Trust’s Amy Beatie speaks about instream flows.

#3: The struggle is real
As a layman, I’ve heard about the push/pull between the Front Range and the Western Slope of Colorado. I’d heard the 80/20 rule – 80 percent of the population is in the Front Range with only 20 percent of the water. I’ve heard the phrase, “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.” And, I learned of a new phrase, “You can mess with another man’s wife but you can’t mess with his water.”

While all of this is said with a smile and a wink, there’s a lot of truth in it. We’ve come a long way from the wild west of sabotaging diversion points and headgates but people are still passionate about ensuring they get their fair share of water.

There’s a push/pull for different water uses. Land owners, ranchers and farmers want water to support their livelihood. Municipalities and utilities want water to support growing populations. Conservation organizations want to protect the environment and wildlife that depend on water. Tourism is a thriving industry for our state and relies on snowpack and instream flows.

wf_8This push/pull isn’t only limited to Colorado. Between the Upper Colorado River Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and Lower Colorado River Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada) interstate compacts had to be created to ensure each state (and Mexico!) received their fair share. Colorado is a headwaters state and everyone downstream from us also relies on that water for their livelihood. So, how do you ensure everyone has enough and no one has too much? It is possible, but it requires all stakeholders to agree to listen and discuss collaboratively. Colorado has become a model for how to manage this natural resource.

#4: Can’t we all just get along?
So, what brings people to the table to discuss these issues? In my mind, there are two uniting forces. 1) Passion: we all love where we live and want to sustain it 2) Necessity: water management and scarcity are here to stay. We live, work and play in “the Great American Desert.” We must come to the table. Enter Water Sage. We’ve developed this platform to be accessible, transparent and efficient to allow data-driven decisions to be the driver in water resource management for all stakeholders.

#5: Education is key
I’m only half joking about this course being a prerequisite for new Colorado residents. But, there is a lot of truth in it. The more people aware of all the issues and onion peeling that goes into water resource management, the better. The more we come to the table with creative solutions and open minds, the better.  That’s the goal of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to attend this class.

rebeccacallahanRebecca comes to Water Sage with almost 20 years of strategic marketing expertise. She received her MBA from Ross School of Business at University of Michigan in 2003. In her spare time, Rebecca can be found taking full advantage of everything Colorado has to offer with her husband, two kids and fur baby.


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Water Education Colorado 2017 President’s Award Reception

We had an exciting evening last night at our 2017 President’s Reception. Thanks to all who attended in support of water education and water leadership. And congratulations to Eric Kuhn and Drew Beckwith, the deserving recipients of this year’s awards.

Coyote Gulch

The Denver Art Museum was the location for The Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s President’s Award Reception yesterday evening.

Eric Kuhn received the Dianne Hoppe Leadership Award and Drew Beckwith was honored as an Emerging Leader.

Each year when I attend this event I am struck by the camaraderie shown by the water folks here in Colorado. Water really does bring us together to find solutions, and at the end of the day we have so much to agree on. Water for Ag, water to drive the economy, water for the fish and bugs. It takes a great number of people to meet the water needs of the Headwaters State, collaboration is key, and this event helps us to connect.

Jim Lochhead introduced Eric Kuhn and detailed his accomplishments while leading the Colorado River District. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap Firming agreement were at the top of…

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by | May 13, 2017 · 10:17 am

Eric Kuhn, 2017 Diane Hoppe Leadership Award

TONIGHT, Friday, May 12th, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will celebrate water education and water leadership at its annual President’s Reception.  Each year, CFWE honors the work of a Coloradoan who has a body of work in the field of water resources benefiting the Colorado public, a reputation among peers and a commitment to balanced and accurate information, with the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award. This year, CFWE will recognize Eric Kuhn with the Colorado River District with this award.

Register here to attend the President’s Reception tonight at 6 p.m. at the Denver Art Museum. We’ll enjoy refreshments, a fun evening with friends, and our first ever LIVE AUCTION. We can’t wait to see you there!

Eric Kuhn, 2017 Diane Hoppe Leadership Award Recipient

By Greg Hobbs

Eric Kuhn WEB 1Eric Kuhn, “big thinker, deep thinker,” is how his colleague Jim Pokrandt describes him. Thirty-six years ago, in the spring of 1981, Kuhn moved from southern California to join the Colorado River District’s staff as assistant secretary engineer. As an electrical engineer, he served as a Navy submarine officer, earned a master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University, and worked with Bechtel Corporation’s power group on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

One of then-secretary engineer Rolly Fischer’s “greatest accomplishments” was hiring Kuhn, writes George Sibley in Water Wranglers a 75th anniversary history of the River District. “Whatever Kuhn might have lacked in water experience, he more than made up with a quiet and quick creative intelligence.” Another district colleague, Chris Treese, credits him with “maintaining harmony” in a 15-county district “naturally divided between tourism-dependent headwaters counties and more traditional ranching and mining counties.”

Harmony? Well, yes, maybe, for sure, and at times! The River District’s 15 board members are appointed by the boards of county commissioners representing a huge expanse of western Colorado, from west of the Divide to the Utah border, from the north slope of the San Juans to the Wyoming border. Differences are sure to arise given the changing needs and desires of sub-basins therein, but having common forums like the River District board is a good way to hash them out.

In 1937, just for such a purpose, the Colorado General Assembly created the Colorado River Water Conservation District together with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Water Conservancy District Act. The River District’s statutory mission is to “safeguard for Colorado, all waters to which the state of Colorado is equitably entitled under the Colorado River Compact.” In my preface to Sibley’s book, I describe this legislative charge as “an unusual example of tucking the outside skin of the fruit into its core and exposing its flesh to potential consumers.”

On becoming the River District’s general manager in 1996, succeeding Rolly Fischer, Kuhn assumed the neck-wrenching duty of keeping one eye on six downstream states and the Republic of Mexico, while keeping his other eye roving up and down Colorado’s Front Range spotting opportunities to protect western Colorado water. When he’s at home in Glenwood Springs, he focuses both eyes on an early morning bike ride along the Roaring Fork River and the Colorado River.

It’s at the conjunction of waters Kuhn works best. As a young River District engineer, he constantly hit the road to becoming an intrastate and interstate water diplomat. As a member of the Western Slope Advisory Council, Kuhn helped former Governor Richard Lamm’s Metropolitan Water Roundtable examine possible alternatives to Denver Water’s proposed transbasin diversion, Two Forks Dam and Reservoir.

Parked in No-Go throughout the 1980s, one of the project’s alternates was an exchange of water up the Blue River through the West Slope’s more senior Green Mountain Reservoir (1935 priority) to Denver’s junior Dillon Reservoir (1946 priority), for transport through Denver’s  Robert’s Tunnel. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Two Forks veto in 1991, this exchange materialized as a separate project with construction of the River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir on Muddy Creek north of Kremmling, completed in 1996. Some of this water goes to protect the endangered Colorado River fish while some goes to Denver by exchange. Some is for West Slope use. Kuhn and former River District engineer Dave Merritt collaborated with Denver Water’s Manager Chips Barry, to get this joint-use project up and running.

The key to the deal was keeping intact the senior downstream Shoshone hydroelectric water right in Glenwood Canyon (1902 priority), in the face of Denver’s multidecadal, unsuccessful federal court effort to assert a domestic preference for the water over West Slope uses. Denver Water and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict (in mitigation for the Windy Gap Project at the junction of the Fraser River and the Colorado) contributed funds to Wolford Mountain Reservoir’s construction and subsequent operation.

None of this was any more complicated than any other matter involving the Colorado River. Protecting Colorado’s water allocation under the 1922 Colorado River Compact requires an ongoing all-Colorado commitment to preserving Lake Powell’s water delivery equalizing function with Lake Mead, while implementing the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. Not to be forgotten in this milieu of water governance and politics is the cooperation of environmental groups, the Colorado Water Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Republic of Mexico, and the U.S. Congress. Healthy-as-can-be riparian habitat up and down the Colorado River, as it runs from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Sea of Cortez through Lake Powell and Lake Mead, is a goal worth pursuing. But achieving this in the midst of wicked drought, like the one we’ve just seen, is daunting.

Colorado’s new water plan, coordinated through the Colorado Water Conservation Board, nine local basin roundtables and a statewide Interbasin Compact Committee, aspires to many more collaborative agreements, like the Wolford Mountain agreement and the more recent Colorado River Cooperative Agreement that Denver Water, the River District and a score of others have entered into. When planning future projects, failure to take into account the risk of even greater droughts risks the state’s future.

This is why Kuhn rides his bike, gaining both a physical workout and thinking time. The Colorado River’s been good to him. He met his wife, Sue, in Glenwood Springs. They’ve raised their beloved daughters Hallie and Kenzie there. It’s a brainy, nuclear family composed of engineering, medical laboratory, bio-tech, climate change problem-solving geeks.

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