Balancing demands on limited water supply is likely to be a persistent problem for the Four Corners as the climate changes and the population grows.
The new Four Corners Water Resource Center at Fort Lewis College aims to help educate professionals and bring the community together to make good water management decisions, Director Gigi Richard said.
“(Water) is a problem that is not going to go away as the population grows, as the climate warms, as we place greater demands on our existing systems and our infrastructure ages,” she said.
Richard co-founded the water center at Colorado Mesa University and is launching a similar center at FLC that will focus on the Dolores and San Juan river watersheds.
“We have called it the Four Corners Water Center because we don’t want to stop at the state line; the rivers don’t stop at the state line,” she said.
The center expects to educate students, convene community discussions and create an online data hub collected on the Dolores and San Juan river watersheds, she said.
Richard hopes to help highlight FLC water research and connect students with water-related classes, projects, research opportunities, internships and careers, she said. Fifteen FLC faculty are involved in water-focused research.
“Fort Lewis already has strength in water-related research,” she said.
An early step likely will be a webpage that informs the community and students about ongoing work at FLC, she said.
Richard also plans to assess the college’s water-related courses over the next year and determine how the school could expand its water-related curriculum. The school could offer minors, majors or certificates related to water studies.
“There is a cohort of professionals about to retire, and they are going to be a lot of spaces to be filled. And having well-educated students ... who are well versed in water issues and water science and understanding our water systems, that’s important,” she said.
The center also plans to create an online hub for data on the San Juan and Dolores river watersheds, such as native fish, sediment and channel morphology. She would like some of the data to be made into graphs that could be accessible to decision-makers, she said.
The center also hopes to convene forums that could promote education and discussion, Richard said.
For example, on Sept. 13, the center will host a forum called “Burned, Buried and Flooded: Water Resources Excitement in Southwest Colorado.” Panelists will discuss water topics including how the 416 Fire may affect the watershed, reservoirs and avalanches.
The center expects to work with many of the groups already working on water issues in the region such as Mountain Studies Institute and the Water Information Program.
“We want to be a value to support good decision-making in the region related to water,” she said.