In Colorado, water is a valuable and limited resource, and competition is only becoming more of a challenge. That’s why the Colorado Foundation for Water Education (CFWE), a non-advocacy nonprofit organization, works statewide to promote increased understanding of water resources so Coloradans can make informed decisions. CFWE is committed to providing educational opportunities that consider diverse perspectives and facilitate dialogue in order to advance the conversation around water.
During the dry year of 2002, the Colorado General Assembly created the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. This came after multiple failed grassroots attempts to create a statewide water education organization to provide of non-biased water education and information. It had initially proved too difficult to secure grant funding for such an organization before 2002.
Through HB 02-1152, ushered into law by Representative Diane Hoppe and Senators Jim Isgar and Lewis Entz, the legislature appropriated funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to launch and maintain a water education foundation. CFWE’s legislative charge is “to promote a better understanding of water issues through educational opportunities and resources so Colorado citizens will understand water as a limited resource and will make informed water decisions.”
That legislative move and financial support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board are responsible for CFWE’s early success and created an organization that was determined to quickly prove its worth. Founding board members, including Hoppe (who served as board president) and Entz, felt an urgency to deliver tangible products from the beginning and developed educational materials starting with a map that illustrated the beneficial uses of water in Colorado. Early board members included President Diane Hoppe, First Vice President Justice Gregory Hobbs, Jr., Second Vice President Becky Brooks, Secretary Wendy Hanophy, Assistant Secretary Lynn Herkenhoff, Treasurer Tom Long, and Assistant Treasurer Matt Cook.
Programming and Accomplishments
In 2003, CFWE issued its first publication, the Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Law, making way for an entire series of Citizen’s Guides. This series of desktop reference booklets now covers nine different Colorado water topics: water law, water conservation, climate change, water quality, interstate compacts, Colorado’s environmental era, water history, Denver Basin groundwater, and transbasin diversions. Since 2010, CFWE has distributed more than 20,000 copies of Citizen’s Guides.
In the early days, CFWE also began leading multi-day river basin tours. These tours brought water managers, engineers, decision makers, attorneys, and other interested individuals on a multi-day trip to explore one of Colorado’s river basins. Participants learned about history, water management practices and challenges, water uses, and more. Today the Foundation’s team also offers shorter single-subject tours. These one-day “mini-tours” explore topics such as Denver’s urban waterways by bicycle, water for agriculture and endangered species in the Grand Valley, Colorado’s transbasin diversions, climate and Colorado’s water future, and water for brewing. In 2014, CFWE reached about 800 people with tours, mini-tours, webinars, and its annual Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference.
By late 2003, CFWE began publishing Headwaters magazine, which went on to become one of the organization’s cornerstone programs. Today, the magazine is published and arrives in thousands of mailboxes three times each year with the goal of raising awareness of current water issues and providing opportunities for engagement and further learning.
CFWE began its Water Leaders program in 2006. This leadership development course is aimed at mid-level Colorado professionals who are committed to preserving water resources and offers participants the opportunity to develop their leadership potential. The program provides training in conflict resolution, communication, and management, and includes extensive self-assessments, coaching, and numerous networking opportunities. Since 2006, more than 100 individuals have graduated from the Water Leaders program and continue to remain connected and involved through a Water Leaders Alumni Group.
The year 2012 heralded a statewide celebration of water. It was a milestone year for Colorado water, with CFWE’s tenth anniversary and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the legislation that created the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Partners around the state celebrated Colorado Water 2012, a water-awareness effort spearheaded by CFWE as a mode of bringing people together around water. CFWE convened partners and volunteers across the state, profiled and shared the work of water educators, and helped bring water festivals, a book club with author events, and other public events together under a common theme. CFWE also created the blog Your Water Colorado to reach a wider audience. Colorado Water 2012 reached 500,000 Coloradans, sparking new interest in water and connecting water professionals and educators around the state.
The end of 2012 brought with it various changes for CFWE. To sustain the momentum and collaboration that occurred among water educators over the year, CFWE developed the Water Educator Network in 2014. This network continued to connect educators and support them with resources, programming, and other services. During its inaugural year, more than fifty water educators came together as Water Educator Network members, representing a wide range of interests from Colorado’s South Platte, Colorado River, Gunnison, Arkansas, San Miguel, Dolores and San Juan Basins. Members can access an online directory of water-related lesson plans, publications, and other resources, connect with other members, attend workshops and webinars, share their successes and struggles, and come together during an annual symposium.
In response to the demand for Water Leaders, CFWE developed its Water Fluency program in 2015. This professional development course targets community leaders and decision makers to help them understand water and lead with confidence. During its first year, Water Fluency sold out with thirty-two participating decision makers who learned about Colorado’s water resources, the legal and institutional framework governing Colorado water, and Colorado’s water future. Participants are immersed in the language and concepts of water, as well as the tools to navigate the complexity and future of water management and policy.
Into the Future
Colorado is at a turning point when it comes to water. The Colorado Foundation for Water Education aims to play an important role in creating a future where civil debate moves the discussion past entrenched positions to implementable solutions and where uncommon allies work together. CFWE’s commitment to education that considers diverse perspectives earned the organization a reputation as the place where Coloradans convene with their peers to find the knowledge and skills needed to advance the conversation. The foundation is supported by more than 550 paying members.
CFWE will continue to update the basic resources it offers, but will also supplement them with educational programs that examine other public policy issues through the lens of water. The organization will tackle issues of concern to local communities such as economic development, rate setting, conservation, environmental health, and others by illustrating the water nexus and examining the pros and cons of different paths. In the future, CFWE will help community leaders and water professionals connect the dots between issues that may have been siloed in the past and will lead to broader appeal and applicability of CFWE’s work.