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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

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Water Education Colorado

Navigating the Water World

By Jayla Poppleton | Photographs by Kevin Moloney

Consider it a networking opportunity extraordinaire.

Participants in the Colorado Foundation for Water Education's water leaders program are raving about the same thing: relationships.

Connecting with other up-and-coming leaders in the state as well as major players in the water community is making each person's work not only more enjoyable but more effective.

The water leaders program trains Colorado's emerging professionals in communication, negotiation and conflict-resolution skills. Participants gain a broad understanding of water resources issues in the state and have the opportunity to partner with mentors who are willing to impart knowledge gained through their own careers.

‘By investing in these highly-motivated professionals,’ says Foundation Executive Director Nicole Seltzer, ‘the Foundation is facilitating conversation and teaching participants to 'pay it forward' and use their education and training to improve the dialogue within the water community.’

Twenty-one people have completed the program during its two inaugural years.

‘Two good things are coming out of it,’ says Seltzer. ‘One, the opportunity to meet a group of excellent peers, a vetted group of professionals all working in the water resources field in different areas. And two, the self-assessment work they do is pretty intense.’

It was through this work that Tom Iseman found his voice. Iseman may be a bona fide introvert, but he's determined to shake that tendency when it comes to expressing his point of view in public settings. As the Nature Conservancy's water program manager, he is increasingly involved in state legislative issues and planning for statewide water supply. If he's going to have an influence, he must speak up.

‘I made a lot of progress,’ he says, ‘just by understanding that this was my personality type and working on being more extroverted in terms of how I participate in meetings and my willingness to engage in public speaking.’

Professional coach Len Loudis works with participants on a spectrum of self-assessments, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, which identifies personality types. Participants learn not only about themselves, but about working with others who perceive the world through a different filter.

‘Dr. Loutis uses real-life examples of how we can better deal with fellow human beings and promote positive outcomes by doing so,’ says program graduate Scott Hummer.

Sasha Charney, from the program's first year, says, ‘Different people need different information to be able to work, to be motivated.’

Charney describes an exercise Dr. Loutis gave the class after splitting them into two groups. Each group brainstormed a definition for ‘pristine waters.’

‘Our group, the thinkers, was throwing out things like: parts per million contaminants, the definition of wilderness, that there's no such thing as pristine. The other group, the feelers, came back with pictures of a bubbling brook and sparkling water. It was a fabulous example. If you're presenting to a board and they're a different type, they're not going to hear a word you said.’

Charney, water resources specialist for Boulder County, manages water holdings for Boulder as part of its parks and open space program. For most of her work, she doesn't encounter others in the water field, so she especially valued the connection with her mentor, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs.

‘He was like three mentors in one,’ says Charney. ‘Part of it was his incredible enthusiasm for water. Even after working on this for decades, he still has so much hope, enthusiasm and excitement about water. It is very motivating to be around that.’

She also appreciated the camaraderie and opportunity to bond with others in the same stage of their careers.

‘You're in a confidential environment where you can really share your successes, failures, and challenges with a bright group of people,’ says Charney.

Iseman agrees the best part was building relationships with people from diverse backgrounds and gaining new perspectives.

‘It's easy to stay in your own community,’ says Iseman. ‘But someone from the environmental community having the chance to work with farmers, engineers, municipal water providers—it was great.’

Ken Knox, deputy state engineer, was one of Iseman's mentors.

‘I was looking for a different set of experiences than what I was familiar with,’ says Iseman. ‘I wanted to work with people who administer water rights, who work with real water management issues from a different perspective. Ken was a great mentor, he really cared about it.’

Iseman continues to work with Knox on groundwater management issues in the San Luis Valley.

Beorn Courtney, director of water resources engineering at Headwaters Corporation, also linked up with her real world mentors. Currently, her main project is managing the water resources pieces of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.

Courtney entered the program in 2007 with a desire to understand the process of creating legislation and how that differs from water court law. The Foundation paired her with two mentors: Doug Kemper of the Colorado Water Congress and Thomas Morris from the State Legislative Legal Services Branch.

‘Before I knew it, I ended up at a meeting with both of these mentors for a project I had been working on,’ Courtney says. ‘Together we were helping others brainstorm how a new statute could be crafted based in part on the consulting work I'd been doing. Not only did the Foundation create a professional networking opportunity for me that made it more comfortable for me to attend these meetings because there were two familiar faces in the room, I also realized what a success the mentoring program was because I was matched with the ideal people to help me accomplish my goal.’

Even Scott Hummer, who has worked with the Colorado Division of Water Resources for 18 years, saw an opportunity to make contacts outside of his agency and cull their knowledge.

As water commissioner for the Blue River Basin, Hummer manages Blue River water rights. Whether the water is destined for an individual's home well, a rancher's irrigation diversions or storage in Dillon Reservoir, Hummer is the man charged with doling it out.

Born, raised and educated in Colorado, Hummer also takes advantage of his position to educate others about respecting his home state's most precious resource.

Hummer agrees that the program offered an incredible opportunity, even 18 years into his career: ‘What I learned was that there are a tremendous amount of experts out there within the Colorado water world and it is to my advantage to meet and learn from as many of those people as I possibly can. I would recommend the program to anyone out there in the water world no matter where they're at in their career.’

If the program keeps attracting people as it has, the networking opportunity will only continue to expand. The current alumni have already planned to meet periodically and envision a growing circle as each new class begins.

For Courtney, the relationships have been the greatest career benefit. ‘It's a very unique opportunity to do this type of leadership training with people who are familiar with your field and the issues that you face,’ she says. ‘Lots of leadership classes out there are teaching the same things. But it's more rewarding to do it with people who can relate to you, and the connection is water.’

The 2008 water leaders' class commenced in June and concludes next January. Contact the Foundation if you're interested in the class of 2009.

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