Published: June 11, 2019 By ,

Water BoardOver the course of summer 2019, MENV will feature various Capstone Projects to keep the community updated on the accomplishments of our students and partner organizations. The Capstone is the centerpiece of the MENV program and is a year-long project that partners students with an organization from the public, private, or non-profit sector. Students gain real-world, professional experience that serves as a springboard for their future careers.

Capstone Project: Updating the Colorado Water Plan – Analysis & Basin Integration

Partner Organization: Colorado Water Conservation Board

Student Team: Bianca Valdez, Hannah O’Neill, Jakki Davison

With its soaring Rocky Mountains, Colorado is home to many watersheds, including the Colorado River Basin. From the West’s most famous river to the smallest mountain tributary, the state’s water is in increasingly high demand as the regional climate changes.

In other words, Colorado water is a pretty big deal.

In 2015, the importance of conserving Colorado’s water resources brought together state agencies, hundreds of stakeholders, and 30,000 public comments to create the Colorado Water Plan. Overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the plan examined the state’s water needs with respect to a growing population and an increasingly dry climate. Since its start, the plan has successfully integrated statewide climatic, population, and water modeling with local concerns to identify future needs and target water infrastructure projects.

As the state approaches a 2020 update to its original plan, the Colorado Conservation Board has tapped the MENV student team of Bianca Valdez, Hannah O’Neill, and Jakki Davison to support the charge for a revamped plan. Over the course of 2019, the team of three will analyze past planning documents to better inform the 2020 version.

Since the Colorado Water Plan is only in its first iteration, the opportunity for impact from the Capstone Project is high. “This is only the second iteration of the [Colroado Water Plan], and we have the opportunity to influence not only the current update of this important planning document but future cycles as well,” O’Neill said in an interview.

Since starting the project in January, O’Neill, Valdez, and Davison have thoroughly studied the “Basin Implementation Plans” for the state’s nine water basins. The task was a major undertaking, with each plan consisting of roughly 950 pages. However, the team created a unique coding system to create a narrative around the potential changes the Water Conservation Board could take – a process all three maintained has been the most exciting part of the project so far.  

For the remainder of the summer, the O’Neill, Valdez, and Davison are planning to research the water planning processes for other states and countries with a similar climate to Colorado. In September, the team will present a summary of their recommendations to the Colorado Water Conservation Board at the Basin Roundtable Summit in Winter Park. In December, the team will provide the state with an official write-up of their recommendations and materials to engage and educate the various parties affected by the plan.