Summit County: Hands on in the water
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Talking about rivers and streams, water rights and water policy east of the Continental Divide doesn’t necessarily connect students with their source of water, Aurora Water’s Mary Dawson said.
Which is why her organization is now a partner with Denver Water and the Colorado River Water Conservation District to fund and support the Keystone Science School’s H2O Outdoors program.
“It’s about getting kids up here,” Dawson said. “No matter what they do … they’re getting out of the concrete jungle. … It’s one thing to talk about it, but to see the relationship between snowfall and streamflow is key.”
Dawson observed on Friday last week’s H2O Outdoors students gathered to discuss water policy solutions. The Town Hall meeting was modeled after the Keystone Center’s process of bringing together public, private and civic sector leaders to take on environmental, energy and public health problems. The afternoon prior, students met with experts in the water field to inform them of the roles they would play at the meeting.
Beyond gaining a deeper understanding of water issues in the west, the program’s goal is for students to see collaboration at work – how personalities interact and the way difficult compromises are made.
“It shows that we do work together. It’s not just about bumping heads,” said Matt Bond, Denver Water’s youth education program manager.
“I knew water was a big issue … but I didn’t know how (everyone) works together to solve the problem,” said Karina Vega, a junior at Overland High School in Aurora. She played a U.S. Forest Service fish biologist for the program.
As students took on roles as diverse as Carlyle Currior, vice president of Colorado Farm Bureau; Steve Smith, The Wilderness Society assistant regional director; and Denver Water planner Kevin Urie, they acted the parts and butted heads in discussions.
But at the end of the program, they had to make suggestions, explore pros and cons, use their organizations’ leverage, raise questions and find solutions. Most importantly, they had to know their role, know the issue, and use all the information to stick up for their stakeholder interests.
Bond was one of 10 expert panelists who met with students Thursday afternoon to answer their questions surrounding water issues. Several opted to watch the students use the information to problem solve on Friday.
Their solutions were based on two principles: that it’s all the same water, divvied up between a vast array of interests, and that conservation is key to a sustainable water supply for all interests.
“All of Colorado makes it a place people want to live,” Summit County commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said in Thursday’s panel. “Water throughout Colorado adds value to the entire state, not just those who have the water.”
“We realize its a great opportunity to provide a high school opportunity, but one where we’re taking the educational program to the other side of the Continental Divide,” Bond said about why Denver Water opts to help fund the program.
Mike Wilde of the Colorado River Water Conservation District added that H2O Outdoors, which was pioneered by the district, aims to change students’ awareness, attitude and action toward water issues.
The experts were impressed with the students’ ability to learn so quickly, particularly amidst a learning curve Wilde said is “like drinking out of a fire hose for three days.”
“These are the folks making these decisions down the road,” Bond said of the students. “They’re tasked with taking whatever happens now … to whatever the next step will be.”
At the end of the program, Aurora Water and Denver Water officials offered interested students the opportunity to shadow employees if they don’t qualify for internships or other educational offerings.
Wilde said, so far, students haven’t done any shadowing, but the program is just getting rolling – and Aurora Water and Denver Water just joined forces.
“At the beginning of this, we don’t know where kids paths will lead them,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter where they go, they’ll take some of this with them.”
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