8 trends and takeaways from this year’s Water Congress

What I heard from the water pros: collaboration, climate change — and the state water plan recited as a poem.

February 4, 2016 | By: Katie Knoll

Call me a water nerd, but I love going to the Colorado Water Congress annual convention every year.

But it can be exhausting. Three days of networking and catching up with professional colleagues (and friends) can wear a girl down, but it’s totally worth it.

Harold Miskel, recipient of the 2016 Aspinall Water Leader of the Year Award, is joined by past winners, including Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. Photo credit: Colorado Water Congress.

The convention is devoted to education and conversation on all things water. It begins with a full day of educational workshops, followed by two days of informational seminars led by the top minds on water from around the state. And it’s all rounded out with a sprinkling of federal and state legislative affairs committee meetings.

This year, many of the agenda topics focused on the Colorado Water Plan and what comes next. Here’s my No.1 takeaway: What truly comes next is a really impressive transition from “water is for fightin’” to “water is for collaboratin’ and cooperatin’.”

A little less exciting, perhaps, but a lot more potential for getting things done.

Here are my eight takeaways from the water pros:

1. Collaboration. “Legislation cannot mandate cooperation,” said Travis Smith, Colorado Water Conservation Board board member. Attendees seemed to be taking that advice to heart, finding inspiration through Rotary International’s Four-Way Test.

2. Aging Infrastructure. Here’s an issue the East Slope and West Slope residents can agree on. While Denver Water deals with a distribution system that was built before World War II, the West Slope is dealing with irrigation systems dating back more than 150 years.

3. Fun. Contrary to popular belief, conversations about water resources and infrastructure CAN be fun. This year’s convention yielded a few Star Wars references and some killer rhymes from the CWCB’s fearless leader, James Eklund, as he broke down the Colorado Water Plan — poetry-style!

Construction cranes fill the Denver skyline, a sign of the city's growing population.
Construction cranes fill the Denver skyline, a sign of the city’s growing population.

4. Population growth. Colorado’s population is expected to nearly double by 2050. A popular theme, not only at the convention but in all conversations about water: We can’t grow the next 5 million the same way we grew the last.

5. More land-use planning. Twelve percent of Coloradans currently live in communities that have incorporated water saving into their land-use planning. The Colorado Water Plan has a goal to increase that number to 75 percent by 2025. The CWCB and Colorado Department of Local Affairs are creating cross-training programs to bring together water and land-use folks to plan for the future. Stay tuned!

6. Protect those watersheds! Only 47 percent of Colorado’s critical watersheds are currently covered by a watershed protection plan. The Water Plan calls for increasing protections up to 80 percent by 2030.

7. Weather and climate. 2015 was the warmest year on record globally and the second warmest nationally. (In Colorado, it was the third warmest year.) But Nolan Doesken, our state climatologist, did offer some good news: According to his records, Colorado has been drought free for longer than we ever have been, and this year’s forecast is looking wet. Thanks, Mother Nature!

8. Limericks. Thanks to our new Colorado State Historian, Patty Limerick! She led a seminar this year focused on how to use stories (and limericks) to tell the water story. Here’s one of our favorites from her book, “A Ditch in Time”:

Lessons of Interconnection

Rural and urban places

Are tangled together like laces.

They’re like sister and brother;

They depend on each other,

They have never been opposite cases.

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Patricia Limerick’s “A Ditch In Time” tells the story of water in Colorado and the American West.

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