Learning about the Valley’s water from above

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Learning about the Valley’s water from above

Date: 10/19/2021     Category: News & Media     Author: Alamosa Citizen     Publication: Alamosa Citizen    

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OCTOBER 19, 2021

Salazar Center and EcoFlight support
Water Studies minor at Adams State

Flying above the San Juan Mountains, over the pivots, small houses and tiny cows on the Valley floor, and feeling the rise and fall of elevation in my stomach and the jostling reminder of turbulence, there isa new abundance of perspective. 

Rio de la Vista, director of the Salazar Rio Grande Del Norte Center at Adams State University, partnered with  EcoFlight, a non-profit company out of Aspen, to take groups of Adams State students, community members, and press to view the Valley’s reservoirs and watersheds from the air. These flights will be part of the Water Studies minor at Adams State. 

The Water Studies minor is a new degree plan at Adams that gives students the option to engulf themselves in not just the hydrology and biology of the Valley’s water systems, but also the policy, legal history, education, and communications that are involved (which just scratches the surface).  The minor program’s diversity in lessons allows students from different course studies to take part and add to the conversation, which highlights the program’s importance and vast array of opportunities for students to pursue. 

The flights were conducted in the morning under clear blue skies. The Valley’s largest reservoirs, river systems, and creeks were the main focus of attention. 

Wednesday night’s preflight meeting covered the itinerary and introductions. Pat McDermott and David Hoffman of Alamosa’s Division of Water Resources gave a presentation on current water levels, historical water levels, and also explained complicated water terms to give context to the Water Studies lessons.

The first set of flights on Thursday hopped over to Creede to hear a short presentation from Alex Handloff from the Headwaters Alliance.

When we picked up the rest of the second group, we flew south to see wetlands and creek beds, the Rio Grande and Conejos River confluence, then headed southwest to follow the Conejos River all the way up to Platoro Reservoir.  From there, the flight took us north, with a chance to observe La Jara Reservoir and a number of private reservoirs. We then flew over Rio Grande Reservoir and skirted Creede, following the Rio Grande into South Fork, Del Norte, and Monte Vista, back into Alamosa. 

On the second day, the group flew along the Sangre de Cristos and met with Alamosa Wildlife Refuge Manager Suzanne Beauchaine.

The Citizen reached out to de la Vista, after the flights were conducted, to get her perspective on the importance of showing people the Valley’s water issues from above.

Alamosa Citizen: How important is EcoFlight to the new water courses at the college? 

Rio de La Vista: The Salazar Rio Grande del Norte Center’s  Rio Grande Aerial School program, in partnership with EcoFlight, is the kind of unique experience that we’re working to offer Adams State students. As the new Water Studies minor gets off the ground, we want to interest young people in the fascinating and ever more critical world of water. The chance to see the rivers, streams, wetlands, reservoirs, and working lands of  our Valley – and the relationship between all of those – from the air is both exciting and memorable.  The aerial view that the flights provide is a learning experience these students will remember for the rest of their lives!

AC: In a few words, describe the water course’s importance and what their potential is for the future of our Valley.

de la Vista: The Valley’s water future is at risk from many directions, from changing climate to our own management challenges to threats of exportation. The community has come together many times in the past to address challenges and we are doing so again. However, we may be facing the most difficult times ever. It appears too that our current challenges will not be solved quickly, and new ones are bound to emerge in the future. At the Salazar Center, we developed the Water Education Initiative and new water courses in order to help students, many of whom are Valley natives, learn about how water works to sustain nature, wildlife, people, communities, and economies. And with that foundation, we also teach about how water is managed through administration, through the laws, and through communities working together to address all of those factors. The future of the Valley depends upon us figuring that out now and having knowledgeable leaders who can continue to adapt and work together into the future. 

AC: With a new area of research coming to ASU, do you expect the demand for careers and research in the SLV’s water to increase?

de la Vista: The new Water Studies minor is both a response to the vast array of existing opportunities and needs, and to the wide variety of careers that have a water nexus. They are also preparation for increasing demand for water knowledge in many fields. Students who graduate with a Water Studies minor will have an understanding of various aspects of water that will help them to pursue work for a wide range of entities and pathways, from local, state and federal agencies and the water and irrigation districts, to communications, conservation, public administration, law, business, and many more.  If they are working in agriculture, water knowledge will help them better manage the water rights and water uses that sustain agriculture.  Hopefully, the knowledge our students gain will also empower them to take on leadership roles for districts, ditch companies, conservation and other non-profits, elected offices and more. And while the demand is already high in all of these areas, it appears that the need for water expertise will only increase in the time ahead, as the pressures for water in the Valley, in Colorado, across the West and indeed around the world continue to rise.

AC: Finally, what are your hopes for these classes, and students taking on a new understanding of water in our valley, and our state? 

Rio: At the Salazar Center, we hope that the new Water Studies minor will attract more and more Adams State students, along with community members auditing the class and hopefully high school students as well, who can take Adams courses while still in local highschools. We hope to build upon the brand base of courses that our faculty members have already stepped up to offer, ranging from the sciences, economics and law to anthropology, philosophy and literature as well! The future of water in our Valley and in Colorado will require knowledge, experience, caring and collaborative efforts, all of which we are building into the learning design for the courses and the special programs like the Rio Grande Aerial School. The overall program will bring students together with the broader water community and leadership here in the Valley and from a state level as well, so when our graduates look for work opportunities, they will have a network of people who they met through their water studies. We hope that this will help build the next generation of water leaders and give them the knowledge, tools and network to care for our precious water far into the future.