Text Size

Site Search

Public Lands

HW Winter2018 FINAL2cover

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.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

connectingdropslogo4.1Bringing you the reporting you crave over the radio airways with extras and archives on our website. Visit the audio archives or listen to the latest story on the connection between Colorado's forests, watersheds, and forest fires:

IMG 20180402 101801web

Water Education Colorado

Headwaters MagazineColorado's public lands mean that there are places to go and things to do. We have national grasslands, mountain parks, wild rivers, open space and more. This issue explores Wild and Scenic River designation, the impacts of decades-long fire suppression policies, mines and minerals and more.

Browse selections from the magazine below or flip through the full magazine online.

President's Award—Ken and Ruth Wright

By Justice Greg Hobbs

In Celebration of Bringing the Water Heritage of the America's Back Home

Ken and Ruth Wright of Boulder make progress backwards. They dig into the past for proof that ancient people were good water engineers and governed themselves effectively in the community for the public good. They've married their talents and degrees to a passion for each other and water education that embraces peoples of all ages in Peru and in Colorado.

From Machu Picchu to Mesa Verde, Ken and Ruth's story is compelling. They met on a ski bus in Wisconsin while she was at Marquette and he at the University of Wisconsin. A resident non-Catholic, take-the-streetcar-to-the-local-Jesuit-university-daughter-of-a-single-mother kind of girl, she studied philosophy, English, and history. He took civil engineering, business, and her seriously enough to have two daughters and a lifetime together of public giving.
They married in Salzburg, Austria, in 1954 while he was working in Saudi Arabia for the ARAMCO oil company. She was in Germany as a civilian employee for the U.S. Army. He proposed to her from a hospital bed after a car accident on an Austrian ski trip. Because he was so injured he couldn't speak, he wrote on the back of his ski boot receipt, ‘I dreamt that I had asked you to marry me and I think that's a good idea.’

Astounded by the indirect boldness of a dreaming engineer who could write so inventively, she returned to the United States to think it over. This kind of thinking led to helping her new husband in the Arabian desert write and edit his first published article addressing ‘Cathodic Protection of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline.’ With her active help in bridging English, engineering, science, culture and a sure feel for working with other people, he's now the author of three books: ‘Machu Picchu, A Civil Engineering Marvel;’ ‘Tipon, Water Engineering Masterpiece of the Inca Empire;’ and ‘The Water Mysteries of Mesa Verde.’ She's the author of ‘The Machu Picchu Guidebook, A Self-Guided Tour,’ which has sold an incredible 70,000 copies and counting.

Something in the desert causes a mighty thirst. Ruth has often fed Ken's water obsession. In Arabia she asked him what engineering subject he liked best as an undergraduate. He said hydrology. They returned to Wisconsin; he for a master's in hydraulic engineering; she, thirsty for the elixir of a good argument, to law school, both at the University of Wisconsin.

They came to Colorado in 1957 because Ruth had been to Aspen skiing when she was single and managed to lead Ken to the Great Divide one fall as the aspen turned golden. Ken's always enterprising. Figuring water for gold, as in Saudi Arabia so in Colorado, he relocated his rising career west.

Ken spent a couple of years with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Lakewood, office as a GS-9—when his boss said Ken's work on cathodic protection in Saudi Arabia didn't count as government work, Ken didn't get the grade increase he needed; Ruth delayed law school to have their two daughters while Ken went out on his own. He toured Colorado for potential clients. He found one with a seepage problem: one of Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District's supply canals. The district settled the damages with the propery owner on the strength of the will-work-for-a-living budding water engineer's good counsel. From there Ken went to work for the leading Colorado water engineer of the day, Pete Wheeler, at $5 an hour, on jobs Wheeler could bill to clients.

Pete taught Ken how to testify persuasively in court. Through Pete, Ken got to work with some of the great water lawyers of the day, Ray Moses, Chuck Biese, and Glenn Saunders. In 1961, Ken started Wright Water Engineers. The engineers part of that was Ken; now it's 50 working with him.

Ruth finished law school at the University of Colorado after 12 years out, graduating in 1972. She'd been busy in the meantime with family and volunteer civic activity, centering on the beauty of Boulder and the future of Colorado, her lifetime preoccupations. In the mid-to-late 60s, she participated in and chaired Plan Boulder and the Colorado Mountain Club. For Plan Boulder, broad thoroughfares and open space was the winning combination in a successful campaign to enact a 1-cent sales tax, 60 percent for attractive utilitarian thoroughfares and 40 percent for open space—a paradigm for how Ruth approaches the pragmatics of political persuasion.

Always an articulate woman in Colorado community, Ruth served as a member of the State Board of Health; the Water Quality Control Commission; the Colorado General Assembly in the House of Representatives for 14 years—including a stint as Minority Leader; the Great Outdoor Colorado Commission; the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board; and many other official and unofficial volunteer organizations. The environment in which all of we creatures live continues to be the open-sky canopy of her existence as a public and private person.

Ruth's contribution to the work of the Colorado Supreme Court as a lawyer occurred in front of our predecessors in 1979 when she filed, on behalf of the League of Women Voters, an amicus curiae brief in favor of the constitutionality of Colorado's new instream flow law. Her presentation on how instream flow water rights could be administered within the prior appropriation water law system so impressed Justice Jim Groves, the author of the opinion, that he invited her to lunch after the case was over. Her brief led to a decision in favor of the state's perpetual role for preserving stream flows for protection of the natural environment. Ruth credits Ken for telling her how those instream flows could be administered.

With these two, it's partnership, research, scholarship, authorship and passion for the pursuit of a working understanding of communities. They generate enthusiasm, if not active cooperation, for getting up early in the morning. My wife, Bobbie, and I first experienced the early morning part of this when we participated in the 2003 paleo-hydrologic survey of the fourth-discovered Mesa Verde ancestral Puebloan reservoir in Prater Canyon. They had rigged the clock radio in our Cortez hotel room to blare at 5 a.m., and again and again until we got up.

If the crack of dawn proved itself to the ancestral Puebloans, it would be good enough for the 21st century students of their water history. Besides, the archeologists Jack Smith, Jim Kleidon, and David Breternitz, and the soil scientist Doug Ramsey, had their walking boots and daypacks on, waiting for the rest of the Wright survey team to assemble in the parking lot.

The morning briefing by Ken and Ruth, about the day's assignments and the necessity to strictly observe park protocols, is a familiar ritual. Assigned tasks involve assembling evidence to support the hypothesis that sediment mounds were not natural geologic features or Native American dance platforms but, rather, water storage vessels that had served for up to 350 years before silting in.

These investigations extended to check dams in gullies for spreading water onto corn plants, cisterns for capturing drinking water cascading through rimrock cracks high above, and vegetation-covered hidden springs the Puebloans must have used to haul the water away in five gallon pottery water jugs, back to their mesa top pit houses or alcove cliff palaces. Corn, water, and community, that's what it took to sustain these people over generations from approximately 500 A.D. before they migrated south towards the Hopi mesas, the Mogollon Rim, and old Mexico by the year 1300.

The Mesa Verde National Park invitation to the Wrights flowed naturally from their paleo-hydrology Machu Picchu findings. Ruth visited Machu Picchu in 1974 with their daughters. She came back with an observation and question for Ken, ‘I saw water stains on what I think are fountains now dry, what do you think the water source might have been?’ ‘Don't know,’ said Ken, ‘Let's try to find out.’

They waited 20 years for their first permit from the Peruvian Institute for National Culture, finally granted when Deputy Secretary of State and former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth helped clear the way. Permit in hand, Ken and Ruth asked their good friend, Denver Art Museum's Gordon McEwan who among the Peruvians was the leading Machu Pichu expert. McEwan's immediate answer: Alfredo Valencia Zegarra.

This Peruvian-Coloradan partnership has restored to Machu Picchu its 16 flowing fountains that flash and pipe their way down Machu Picchu's incomparable stone staircase, fed by a perennial spring high above the Urubamba River.
Ken explains the necessity for a good hypothesis, even one that doesn't pan out. You need to imagine, as Einstein did, that the natural world and any functional human accommodation begin with imagining. You imagine a possible explanation. Then you measure, calculate, and map the way to a resolution. But, you will have no resolution if you can't assemble the evidence.

Says Alfredo: ‘If there's no proof, it's not true.’

So you postulate again until revelation of what's been hidden within emerges. Then you help to educate others. That's your public responsibility and your personal joy.

Peruvians highly prize Ruth and Ken for their contributions to understanding that country's astounding water heritage. When I visited Machu Picchu with friends in 2002, I experienced this in the central plaza of Machu Picchu. The Wrights had given me a blue soccer team T-shirt with my name on the back and WWE (Wright Water Engineers) and INR (Instituto Nacional de Cultura) on the front.

Seeing me, the restoration workers put aside their spades and trowels, called out ‘Amigo, Amigo,’ and gave me big embrazos. I had Ruth's Machu Picchu guidebook in hand, the one she co-authored with Alfredo Valencia—he explaining to her every aspect of structure, function, huaca and glyph and she adding her confident written narration.

The workers showed me their pictures in the guidebook and signed those pages for me. Just recently the Peru's president presented Ken and Ruth with beribboned medals celebrating their contributions.
Deep respect for people and their heritage wins friends who want you back again. It begins at home, at the core you live in. When you're a Coloradan, like Ken and Ruth, you love the mountain ground, the mountain waters, and the mountain skies. You're a Peruvian, you're a Mesa Verdean.

A good marriage they have made. Ruth says, ‘Crow with him for his successes and show compassion in the hard times.’ Ken says, ‘I couldn't have done any of this without Ruth.’

In celebration of Ken and Ruth Wright, for bringing the water heritage of the Americas back home, I affectionately dedicate this poem:

Ruth and Ken

She's the fountain,
he the water jar.

They leap continents
ears tasting underground
for the stone-cool water drops
their fingers can see the ozone smell-of
before a spade or trowel may untouch
the web of mother earth's womb.

Machu Picchu and Mesa Verde
respect Ken and Ruth Wright

For their half-step, quarter-step,
go-slow no-step solution to progress —
progress backwards.

Consider this engineering argument
your lawyer mate can calculate precisely,
matching your insight: the Wright Corollary —
Shoe-Be-Do, tread softly and carry a walking stick,
for the present's a rocky prologue to the past and
contemporary civilization a remnant of ancient
understandings modern myths obscure.

Get up early. Ken and Ruth aren't talking the
cutting edge of dull, no TV-staged exotic island enticement
where the Survivor leaves her unspared change with
an advertiser before changing channels

They're talking rock tongues in high places where
condors wheel at your feet and pot sherds speak
with thirsty lips in high-hand niches holding out
for a good rain.

‘Take a look at this, Hobbit.’ Ruth relates a piece
of mug that flashes a zig-zag pattern of black and white
lightning, ‘Pueblo II.’ Ken writes in his field book
yet another second coming.

Come you the departed whole of the sky, the ground,
the underground, come trinity the ancient ones
revered as one. Mountain goat on weathered outcrop.
Llama ash on water. Corn roots feeling their way
down. For the dead do not sleep but preside
among us, ‘Que Milagro!’

I am the arc that nests this mountain,
hold to my umbilical.

Page 2 of 2

Social Media

Stay in touch and connect through:

FB-fLogo-Blue-broadcast-2 Twitter Logo White On Blue instagram    

Sign Up for our e-newsletter

learn more3learn more

 And view the latest issue of Headwaters Pulse, Water Education Colorado's monthly e-newsletter, here.


Click the icons below for videos about climate change, ranching and more; or audio from Water Education Colorado's Connecting the Drops radio series.

filmicon   headphonesicon

1750 Humboldt Street, Suite 200
Denver, CO 80218