From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
Rebecca “Becky” Mitchell, the new director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, got right to work this past week.
But she didn’t have to go far, as she was in the same office in Denver she was Wednesday, when she learned that she was selected by the CWCB’s board of directors to serve as the state’s top water official.
Wednesday afternoon, Mitchell was responsible for managing nine employees as head of the CWCB’s water supply planning section.
But Thursday morning, she was responsible for 45 employees across various departments working on climate change, flood restoration, instream flows, loans and grants, the Colorado River compact, and other issues and projects.
Asked midday how her first day on the new job was going, an exuberant Mitchell said, “I’m really nervous and I’m scared” before laughing, and not sounding either nervous or scared.
“I want to do right by the people of the state,” she added.
Range of issues
In her new role, Mitchell, 43, is responsible for small things that can affect regional watersheds, including the Roaring Fork River region, such as grants to help fix irrigation ditches, to big things, like avoiding a compact call from California and Arizona, which could turn off many junior water rights.
“I think it’s an excellent choice,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, who also serves as the chairman of the Colorado River basin roundtable. “And it won’t take any time for her to get to know the issues.”
Praised by CWCB board members for her personality and ability to get things done, Mitchell is the second woman to serve as CWCB director since the agency’s founding in 1937. Jennifer Gimble lead the CWCB from 2008 to ’13 and is now at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.
More meaningful to Mitchell than gender is that she is the first CWCB department head to rise through the ranks and become director.
She said her first priority is to “get staff set in place and make sure that the goals and directions are clear.”
Mitchell has worked at the CWCB since 2012 and was instrumental in bringing forth the 2015 Colorado Water Plan after an intense, three-year planning exercise.
James Eklund, who served as CWCB director from 2013 until March, and was ultimately responsible for producing the water plan, also praised Mitchell.
“She did a ton of heavy lifting on the water plan, had a great outlook the whole time, and had people working at a high level,” said Eklund, who is now an attorney at the Denver office of Squire Patton Boggs. “That’s not easy to do.”
Patricia Wells, the general legal counsel for Denver Water, who represents the city and county of Denver on the CWCB’s board of directors, added: “Becky was largely responsible for the state water plan, which was an enormous undertaking, and she did it with style and good nature. And even though (she and her staff) worked themselves practically to death — sleeping on cots at the end there — they managed to do it in good spirits.”
She ticked off three challenges Mitchell will face: implementation of the 2015 water plan; producing the next iteration of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which is more technical in nature than the policy-driven water plan; and helping to develop a permanent and reliable source of funding to meet the state’s water needs.
Before joining CWCB, Mitchell worked on water policy in the executive director’s office at the Department of Natural Resources. And she’s been a consulting engineer, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Colorado School of Mines.
Mitchell, one of three finalists for the director’s job, was interviewed by the CWCB board in an executive session June 23 and gained the support of the full board, according to board member Heather Dutton, who is manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, and represents the Rio Grande River basin on the CWCB board.
“Becky brings with her an incredible intelligence but also a personality that makes her unique and approachable, and she has a big heart,” Dutton said. “Those attributes are going to go really far.”
Mitchell will begin her tenure as head of CWCB with the benefit of the state Legislature having just approved $164 million in the agency’s annual “projects bill.”
The bill includes $130 million for loans for water projects, $9 million for CWCB operations and $25 million to help implement aspects of the water plan.
Mitchell said one of her early goals is to let people know that the water plan is not solely the CWCB’s plan.
“Just because the CWCB was leading the charge to develop the plan, it’s important to recognize that it wasn’t developed only within CWCB, and the responsibility is beyond CWCB,” she said. “It includes all of the people that can make a difference in reducing the supply and demand gap and solving the future of Colorado water. It’s everyone’s responsibility to play a role in that.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on the coverage of water and rivers. The Times published this story on Saturday, July 8, 2017.
From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):
The Colorado Water Conservation Board is under new management after a rare internal promotion announced this week elevated Becky Mitchell into the director role…
“I’m most excited about building on existing relationships and hopefully working more on those, to locate solutions where people’s needs and desires intercept — that’s where we’re going to find solutions,” said Mitchell. “A benefit of being involved in the water plan’s development is understanding how we move forward with it, and I have some ideas with that.”
Specifically, Mitchell imagines boosting ownership and responsibility from various interests in achieving conservation and storage goals set forth in the plan through increased collaboration. Education and outreach campaigns to produce methods that help address the supply-demand gap as the state’s population is projected to more than double to 10.5 million by 2050 are other components she sees as key parts of her job…
Mitchell, who holds a bachelor’s of science and master’s in environmental science and engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, and has worked in both the public and private sectors as a consulting engineer, agrees that the obstacle in financing is the largest to overcome to expand implementation. She believes, however, that a large budgetary commitment — tens of millions of dollars toward projects — from the state Legislature in the most recent session speaks volumes about its commitment to ultimately seeing the plan through.
“Funding was definitely called out in the water plan and is something we’re aware of, because it’s expensive to implement all of these things on the ground,” said Mitchell. “It’s not just the Water Conservation Board’s responsibility, though. The Legislature said very loudly and clearly there needed to be a diverse focus on use of those funds, to address the supply-demand gap, storage, and strategies for conservation, land-use and drought planning. The funding is set aside to tap storage, but also for across the board to find ways to move the needle on our water future.”