Letter to the Editor: Thanks to the community for the State of the Basin Symposium!

On Saturday, February 23rd, over 300 people gathered at Adams State University, for the first Rio Grande State of the Basin Symposium. They came to learn, engage and be part of the important community conversation about our Valley’s water future, and all that means for our way of life, our economy and the natural resources that sustain us. Those of us who organized and hosted the State of the Basin believe that we will need the involvement of the broader community, with our many points of view, and resources and ideas in order to achieve lasting water balance for the Valley.

This letter expresses our sincere appreciation for the many community members who chose to spend their Saturday at the Symposium, and for the many more who were interested but were unable to attend. We did get Christi Bode to capture the morning sessions on video and those will soon be posted on the Adams State YouTube channel for everyone to view.

Equally important, I am very grateful to all of the people and organizations that supported the gathering. The program design ideas and financial contributions of the co-host, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the sponsors, the SLV Irrigation District, the Conejos Water Conservancy District and the SLV Water Conservancy District all made it possible to host the event, provide food for attendees, for the video and other costs. Thank you!

Likewise, the support of ASU’s leadership, from President Lovell to the Board of Trustees, including Chair Cleave Simpson, to Chris Lopez, Linda Relyea, Amy Kucera and Peggy Dunn in the Marketing office and print shop were all of great help.  Berna Hostetter and Jarod Lucero made the logistics work, along with the Facilities folks. A number of faculty reached out to students, and the Office of Civic Engagement, the CORE office, Earth group and Associated Student & Faculty government all helped with outreach. 

We were pleased to offer food from local caterers, Pepita’s Catering for the morning coffee break and box lunches from Locavores Restaurant.

I was so grateful for the folks who volunteered before and during the event too, including Patricia Rodriguez, Loretta Mitson, Nicolette Jones, Heather Greenwolf, Emily Chavez, Shirley Atencio, Kay Lewis, Phil Lopez, Travis Fraker, and Kari Allen.

Finally, the presenters who shared their knowledge, expertise and experience provided the rich content for the day. Our aim was to reach a general audience, i.e. community members and ASU students, who care about water and know its importance, but who have work and school commitments that can make it difficult to attend the many water meetings held on weekdays. Thus our morning sessions addressed some basic, but critical, information about how water is managed here and current issues such as climate change, interstate concerns, and other challenges facing the Basin, with Division Engineer Craig Cotten.  Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, gave an overview of the status of and challenges regarding our aquifers and ground water. And we heard an overview of the extensive, community-based planning that has gone into the Rio Grande Basin and Colorado Water Plan as well as many of the current projects and work being done here, from Heather Dutton, manager of the SLV Water Conservancy District and our representative on the statewide Colorado Water conservation Board. 

In the middle of the morning, we were pleased to host keynote speakers, Colorado’s new Attorney General Phil Weiser, and Valley native, former Colorado Attorney General, former US Senator and former US Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar. Their discussion of the past, present and future water challenges made it clear that, while we have real and serious water issues, we also have their support in developing and implementing solutions. We’re very grateful for the insights they offered at the Symposium.

We also appreciated the presence and contributions of members of the Attorney General’s team, Amy Beatie, Deputy Attorney for Natural Resources and Phil Lopez, ASU alum and Assistant Attorney in the AG’s Water Section, as well as Becky Mitchell, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Amy Moyer, Assistant Director for Water with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

The afternoon breakout sessions gave attendees a chance to delve deeper into areas of interest. We appreciate the following presenters who also gave of their time to engage with participants:  Craig Cotten and Pat McDermott of the Colorado Division of Water Resources; Marissa Fricke, Amber Pacheco and Chris Ivers of the RGWCD; Emma Reesor and Daniel Boyes of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project; Cary Aloia of Wetland Dynamics; Nancy Butler of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust; Judy Lopez of Colorado Open Lands; Costilla County Commissioner Steven Romero; ASU Assistant Professor of Management Armando Valdez; Bethany Howell of the Rio Grande Watershed Education and Conservation Initiative; Curt Howell, ASU Director of Campus Recreation and Wellness; Kay Lewis and Shirley Atencio with the ASU Office of Civic Engagement; Mick Daniel of SLV Great Outdoors; Brian Puccerella with the Adams Adventure Program; Heather Dutton with the SLV WCD; Patrick O’Neill of Soil Health Services; George Whitten of San Juan Ranch; and Aaron Miltenberger with the Boys and Girls Club.

Many thanks to all of these people for contributing their time, information and insights. They represent many of the diverse and ongoing work that aims to take care of the water we have, educate the community, and restore and conserve the land, rivers and streams that we rely upon. 

And now what? The Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center at Adams State is looking to deepen and build upon the connection between the University and the community to provide water education, information and engagement. We’re developing ideas and funding for a Water Education Initiative to enhance curriculum, give students and community members new and different ways to learn and participate in water discussions and activities, and to provide more opportunities such as the Tale of Two Rivers talk held last September (which is already available for viewing on the ASU YouTube channel) and the State of the Basin Symposium. We invite and welcome ideas and input from the community on what topics are of most interest, suggestions for possible speakers or programs, and your thoughts on how to best provide information that is accessible, meaningful and timely.  Please contact me with your ideas!

The State of the Basin Symposium left me feeling uplifted and encouraged by the caring, involvement and energy of the community for our best possible water future. I hope it did the same for those of you who attended! And I look forward to building upon that momentum, with your help!


Rio de la Vista

Director, Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center

Adams State University

[email protected]