Reflections on the Water Leaders Program and the Pandemic

This post was originally published on the Colorado Water Trust’s blog

When our Executive Director [at the Colorado Water Trust], Andy, asked me to write a blog about participating in last year’s Water Leaders Program I wasn’t all that excited about it. I’m not much of a share-er. In the past at least, I’ve tended to keep my personal life fairly private. Especially when it comes to the workplace. Water Education Colorado’s Water Leaders program can be intensely personal and to get the most out of it, being open to sharing—from your dreams to your weaknesses—makes it an incredibly valuable experience. You learn how to develop your own leadership qualities and to bring out the best in others. It’s an experience that I wish for all of us who aim to make Colorado a better place, and to use water and our professions to do that. And during 2020, and now 2021, Water Leaders gave me an even greater gift that I now see with more clarity. I want to explain how thankful I am.

It’s been almost exactly a year since COVID hit. It’s hit us all hard, and it hit me like a hammer last March. At first, it seemed like a fire drill. My husband didn’t feel too well on a Sunday night, and so he went to isolate in our room for a night. Of course, we thought he didn’t really have COVID, but that’s how we were supposed to handle a fever and a headache. Just in case. For our kids, our community. Two weeks later he was still there, schools were closed. He was grieving his own health, struggling with isolation and fear, terrified. I was worked to the bone, deep to the core. I saw myself in the new “normal” of Zoom calls with exhausted eyes in the sweatshirts that I stripped off to launder between food delivery and health checks to what used to be our room. I switched from sleeping in my daughter’s room to my son’s room when she developed a cough and a fever. And so it went, for months, and it wasn’t a fire drill. It was COVID.

Here’s where Water Leaders fits in. What helped me survive the challenges of an incredibly difficult year was that, through the program, I grew in ways that supported my resilience. I gained a cohort of teachers and students engaged in professional development to the max. The experience helped me to develop skills that make my own work more productive and exciting than ever. Then, there is the aspect of learning about how to optimize work with my colleagues and appreciate the individual leadership qualities that they model. I gained such an appreciation for my colleagues at the Water Trust and the leadership they each use and that shepherded me through this dark year. Last spring, I would go to a meeting, and then go to the ER. Work on an instream flow acquisition project and then take an hour out to go to the pediatrician for a drive-thru swab up the brain for my four-foot tall sweetie.

Throughout all of this, my colleagues at the Water Trust were each there to guide me through the tough times. Our newest colleague didn’t skip a beat when she joined our newly Zoom-based office. Our Executive Director checked in at all hours and worked with our Finance Director to protect our paychecks with stimulus funding. My communications and development colleagues: do you want to do a wine tasting or a trivia night? Yes! Fully funded streamflow restoration projects? Yes! A full suite of colleagues who you consider friends? Yes. Yes.

Most significantly in terms of the Water Trust mission, our Programs Team continued the groundbreaking work they accomplish together with the water users who are our project partners. They combine creativity and leadership to guide Colorado towards a new paradigm of water sharing and stewardship. Our project partners protect their agricultural heritage and municipal supplies while they rebuild streamflow, supporting ecological function and the communities that thrive along healthy rivers.

OK, Andy. Thank you for asking me to write this blog. I feel good, and it’s thanks to you and our Water Trust team. You’re leaders individually, and we’re crushing it together. Thank you, Water Leaders, for helping me to see what is right in front of me and inspiring me to make the most of it. Thank you all.

Kate Ryan joined the Colorado Water Trust as its Staff Attorney in 2019. Her work includes legal representation of the Water Trust and project development. She leads streamflow restoration projects in partnership with water users, including farmers, ranchers, municipalities and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Prior to joining the Water Trust, Kate worked in private practice and with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. Her practice included trial work and argument before the Colorado Supreme Court. She also clerked for Justice Gregory Hobbs of the Colorado Supreme Court. Before becoming a lawyer, Kate obtained a master’s degree in geography at the University of Colorado and worked in climatology and snow hydrology at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Kate just completed several years on the City of Boulder’s Water Resources Advisory Board and is happy to reclaim an ounce of spare time. Kate enjoys reading and outdoor adventures—the longer and wilder the better. She has a husband and two grade school children who she loves to the moon and back.

Water Education Colorado’s Water Leaders Program is recognized as the premier leadership development program for the water community in Colorado. WEco’s Water Leaders Program aims to positively impact the Colorado water profession by creating a pipeline of dedicated, effective water leaders across diverse fields who exemplify the four quadrants of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management.