Yes, it’s May in the high country and that means we can get precipitation in various forms. Recent snows have boosted average snowpack levels and eased drought conditions slightly. While we may not like waking up to snowfall in May, the precipitation is critical. As a headwater community using and receiving water from an original source (our snowpack), Summit County is an ideal location to study water. Recently, a group of high school students did just that by participating in Keystone Science School’s (KSS) H2O Outdoors program. The essential question the students were asked was: “How does the headwater community’s water use affect the ecosystems and human populations downstream?” Many of the students were from these ‘downstream’ communities and hadn’t ever considered the source of their water. As participants in the H2O Outdoors program they were now being asked to find solutions to address a freshwater shortage. It was time to get in the field and do some research.
The students set out to learn about the water situation in Colorado by first understanding which communities rely on the Colorado River Basin for their water supply. Not only do Front Range communities use it, but the basin provides water to nearly 30 million residents in seven states: Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Wyoming and Utah. The students found that many factors contribute to water quantity issues: snowfall amounts, population growth and general demand. To better illustrate Colorado’s water situation, KSS invited a variety of water experts and stakeholders to meet with the students and provide them with first-hand knowledge. Students were able to spend time in the field with water scientists and managers and learn how resources are measured and managed. After learning from the experts it was time for students to role play as various stakeholders. They held a mock town hall meeting with the goal to collaborate and come to consensus on how best to manage water in Colorado. The town hall meeting was lively and many ideas were brought to the table. In the end, the students agreed that because of population growth and changing needs for water use, designing and implementing a new water rights system was necessary. One student suggested, “maybe we all should be allowed a base amount of water at a monthly rate, then be charged the value of freshwater over set limits, like cellphone minutes.”
After gaining a new perspective on water management, Keystone Science School’s H2O Outdoors students challenged themselves to reduce the amount of water they use through a water use table. By tracking their daily water usage the students each took one step toward becoming more water aware. What could we achieve as a state if we all did the same and tracked our own water usage? Maybe small reminders, like the bumper sticker a Snowy Peaks High School student designed as part of service learning project, will help us remember to use only what we need. Challenge yourself and track the amount of water you consume using the same table Keystone Science School’s H2O Outdoors students used. Encourage your family and friends to do the same and become more water aware. Whether the precipitation comes in the form or rain or snow, get out and enjoy it.
Amy Freeman is a program instructor at Keystone Science School. For more information on Keystone Science School, give us a call at (970) 468-2098 or visit www.KeystoneScienceSchool.org.