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Every Drop Matters.
Welcome to Headwaters River Journey, the only off-the-power-grid exhibit venue, and Colorado’s most interactive place for people of all ages to dive into water conservation and conversation.
Exhibits Open to the Public July 14th
Immersed in a Mission
The intent of the Headwaters River Journey is to raise awareness about the critical role the Colorado River headwaters play in our environment, economy, and Colorado lifestyle, as well the vital actions we must take to conserve and protect our rivers and water supply. The Headwaters River Journey is housed within the Headwaters Center, a nonprofit operation created by the Sprout Foundation. The Headwaters Center aims to provide enriching cultural and educational opportunities, unique meeting and event spaces, and access to higher education through both hands-on and distance learning experiences.
Water We Talking About?
The water we drink. The water we bathe in. The water we use to clean our clothes, wash our dishes, and water our lawns. Where does it come from? Are we using it wisely? Will there always be a reliable supply?
In Colorado, the water we use comes primarily from our rivers, including the Fraser River flowing right outside Headwaters River Journey.
These rivers we rely on are greatly impacted by diversions, climate change, population growth, and the personal choices we make about water usage.
Headwaters River Journey, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), is a self-guided adventure through 31 immersive exhibits inviting visitors to explore the wonder of Colorado’s rivers, learn more about the threats to our water supply, gather to discuss water-related issues, and take action in conserving our greatest resource.
From The Sky-Hi News (McKenna Harford):
Between regularly watering thirsty lawns, enjoying lengthy showers and running the dishwasher too frequently, the average person uses over 18,000 gallons of water in just six months.
Since water is a finite resource and deeply ingrained in the Colorado lifestyle, a new museum at the heart of the Fraser Valley opening Sunday [July 14, 2019] is dedicated to educating visitors about the issues and potential solutions for water conservation.
The Headwaters River Journey, located on the first floor of the Headwaters Center in Winter Park, takes visitors on a journey to discover where their water comes from, the details of the river environment, how water is used and wasted and what is being done to protect the precious resource.
“It’s about getting people to focus on (water) because it’s a huge issue in the west,” said Bob Fanch, owner of the Headwaters Center and Headwaters River Journey. “I think what we’re trying to get across is to be part of the solution. If one individual turns into every individual and the actions are positive, the impacts on the river can be very significant.”
On Saturday, invited guests attended the grand opening of the Headwaters River Journey, which featured remarks from Fanch; Jimmy Lahrman, mayor of Winter Park; Philip Vandernail, mayor of Fraser; Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; and Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“This is unique to say the least,” Gibbs said. “There’s nothing like this in the state or even the country where (…) there’s something so that a two-year-old can understand water conservation and for anyone in their 90s to understand the importance of water conservation.”
Situated right along the Fraser River, the museum focuses on the local ecosystem, the real issues it faces, such as diversions to the Front Range and rising temperatures, and features local stories of people taking steps to preserve Grand County’s rivers.
Visitors not only learn through the usual means of reading and watching video, but also interact with the over 30 exhibits. There are games where players virtually experience the life of a trout or the journey of an osprey, there are quizzes to test knowledge and encourage feedback, as well as stations to share ideas and solutions.
“We’re trying to make sure people understand the connection between water and lifestyle in Colorado,” Fanch said. “We also wanted to make it interesting and we didn’t want to dumb it down, but bring it up to a higher contemplative level.”
The whole experience is immersive in the same way a 4D amusement park ride is. Audio tracks of trickling creeks, tweeting birds and bugling elk play, bursts of cool air accompany video clips of a blizzarding Berthoud Pass and feel the difference between a 50 degree river and a 70 degree river.
The museum doesn’t just talk about sustainability either, it embodies it. The Headwaters River Journey is the only off-the-grid exhibit in the country, powered completely by solar, and it utilized local beetle kill wood and old water flumes in the design. The bathrooms also have low-flow toilets and all the lighting is LED.
Ultimately, Fanch hopes the Headwaters Center and its museum can be the “water mecca of the west,” where people can get together to discuss issues and come up with solutions.
“We want to be the Switzerland of the water world, where different interests can come here and talk about issues and figure out solutions together,” he said.
From Metropolitan State University of Denver (Amanda Miller):
Coloradans can retire the refrain, “We need the moisture.” At least for the time being.
For the first time in at least 19 years, no area of the state is experiencing drought conditions as measured by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which has been measuring conditions since 2000…
While the end of drought conditions is widely considered a positive, water experts warn that existing conditions could be a double-edged sword for Colorado.
On the positive side, the “amazing” June snowpack is good news for Colorado’s river-related recreation economy, said Tom Cech, director of Metropolitan State University’s One World One Water (OWOW) Center for Urban Water Education. Whether the snow melts gradually or in a late-spring or early-summer surge, it’s good news for tourists recreating on the state’s rivers and mountain creeks, though safety will be paramount as flows rise.
Likewise, Colorado’s water infrastructure is capable of capturing large volumes of water in reservoirs for flood control and future use, said Thomas Bellinger, Ph.D., a hydrologist who teaches environmental science and policy, snow hydrology and water law in MSU Denver’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science.
“Past high-snowpack years – 1995 and 2003, for instance – proved that the state’s infrastructure can handle these conditions,” he said.
Reservoir storage remains generally low in anticipation of rising stream flows as rivers have yet to peak, the USDA NRCS said in a June 6 press release. Below normal reservoir levels will help in absorbing above normal stream flows.
Just don’t expect those full reservoirs to lead to lower municipal and commercial water prices, Cech said.
“In general, expect water prices to continue to escalate,” he said.
But a stretch of warm days in the High County – especially with rain added in – could melt a lot of snow quickly, sending a “pulse of water” into the Front Range via waterways such as Cherry Creek, Coal Creek, Boulder Creek and other tributaries that merge into the South Platte River north of Denver, Cech said.
Compounding the danger of a fast melt is the fact that the state’s snowpack is actually deeper than the data indicate, Bellinger said. Snowpack data cited in this story and other publications come from “snowpack telemetry” stations – known as SNOTEL – that are between 10,000 and 12,000 feet of elevation.
“There is a lot of snow above that elevation, and while it may melt slower because of cooler temps up there, much of it will melt into already-full rivers,” he said.
While it may defy logic, the current wet conditions in the mountains may increase the danger of wildfires, Bellinger said.
“The mountains are so green right now, and if this snowpack and a wet spring lead to a lot of undergrowth, that could become fuel for forest fires if it dries out in the late summer or fall,” he said.
Cech and Bellinger warn that the current drought-free conditions do not portend a drought-free future.
“This will likely be a good recovery year, but we’re coming out of an El Niño cycle, which tends to be wetter, and entering a La Niñacycle, which tends to be dryer,” Bellinger said.
El Niño patterns develop when water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator warm above average, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. La Niña conditions occur when that water is cooler than average.
Likewise, the long-term trends of climate change point toward extended periods of drought in Colorado, Bellinger said.
“With climate change, we can still expect these periods of relief,” he said. “But the trends point toward extended periods of drought in the American West.”
From email from the AWRA Colorado Section (Alison Keener):
AWRA Colorado is hosting a networking event for students and young professionals on July 11th – Bingo Night at the Irish Snug! There will be cash prizes, free appetizers, and opportunities to meet professionals in the water industry. More information can be found in the attached flyer or on our website. Please share with anyone that may be interested in our event!
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Katie Boehmer):
Water managers and policymakers are facing increasingly urgent threats to water resources worldwide and interdisciplinary tools and approaches may hold the answers to addressing these challenges. The Colorado Water Center, designated by the federal State Water Resources Research Act Program as the research institute for the state’s water resources, has announced awards of nearly $170,000 to provide seed funding for four Colorado State University research teams, two faculty fellows, and two education and engagement projects for the 2019-20 academic year.
The annual competitive grants program is one avenue through which the Center catalyzes water research, education and engagement across the state, as part of CSU’s land-grant mission. Awards support interdisciplinary collaboration and creative scholarship among the University’s faculty and students. The goal is to accelerate progress in research and enable both academic and experiential investigations into water resource challenges and opportunities.
The proposals funded for 2019-20 come from a broad range of disciplines, including engineering, natural resources, and agricultural sciences.
“CSU has a very strong and diverse group of faculty engaged in compelling water problems of the twenty-first century,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Center. “Our goal with this competitive grants program is to help them increase the effectiveness and impact of their research.”
Broad water research
Aditi Bhaskar, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will lead a research team that hopes to harness the power of crowdsourced monitoring to better understand urban street flooding. Not only will this method generate more robust on-the-ground data than is possible with sensors, this pilot project will also provide a foundation for integrating social media with a new Flood Tracker citizen science app.
John Hribljan, a research scientist in the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, and his team will investigate how peatlands in western Washington respond to changes in precipitation and temperature over time. Despite peatlands’ significant role in global carbon storage, uncertainties remain in how these systems respond to hydrologic alterations from changing climate and land use. This research will inform regional wetland management and has far-reaching implications for more northern peatlands.
Kristen Rasmussen, an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science, will use high-resolution modeling to investigate how predicted changes in climate will modify the snowpack and hydrology of the Rocky Mountains. By generating a better understanding of future snow dynamics – especially given snow’s complex interactions with the atmosphere, land cover, and terrain – her team’s work will also inform management efforts for Rocky Mountain National Park and surrounding areas.
Jay Ham, a professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, was awarded the Center’s inaugural Food-Water-Sustainability grant, which is funded in partnership with the School of Global Environmental Sustainability and the CSU Agricultural Experiment Station. Irrigation water management in agricultural and urban systems is currently hamstrung by a lack of affordable, real-time, soil moisture data; Ham’s research team seeks to remedy this gap by using the Internet of Things and cloud computing to develop better technology and infrastructure for data collection, as well as education resources for researchers deploying these new tools. Backed by research to increase soil moisture monitoring efficiency and sustainability, the end-product will be open-source and available for purchase online.
Yoichiro Kanno, an assistant professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, and Michael Ronayne, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences, were awarded faculty fellowships by the Center. By tracing trout movement and exploring how habitat features impact their genetics, Kanno plans to produce research that will provide support for the restoration of greenback cutthroat trout in the Cache la Poudre basin. Ronayne will study the hydrogeologic processes of complex multi-aquifer systems.
Education and engagement projects
For the first time since its competitive grant program was launched at CSU in 2014, the Water Center also will fund two education and engagement projects: one led by Steven Fassnacht, professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability; and the other by Amy Kremen, research project manager in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.
Fassnacht’s team will create high school curriculum that integrates water science and poetry, the impact of which will be twofold: students, as well as their educators, will gain a better understanding of the links between the humanities and the environment – specifically ecology, climate, and hydrology – and, they hope, students will be inspired to study water and environmental sciences at the college level. Kremen and her team will also develop curriculum, one for a “Master Irrigator” education and training program in Northeastern Colorado. Her project, complemented by state and local policy efforts, will target producers and crop consultants, encouraging them to adopt water-use efficiency and water conservation practices that will ultimately help push the region toward fulfilling its water conservation goals.
Sam Ng’s students learn all about mesocyclones and tornados in his weather lab at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
But to fully understand and respect the kind of severe weather they’ll be forecasting as meteorologists, he wants them to see it for themselves. Not in textbooks but on the wind-swept plains of Colorado and surrounding states.
“So, our lab is actually outside, in the field,” said Ng, a professor of meteorology in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
Every spring, with cameras, weather radar and instruments in hand, Ng and his students hit the road in search of the perfect storm. Students in this year’s course – Field Observation of Severe Weather – covered 3,750 miles in four states: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
During the six-day road trip, the class witnessed two tornados, a mesocyclone, lightning, large hail and high winds.
“Almost everything that I would want the students to see that connects the theories with observation,” Ng said, adding that he emphasizes teaching students how to observe weather safely.
“There are a lot of people out there who have been too reckless chasing storms because they want to be the first to have the (camera) click,” he said. “What I’m hoping is for my students to learn from me and my co-instructor to become responsible storm observers and responsible meteorologists.”