Water in its purest form is devoid of color. But in Colorado, people tend to see water issues in terms of black and white.
That’s where Patti Wells comes in.
“I love punching holes in stereotypes,” Wells said.
In addition to her role as general counsel for Denver Water, Wells was recently reappointed to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency tasked with creating policy direction on water issues.
As a member of the conservation board, Wells was an active contributor to the recently completed Colorado Water Plan. In the discussions, she challenged some long-held beliefs and stereotypes about water use, to make sure all voices in the discussions were heard.
“I wanted to make sure we humanized the way people use water,” she said. “Too often, water planners view people as a problem to be solved in a water equation, rather than factoring in the human element of water use. People use water for a variety of reasons.
“We don’t want them to waste it, but we don’t want to make value judgments either. Most of the time, people have good reasons for using water the way they do.”
Wells also took on value judgments that typically come into play when discussing water in the West — especially around the age-old rhetoric pinning urban versus agricultural water use.
“If you simply listen to the stereotypes, you would assume that using water for crops is good and using water for lawns is bad. But the urban landscape has value as well,” she said. “Consider that people are making an investment in their properties by maintaining their landscape, and that adds value to the state’s overall economy.
“It’s really about trying to see things in a different way. We try to avoid stereotypes and gently point out the facts.”
And now the real work begins — shaping actions around numerous ideas put forth in the plan.
“Chapter 10 has an entire list of actions directed at the [conservation board]. But I’m looking forward to it. We have a really good group. The board members bring a lot of different ideas to the table, but I think we’ve always risen to the occasion when it came time to get something done. I think the State Water Plan is a great example of that.”