Future Leaders: 2018 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit

People say that collaboration and innovative approaches are vital to securing a prosperous water future for the West. In Carbondale, Colorado, exactly this type of innovative collaboration is happening with students from middle school, high school, and community college on the forefront. Water challenges demand innovation. Some say that youth brings innovation. Add together youth and water challenges, and what do you have?

The Youth Water Leadership Program. The program held its second annual Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit this fall. Many water professionals attended and some volunteered their assistance in the event’s coordination and administration, myself included.

I am the Watershed Specialist for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. My work includes monitoring water quality with River Watch volunteers ranging from middle-school age to retired citizens, as well as several other watershed improvement and monitoring projects. I work with several of the students who presented their projects at the summit.

Students speak during the 2018 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit. Photo by Erin Danneker

Student presentations filled much of day during the summit. Topics ranged from plastic pollution to using art as a tool for activism. All of the students did well just by attempting a first for many of them: public speaking. Open space technology discussions happened after lunch. For many, this proved to be some of the most interesting time during the event. Inspired by presentations by motivational speakers, including their student peers, young faces listened intently as water professionals explained some of the challenges we face and what our future may hold in the Colorado River Basin.

In addition to helping the students prepare, I also assisted as a member of the Youth Water Leaders team, a group of students—8th grade to college age—and young natural resource professionals in their 30s like myself. I must admit that, at times, I had reservations about assisting with an event like the Youth Water Summit. I’ve never participated on a committee alongside middle-schoolers, nor have I assisted with such a large event. Nevertheless, these unfamiliar aspects of the program intrigued me. After all, getting out of my comfort zone and gaining professional development experience prompted me to participate in the first place.

For my part, I feel like I learned more than I know from this experience. Through interacting more closely with young people, I have benefited in many ways not easily described. I have gained perspective: perspective about how others approach the issues that we face. I have gained hope: hope that future water issues are resolvable.

Overall, I was awed by the aptitude and interest of the next generation. The 2018 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit only further kindled my interest in river and water resources. Looking ahead, if there is anything that is certain in western water it is that many of the problems we face will only increase in difficulty in the future. Climate change and population increases threaten drought and conflict. In the future, we will need strong water leaders and undoubtedly, some of the young people present at the summit this year will be among them.

Nate Higginson is originally from Michigan, but is currently a resident of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. When he isn’t monitoring water quality with volunteers or working on some other watershed project, he can be found driving a school bus, floating on the river, or hiking with his
dog.