Newly-appointed Summit County Commissioner Nina Waters seeks to make inclusivity, equity a cornerstone of her tenure
Waters, who will serve out the remainder of former commissioner Josh Blanchard’s term, wants to tackle a slew of priorities from housing to water to emergency preparedness
Summit County resident Nina Waters may be new to elected office, but her experience in community advocacy runs deep.
Growing up in a lower-income neighborhood in Florida, Waters said she became used to volunteering at homeless shelters, food banks and other service-based organizations. She credits her mother for instilling “the values of giving back to your community,” Water said.
“We never had a lot of money growing up, but we had time,” she said.
On Sept. 6, Waters was selected as the county’s newest commissioner by a 44-member Democratic vacancy committee. Following the resignation of Josh Blanchard on Sept. 1, Waters will serve the remainder of his term, which runs through fall 2024.
For Waters, it’s a role she’s prepared for her entire life, even if she didn’t know it.
“It gives me an overwhelming sense of joy,” Waters said. “I feel like I’ve been doing the work to better people’s lives around me. So I felt like this would be a natural fit.”
Waters moved to the county in the summer of 2014, intending to stay for just a few months. Then a full-time actor, Waters occasionally traveled the country for gigs, this time landing one at Silverthorne’s Theatre SilCo, formerly the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. She envisioned life in Los Angeles and was determined that year to make it a reality, with Colorado meant to be a stop along the way.
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As she settled into an outdoor lifestyle she’d been craving, Waters decided she’d stay a bit longer.
“I started to make this place my home,” she said.
But the High Country comes at a high cost. To support her new life, Waters took on multiple jobs including acting, working at restaurants and even guiding rafting trips. Even today, she remains on the payroll as a bartender at Angry James Brewery in Silverthorne.
“I’ve always had more than one job, probably at least three most of the time I’ve lived here,” she said. “It’s always been a part of my life.”
Waters remained active in the arts community, serving as Theatre SilCo’s patron services manager from 2014-19 and becoming vice chair of Silverthorne’s art board in 2018.
But it wasn’t until 2020 that Waters said she turned to local politics.
Energized by the highly contentious 2016 election and subsequent presidency of Donald Trump, Waters joined the Summit County Democratic Party’s central committee as its events co-chair. Waters said she made outreach to underserved communities a high priority after realizing “there was a huge swath of the community who was not involved in the party.”
That year, Waters also became a land commissioner for the Lower Blue River District, which advises county commissioners on land-use decisions for the area. In both these roles, Waters said she began to hone her interest in local public policy.
When Blanchard signaled he’d be stepping down as commissioner for a new role with the state government, Waters said she initially didn’t see herself as his successor. But after conversations with other local leaders, she decided to put herself forward for consideration by the vacancy committee.
Waters beat out four other candidates after one round of voting at the Summit County Community & Senior Center on Wednesday, Sept. 6, and her tenure as commissioner began that Friday.
The top of her list of county priorities includes continued efforts on affordable housing, water and emergency preparedness.
On housing, Waters said the county will need to continue utilizing a multi-pronged approach that includes building new units as well as subsidy programs to incentivize more long-term rentals on the market, such as the Lease to Locals initiative.
Waters said she wants to prioritize “mid-density” developments, such as duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes, over single-family homes and aligning such housing along transit corridors where access to public transportation can help reduce congestion and traffic.
“That will kill potentially two birds with one stone,” she said.
Like housing, water “touches every Summit County resident’s life,” Waters said.
She wants to have both a united front as a county when it comes to water rights as well as an understanding that “not all the water that exists in Summit County belongs to Summit County.”
“It is my hope that we can all as a county come together on this united front in regards to our needs on water,” she said, adding she hopes the county can be an example on water policy for downstream communities.
As a northern county resident, Waters said continuing to improve emergency response systems and disaster preparedness is crucial. Her end of the county along the lower Blue River has seen a fair share of wildfires over the years, including yet another active summer these past few months.
Waters said her guiding principle with all these policy areas will be a commitment to ensuring diverse and underrepresented groups are heard throughout the decision-making process.
Waters said she is supportive of the county’s goal of increasing diverse staff by 10% by 2025, adding it will “start to shift to make sure they feel they have a seat at the table or that they may have a seat in power, like myself.”
Having a representative government is essential, Waters said, because, as she put it, “You can’t create for me without me.”
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