The Current


The Current, E-news from the Colorado Water Center

The Current is the Center’s monthly e-newsletter dedicated to stories about water faculty, staff, and students in Colorado, as well as important information regarding the water community.

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October 2020

Kristen Cognac

Student Spotlight

Kristen Cognac, Doctoral Student, Department of Geosciences

“A switch flipped” for Kristen Cognac, describing how she found her niche in hydrogeology. Initially, she started her studies in environmental engineering but found herself fascinated by groundwater. After her undergraduate studies, she worked as an environmental consultant where she benefited from diverse mentors and honed in on hydrogeology as her next educational endeavor.

Hydrogeology overlaps with many aspects of engineering and serves as a crossover for Cognac’s experience and skills. Her geology background gives her a distinct perspective, she says “it allows me to see things differently.” Her work in Colorado focuses on understanding groundwater supply and processes. Many municipalities in Northern Colorado almost entirely depend on the Denver Basin Aquifer and she is working to answer important questions such as how much water is available and how does long-term pumping affect access to water supplies.

When Cognac approaches groundwater modeling, her hydrogeology perspective prompts her to ask “how does the heterogeneity of the bedrock control the rates at which water flows down and recharges an aquifer.” While a groundwater model might assume that each layer of bedrock is continuous and consistent, her research findings show that is not always accurate. Within a single zone, there is a mixture of rock types, and those differences influence how water flows. She describes the depositional environments that are critical to modeling flow, “a sandy stream connects to a floodplain with clay soils, and then millions of years in the future, that stream and floodplain turn into the rock of the aquifer that we pump our water from,” the sand, clay, and silt that were originally there affect how water moves through a rock or an aquifer.

Another aspect of Cognac’s research is understanding how large changes in temperature impact streamflow by using an extensive network of monitors. “The groundwater system is a continuation of the surface water system and they are dynamically connected in many places,” she says. As climate change increases the likelihood of extreme temperature fluctuations, it is not yet clear how changes in the volume and timing of streamflow will alter rates of recharge to groundwater aquifers.

Cognac was recently awarded a scholarship from the Colorado Groundwater Association for her graduate research. Reflecting on this accomplishment she says, “knowing that people think our small piece of research is an important and interesting part of the story is pretty cool.” She plans to pursue an applied career with the USGS or as a consultant. Cognac also invites more women to join her in the field of hydrogeology.

Dr. Tony Cheng

Staff Spotlight

Tony Cheng, Professor, Department of Forest & Rangeland Stewardship; Director, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute; CoWC 2018 and 2019 Water Research Team grantee

Conflicts around forest land management have been at the center of Dr. Tony Cheng’s career. Early on he recognized the benefit of avoiding lengthy legal battles using collaboration as a primary method of solving natural resource disputes. He observed the success of Oregon’s voluntary multi-stakeholder approaches to conservation which also yielded social and economic benefits to rural communities. The solutions were developed through alliances between people who were physically linked through a shared place rather than relationships entirely dependent on legal delineations.

Dr. Cheng worked toward understanding how impacted communities can come up with grassroot solutions that are situated within an individual watershed. He describes the reasoning behind the approach “each watershed is unique in terms of land use history, stakeholders, and water users.” Work brought him to Colorado where he immediately confronted mind-boggling impacts of large severe fires.

“Fire doesn’t care about jurisdictional boundaries,” says Dr. Cheng. Addressing the immediate task at hand of fire and risk mitigation in mixed-ownership geographies required new ways to organize politically and socially around firesheds. Working collaboratively with diverse colleagues and stakeholders within a fireshed, he notes “how the powerful nexus between fire and water is as a way to raise awareness and attention to this issue and how intuitive it is.” He attributes the cooperative relationships in this space to the motivation that fire and water create.

The fires we are experiencing across the West today may not be informed by the knowledge and methods of study we currently have. These stakeholder groups work in their own firesheds, but “climate change is a global phenomenon and passes our geological boundaries.” The learning we have left to accomplish is daunting, but Dr. Cheng is optimistic “this intersection of fire and water is a real opportunity to elevate the conversation of climate change.”

Dr. Cheng is encouraged to find solutions because of the community at CSU and being a land- grant university, saying that “collaboration and cooperation are built into the DNA of the institute; we have the pieces to make the science immediately useful and relevant.”


Tomas Pickering

Student Spotlight

Tomas Pickering, Doctoral Candidate, Graduate Degree Program in Ecology; Research Associate, Africa Center

As fires rage throughout the western U.S., drought is on the forefront of our minds. Across the world, drought can be understood very differently. Tomas Pickering has spent the last four years considering drought through the pastoral perspectives of the Samburu people in northern Kenya. He discusses that for this pastoralist group “drought means different things on the ground.”

For many centuries the Samburu coped with drought by moving livestock into highlands. Influences of colonialization created unexpected impacts. As people settled down for access to social services, they became vulnerable to local drought. Pickering has sought to understand how the Samburu have adapted to limit the most devastating impacts of drought. He reflects on his research findings describing his surprise of “how intentional the switch to formalized education was as a response to drought.” Other adaptive actions include a diversification of livestock from only cattle to sheep and goats, which were easier to keep in one location. Women also changed their role becoming involved with herding and grazing decisions and starting small businesses to help support the family.

Often scientists and policy-makers define drought based on specific measurements, but Pickering has found that the Samburu have their own way of talking about drought. He says, “I was very surprised how nuanced and how practically and operationally useful their terminology was developed to talk about drought and lack of rainfall.” The words they used are “based on practical things people will experience” reflecting more than just a lack of rain, but complex social and ecological reasons for drought and livestock death.

Pickering has also been comparing the community perspectives of historic droughts to remote sensing analysis of the greenness of vegetation over 30 years. While the science pinpoints the timing of the most severe droughts the people may have only recorded it as a dry period. In contrast, some of the worst droughts to the community were not identified as such through remote sensing. Droughts that coincided with large cattle-deaths or community violence were discussed as more severe. This real-world comparison reveals the impact of social factors such as aid availability or adaptive planning. Pickering suggests that “who defines drought and the way you define drought will dictate decisions around it. It might change how you provide aid or relief efforts.”

Pickering plans to continue working in the critical nexus of conservation, grazing, and livelihoods during drought and other climatic events. His long-term goal includes working with conservation organizations to assist with community-based rangeland management practices.

Dr. Michael Ronayne

Staff Spotlight

Michael Ronayne, Associate Professor, Department of Geosciences; CoWC 2020 Water Fellow and 2017 Water Research Team grantee

Exposure to water quality issues of Lake Erie in his youth taught Dr. Michael Ronayne the importance of clean water. In his undergraduate education, he was inspired by his geology professor and pursued a career as a hydrogeologist. Now working in Colorado his research is breaching the frontier of mountain watershed hydrogeology.

Dr. Ronayne and his students study the Denver Basin Aquifer System (DBAS) to understand the groundwater resources we rely on in northern Colorado. While some previous studies have indicated negligible amounts of water recharging the DBAS today, Dr. Ronayne’s research highlights two important inputs for the aquifer system. The water in the DBAS is constantly receiving recharge; groundwater contributions from the mountain block and surface water from streams seeps down through openings in the underlying sediment and enters the aquifer. This modern-day recharge of aquifers sustains an important water supply for future use.

Currently, we are pumping out water from aquifers much faster than it can be recharged. Dr. Ronayne studies the rate at which streams lose water, where streams are seeping, and the rate at which aquifers are recharged. He says while “pumping exceeds recharge, it’s still important to quantify the natural rates of recharge to manage the aquifer moving forward.” Knowing where the geology is suitable for recharging the aquifer identifies candidate sites for a managed recharge project; when there is excess surface water it can potentially be recharged or injected into depleted aquifers.

In his research of the DBAS, Dr. Ronayne was prompted with the question of the role of groundwater in mountain regions. In the mountains, snowmelt turns into groundwater and eventually interacts with surface water as streamflow. He seeks to understand the hydrological significance of groundwater in mountain watersheds, the interactions between groundwater and mountain streams, and the importance of mountain-front recharge to basin aquifers like the DBAS.

Little is known about groundwater in mountainous regions, partly because it is hard to get at. Fortunately, with grants from the Colorado Water Center and the Warner College of Natural Resources, Dr. Ronayne and collaborators were supplied with funds to drill 40-ft deep wells at the CSU Mountain Campus. He describes this as an “amazing opportunity to drill into the valley sediments and investigate groundwater at more than 9,000 ft above sea level.”

Click here to view the August issue of The Current.

Matthew Lurtz

Student Spotlight

Matthew Lurtz, Doctoral Student, Research Assistant, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Growing up with math-inclined parents, Matthew Lurtz’s journey toward his current role seems natural. Now, reflecting on it he says “I never realized how much of my work would revolve around statistics and computer programming and how much I would enjoy it.” His love of learning and being on the cutting edge of science and math drives his research and academic career goals.

An interest in studying riparian vegetation, the plants growing along the banks of waterways, was sparked for Lurtz by the late Dr. Jorge Ramirez. The personal passion emanating from Dr. Ramirez was contagious and Lurtz recalls his experience in the Quantitative Ecohydrology class, “I felt truly blessed.” The style of the course was that of a thought class, encouraging Lurtz to connect with the real-world value behind the maze of equations supporting engineering research.

Lurtz studies the interactions between riparian ecology and hydrology in Dr. Ryan Morrison’s research group and published an article on his research earlier this year. He works to quantify how groundwater return flow impacts water use of riparian ecosystems in southeastern Colorado. Inefficient irrigation practices can change the quantity and timing of groundwater return flow. Over time, groundwater returns to the surface as a river or stream where it interacts with riparian vegetation. Lurtz uses remote sensing, site monitoring, and Bayesian statistics to analyze the hydrologic connections between irrigation return flow and riparian ecosystems.

The purpose behind Lurtz’s research is to better understand the connections between an agroecosystem and a natural system. Discussing this connection, he says “everything we do has an impact. Energy used somewhere goes somewhere else.” By the mid-20th century, much of southeastern Colorado was confronted with effects of inefficient irrigation, as increasingly saline, salty soil made farming land infertile. As a result, a large percentage of the population were forced to sell their water rights. The agriculture-based economy of this area has never recovered. Lurtz hopes that his work can influence better conjunctive management of groundwater and surface water to create more fertile land over time and alleviate poverty.

Upon his graduation, planned for this summer, Lurtz will work as a post-doc and continue on to an academic career.

Dr. Patrick Keys

Staff Spotlight

Dr. Patrick Keys, Lead Scientist, School of Global Environmental Sustainability; 2018 CoWC Water Research Team grantee

Traveling to Morocco and interviewing agricultural water users as an undergraduate student gave Dr. Patrick Keys his first indication that water would be a focus throughout his career. He discusses his water research “in the context of water as a profound necessity.”

Most people think of freshwater flowing in rivers or through our faucets, but there is a vertical flow of water that is not well understood. Throughout his career, Dr. Keys explored the importance of rainfed systems that don’t generate surface runoff. When it rains in these systems, which account for a large fraction of the world’s land surface, water either reevaporates or is absorbed by plants and transpired to flow back down as precipitation. Much agricultural land is dependent on rain and the location of rainfed farms and growing season functions on finely tuned planning. As the climate changes, rainfed agricultural systems face water insecurity which leads to food insecurity.

Dr. Keys explored this question of atmospheric water cycling in his Colorado Water Center Research Team Grant “Who changes the rain?”. This gave him a critical launchpad for his research career at CSU. From this project, he secured a $744,000 grant from NASA expanding his work regionally and is now planning globally. His research seeks to use a new understanding of atmospheric water cycles to answer questions around the UN Sustainable Development Goal 15 addressing the protection of forests and combating land degradation.

Education is an important aspect of maintaining optimism when Dr. Keys faces these global water challenges. One method he uses to engage students and has plans to explore further is the use of science fiction. For his course on sea-level rise, he asks “students to develop their own speculative future.” Science fiction builds out worlds connected to our own, and traditional science planning doesn’t do this well. This assignment offers undergraduate students a rare chance for creative writing, encouraging them to use the science they learned in the course and apply it to future scenarios.

Rather than get bogged down by the immense scale and complexity of climate change, Dr. Keys takes a unique perspective. He turns it around by saying we need to “engage the complexity.” He believes “It is empowering to know about this and have the tools to understand… If we have more doors that allow us to see the complexity in new ways it will allow us to develop different types of solutions.”

Click here to view the July issue of The Current.

Marcee Meinhardt

Student Spotlight

Marcee holding measuring snow
Marcee Meinhardt, Graduate of the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology

Shortly after Marcee Meinhardt transferred to CSU she set her ambitions for her education and career. The CSU academic community introduced her to unique intellectual opportunities, and she was excited to be in an atmosphere created by professors who are passionate about their students and their subject. She fell in love with fish and riparian habitats in her required ichthyology class, discovering a newfound passion of freshwater as a resource. She further honed in on freshwater resources working with Dr. Steven Fassnacht, Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and a 2019 CoWC Education and Engagement grantee, whose research focuses on snow and water availability.

Dr. Fassnacht challenged Marcee to analyze historic daily snow data beginning in 1889. Initially apprehensive of the daunting task of analyzing 50,000 observations, she now feels proud of her work and the quantitative skills she gained, “I am the master of Excel” she says. Marcee presented her findings at the 2020 Hydrology Days webinar and published the article, Fresh Snow Density from the Fort Collins Colorado Meteorological Station and New Measurements, a corresponding special issue of Colorado Water. Recalling the experience, she was grateful to be part of this impressive event and share her work on water availability in snow.

Marcee’s goals are all about water. She expects to return to academia for a graduate degree in the future, but first she is looking to gain hands-on experience collecting field observations and working with data. “Water is the essential resource that anything living needs” she recounts and explains the entire Western Region depends on Colorado as a headwaters state. The environment uses snow as its savings account so we need to figure out how much water will be accessible as climate change impacts freshwater availability. Hoping for a wetter future, Marcee signs off saying “Let it snow.”

Amy Kremen

Staff Spotlight

Amy Kremen, Research Project Manager, Soil and Crop Sciences; Project Manager, Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project Operations Manager, Irrigation Innovation Consortium; 2019 CoWC Water Education and Engagement grantee

Changes in life happen through connections. For Amy Kremen, it was her connection to farming and colleagues that brought her to her current position bridging the science of resource conservation with practical solutions for producers.

Kremen, originally from Maryland, thought about water in a starkly different way to her western water perspective. Her love of farmer’s markets and background in soil science drew her into the farming community. In her experience running a farm-to-table restaurant then becoming a farm apprentice and working as an organic farmer, she connected with Dr. Meagan Schipanski, 2016 CoWC Water Fellow. Their paths crossed several times throughout their careers studying cover crops in Maryland, soil science in New York, research in Africa, and work in Montreal.

Faced with a big change of moving from Canada to Colorado, Kremen reached out to her network. Once again, she connected with Dr. Schipanski, who had recently been awarded a $10 million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Kremen applied for the position of project manager for the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project (OWCAP), and she accepted the opportunity to work on water with a diverse group of researchers and have a national impact.

As a result of the 2018 Ogallala Aquifer Summit, an initiative led by OWCAP in partnership with the Kansas Water Office, a program called Master Irrigator was developed for farmers in Texas and then replicated and launched in February 2020 to serve producers farming in northeastern Colorado. The Master Irrigator program is focused on changing water management in productive and profitable ways. Kremen describes a key approach of the Ogallala Water team that has been to “create forums that bring people together to talk about the hard water-related challenges the region is facing.”

Working on the OWCAP and Master Irrigator program, Kremen has been surprised by how willing people are to work on and talk about sticky and challenging issues related to water. Ogallala region producers she’s connected with over the past 4 years, demonstrate a lot of passion and motivation to learn from others’ experiences working with water and figuring out how they can operate more efficiently and profitably.

One of the producer participants reported in their evaluation “[The program] really made me realize with little time and money I can probably improve irrigation applications that will increase efficiency and make it easier to conserve.” Kremen is now helping lead a multi-state group that is working on replicating the Master Irrigator in other areas; a new Master Irrigator program in Oklahoma, led by a former post-doc supported by OWCAP, is slated to launch later this year. “With lots of groups- producers, groundwater management districts, local and regional groups, and others all pulling in the same direction, I am optimistic” that the region can make critical shifts needed to conserve more water, Kremen says.

Click here to view the May issue of The Current.

Elaina Passero

Student Spotlight

Woman in front of canyons
Elaina Passero, Master’s Student, Research Assistant, Morrison Lab, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Elaina Passero started on her path to water research at a young age. Homeschooled by her science teacher mother, many of their lessons brought them outside at their home in North Carolina. Exploring her academic interests, she studied biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech where she conducted research for the state of Virginia developing models to predict declines in species richness and changes in streamflow. Through her environmental research of the Appalachia region, she reflected “I gained an appreciation for the biodiversity hotspot that I grew up in.”

This perspective motivated Elaina to continue with her education. Everything came together for her at CSU, “This was my dream thesis project.” She was hired to develop a decision support system (DSS) for the US Forest Service and US Geological Survey. The final goal of the project is to build a web-based application to help decision-makers accurately plan for changes to flow in diverse rivers around the country.

Elaina’s master’s thesis is the pilot project demonstrating the functionality of the DSS tool on the Verde River. She presented her research at the 2020 Hydrology Days webinar on April 14. The purpose of her work is to determine the amount of water needed to keep the Verde River a federally designated Wild and Scenic River. The DSS model quantifies harm in terms of habitat availability to determine at what point changes in flow harm the ecosystem.

The real challenge in creating this tool was how to code for her pilot area and make the code flexible to account for differences between sites. Future users of the application would alter parameters such as the number of species and type of climate in the study river, and differing flow scenarios. For example, the Verde River’s flow is snowmelt driven and follows a monsoonal pattern, while other rivers will have unique sources and seasons. As new water management plans are proposed, the DSS provides users the means to evaluate flow scenarios and impacts on endangered species.

Throughout this project, Elaina realized “how constrained your options are for improving flow to meet environmental needs.” Having accurate models and DSS tools is critical for river conservation. With her graduation around the corner, she hopes to gain employment developing tools for decision-makers for stream restoration projects. “I really enjoy applied research because I feel like I can make a difference.”

Dr. Ryan Morrison

Staff Spotlight

Man in front of boat on river
Dr. Ryan Morrison, Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, 2018 CoWC Water Research Team, 2020 CoWC Water Fellow

An inspiring fluid mechanics professor sparked the journey into water research for Dr. Ryan Morrison. As an undergraduate student at Washington State University, he studied ecological impacts of shallow river turbulence. After completing his master’s degree at WSU he worked as a consultant where he found opportunity for creativity lacking. Ambition for innovation and the ability to work across disciplines drew Morrison back to academia.

Achieving his collaborative goals, Morrison partnered with CSU researchers from diverse disciplines on a CoWC Water Research Team grant in 2018. The team applied their expertise in new areas to investigate how flooding impacts people of different demographics by matching census data with floodplain protections and emergency response protocols for spatial correlation analysis.

Results of this team’s research surprised Morrison and provoked additional questions. While the EPA provides socio-enviro-health indices on water and outdoor air quality, there are very few resources on health impacts due to natural hazards like flooding in different communities. For example, after a flood, indoor air quality can cause health risks which may be overlooked depending on economic factors. Now understanding how hydrology and human health are tied together, he is exploring how to develop an index to assess large scale vulnerability to flooding.

Morrison also studies ecohydrology of interactions between rivers and floodplains. He recently published an article, Quantitative assessment of floodplain functionality using an index of integrity, in the journal of Ecological Indicators and will continue work on this subject as a CoWC Water Fellow in 2020-2021.

Click here to view the April 2020 issue of The Current.

Kelsea MacIlroy

Student Spotlight

Woman in snowy mountains
Kelsea MacIlroy, M.Ed., M.A. Ph.D. Candidate, Instructor Department of Sociology, Colorado State University

Water conservation emerges from the choices people make. Kelsea MacIlroy’s connection to water developed through her passion, “sociology is a way to explore pretty much anything in the world.”  Becoming interested in rural sociology as an Americorp volunteer, she worked at a homeless shelter in Alamosa, where she met her husband who volunteered alongside her. She ran a gleaning project, collecting and donating leftover crops to local food banks, forming her first partnership with farmers.

MacIlroy focused her graduate research on agricultural water conservation in the Colorado River Basin, a project funded by USDA-NIFA through the Colorado Water Center ( Her study involved extensive interviews with farmers and ranchers to better understand the barriers to conserving agricultural water in the region and identifying opportunities for multi-stakeholder collaboration.

As a qualitative researcher she discovered “how deeply people care about the resources they use and the land they grow things on … and the livelihood they are able to create through that process.” Acknowledging the reality of what people sacrifice to make projects work, there is no win-win solution when reallocating resources in a basin that is already strapped for water.

Bringing social and cultural perspectives together, MacIlroy’s insightful report Exploring perceptions of a voluntary agricultural water conservation program on the western slope of Colorado was published in October 2019 through The Nature Conservancy and is available online. This report along with several other publications aim to inform discussions with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Water management is a complex social process at the intersection of historical, political, economic, structural, and emotional ties.

As a PhD candidate, MacIlroy is continuing water research in Colorado. She served as a guest editor for the Spring 2020 issue of Headwaters Magazine on Environmental Justice, published by Water Education Colorado. MacIlroy also teaches an online course at CSU, Soc 105: Social Problems, that students can register for and take this summer.

Honoring Dr. Jorge A. Ramirez

Staff Spotlight

Man in suit
Dr. Jorge Ramirez Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Hydrologic Science and Engineering Program, Colorado State University

“Jorge Ramirez, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at CSU, passed away on Saturday, March 28, 2020. Losing Jorge created big holes in our hydrology and water resources capabilities and in our hearts. Jorge was a world leader in hydrologic analysis and eco-hydrology.” – Neil Grigg, colleague and Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department

As a founding member, Jorge Ramirez served on the CSU Faculty Executive Committee for the Colorado Water Center from 2013-2019 providing keen judgment for the Center’s activities and its Competitive Grant Program. Among his significant contributions at CSU, Jorge chaired the AGU Hydrology Days conference from 2000-2018. He was honored with the George T. Abell Outstanding Mid-Career Faculty Award in 2005 and the Oliver P. Pennock Distinguished Service Award in 2018. As an advocate of interdisciplinary research and education, Jorge developed curriculum and was named Professor of the Year in 2012 by the CSU University Honors Program. “His courses were demanding and forward-looking, and his research was cutting-edge, often focused primarily on student needs” recalls Neil.

Jorge served on the science and technology committee panels for the National Science Foundation. Internationally recognized, he consulted for the United Nations in India, advised in Korea and Columbia, and held positions at institutions in Switzerland and Italy.

Dr. Jorge Ramirez is survived by his wife Gloria and three sons. A service is not scheduled at this time, though you can share your memories here.

Thank you, Jorge, for your many contributions to CSU, the Colorado Water Center, and to our water community.

Click here to view the March 2020 issue of The Current.

Click here to view the February 2020 issue of The Current.

Rachel Jones

Student Spotlight

Rachel Jones Master’s student, Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology

A graduate of the School in the Woods, Rachel Jones followed her dream to work with wildlife. This program immerses fourth-graders in nature and taught Rachel about possible professions including wildlife rehabilitation. Throughout her education and career, she has refined her specialties to achieve her goals.

In her undergraduate studies, Rachel enjoyed her experience tagging 3-5-foot lemon sharks in the waters around Turks and Caicos. When she found her work as a marine biologist pushing her toward employment with for-profit fisheries she quickly pivoted to focus on native ecological systems.

Rachel established herself on the path to reach her career ambitions working for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, back home in the Arkansas River Basin.
Survey work encompassed the majority of Rachel’s days. Her responsibilities contributed to keep an eye on populations, discover problems and solutions, and coordinate with state water boards. One such survey job took her on a 4-day rafting trip down the Dolores River. Rare and perfect water levels allowed them to travel the length of the river through the canyon to collect and monitor native Flannelmouth and Blue Head Suckers. These fish can live to be 25 years old and are impacted by diversions. To survey these fish, a team of 10 scientists and technicians used the method of electrofishing, which temporarily stuns fish so they can be collected, measured, tagged, and returned safely to the water.

This experience gave Rachel practical skills doing fieldwork with wildlife. When she heard about a funded project to work on fish passages, she applied and was accepted to work under Dr. Chris Myrick with CSU’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. In this position, they work to identify how well fish passages perform. All fish need to travel through their entire habitat “connectivity is really important.” Rachel’s Master’s thesis has contributed to tagging more than 600 fish in Longmont to identify what works and what needs to be improved in fish passage structures.

Professor Chris Myrick

Staff Spotlight

Professor Chris Myrick Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Warner College of Natural Resources Colorado Water Center Fellow 2018-2019

As a child Dr. Chris Myrick moved around the world with his diplomat father, living in Mexico, Zaire, Paris, and many other countries, but Panama sparked his love of fishing. Every weekend they debated whether to fish in the Atlantic, Pacific or a freshwater lake or river. In Australia, where he finished high school, fishing became an obsession. From there, his path to becoming a fish physiological ecologist and professor was natural, driven by his love of research and teaching about fish. Reflecting on his goals and achievements he comes back to this personal penchant, “I can’t believe I get to come to work and talk about fish.”

Paying it forward, Dr. Myrick is proud of the culture of his research group at CSU. Every day he strives to give his students the same opportunities he had to find and achieve their professional ambitions. Under his direction, graduate students guide undergrads in conducting field research, giving both practical career experience. Recognizing Dr. Myrick’s dedication to his students, the American Fisheries Society presented him with the “Outstanding Mentor” award.

While it is well known that large fish like salmon migrate, rarely have water managers factored in migration of small fish. Structures for salmon don’t help fish smaller than a cell phone travel.

These “small brown fish” could travel from the Front Range to Nebraska and back before diversions were there. Now there is no mass migration. Dr. Myrick’s work applies research to develop fish passages used by government agencies, completing 6 projects over the past 20 years. His goal is to design low-cost modular units to install along the South Platte River and ultimately restore connectivity from Nebraska to Denver.

Dr. Myrick serves as the president of the American Fisheries Society. Later this year he will pass the baton and name a new president at the International Congress on Biology of Fish held in France.

Click here to view the January 2020 issue of The Current.

Abby Eurich and Tony Vorster

Student Spotlight

Abby Eurich Master’s student, Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Watershed Science; CoWC Water Research Team Grantee
Tony Vorster Ph.D. candidate, Graduate Degree Program in Ecology CoWC Water Research Team Grantee

Difficult problems with murky solutions became clear through collaboration. Abby and Tony were connected when they asked the same question: how does forest disturbance like fire and beetle kill impact water quantity? Abby initially approached this by using stream gage data but found she needed maps to make the necessary correlations. Meanwhile, Tony had developed detailed bark beetle and fire disturbance maps using remote sensing, providing wall to wall snapshots over years of changes.

Abby and Tony collaborated through funding from CoWC awarded to Dr. Evangelista in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability. Their findings indicate that while wildfires are likely to result in greater water quantity, streamflow change in areas with beetle disturbance is highly dependent on the severity of beetle kill and nuances of heterogeneous landscapes and watersheds. Both agree that having resources devoted to bringing two disciplines together to solve a tough problem was exciting and yielded better answers helping water managers build more accurate water budgets. They taught each other their field’s jargon and the joint project allowed them to visualize the whole workflow in detail.

Abby is from Denver originally. She studied geology at Yale, conducted fieldwork and consulting in Oregon and Colorado before attending CSU for her Master’s degree. She was drawn to water resource studies because it has a “really cool mix of environmental sciences, geology, and delivering this important resource to people.” Abby graduates from CSU in the Spring of 2020 and hopes to stay in Colorado and be part of a team that works to foresee future water resource challenges and mitigate them across the state.

Hailing from California, Tony completed his Bachelor’s at UCLA in biology. He moved to Colorado Springs where he taught 3rd grade for several years. He now mentors students and young professionals in NASA’s DEVELOP program to build GIS and remote sensing capabilities and science communication skills. Upon his graduation, also in spring 2020, he will continue working for Dr. Evangelista on remote sensing and ecology. The question that drives him now and through the future asks, how can remote sensing improve understanding of ecological processes to inform land management?

Professor Paul Evangelista

Staff Spotlight

Dr. Paul Evangelista Research Ecologist, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory; Assistant Professor, Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability; CoWC Water Research Team Grantee

Passion and career were found in the desert of Utah for Dr. Paul Evangelista. Moving from the temperate forests of Virginia to the arid west, he conducted vegetation inventory in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Spending months at a time outside, the desert became part of him as he explored remote regions by helicopter and horseback. Invasive species link his work here and in Ethiopia and Somalia, where shrubs like Tamarisk change the landscape threatening water resources and livelihoods. Dr. Evangelista is revisiting environmental challenges with new sampling methods and improved satellite mapping.

Drawn to the applied coursework as a student and now as a research scientist and graduate student advisor, Dr. Evangelista found his home at CSU for the past 25 years. He also sits on the board of NASA’s DEVELOP internship program doing hands-on work with undergraduate and master’s students. Dr. Evangelista enjoys providing experiential learning for students and the community. The CoWC grant he received allowed him to fund a collaborative project with two graduate students also featured in the Spotlight.

Click here to view the December 2019 issue of The Current.

Ansley “A.J.” Brown

Student Spotlight

Ansley “A.J.” Brown, 4th year Ph.D. student, Soil and Crop Sciences, Assistant Director, Irrigation Innovation Consortium

Growing up on a farm in Rocky Ford, Colorado, A.J. is no stranger to the constraints water scarcity puts on the profitability of agriculture. As he describes his path from farmer to researcher, in each stage of his career he “saw a problem and tackled it.”

Data collection for the CSU Agricultural Experiment Station at the Arkansas Valley Research Station gave A.J. his first experience as a scientist. Maintaining and recording results from the Lysimeter project measuring how plants use water, he met his mentor Dr. Allan Andales, who played an inspirational role in A.J.’s education and is now his academic advisor. A.J.’s graduate research confronted a major challenge, which, unknown to him at the time, sparked his career.

Again, visiting the Arkansas Valley, A.J. picked up data he had collected from field sensors for months. Unluckily, he discovered that some of his sensors had not been collecting data. What could have been discouraging for some, pushed him to solve the problem in an ingenious and economic way. While the sensor manufacturers provided a solution, it was not attainable with his limited project budget. Looking to the community he found the base of coding which he augmented and enhanced to fit his needs. Not only was the initial issue solved, but now the data is automatically loaded into a cloud-based, user-friendly dashboard.

Making water conservation research applicable to a wider audience is a personal and professional goal of A.J.’s. His current work for USAID addresses the difficult task of making advances in soil salinity measurement and management used here, available to developing countries, particularly in Pakistan. In many places around the world, there is no access to expensive drip irrigation and center pivots that require extensive infrastructure.

Others noticed A.J.’s creative problem solving and global perspective. The Irrigation Innovation Consortium (IIC) is a collaborative research effort to accelerate the development and adoption of water and energy efficient irrigation technologies and practices through public-private partnerships. The IIC was being developed as A.J. finished his final courses and he was invited to join the leadership team. A piece of the mission of the IIC is to fill the “gap space” by bringing researchers together with industry partners. The work of the IIC fit A.J.’s background, expertise, and goals perfectly. While there is a lot of promising tech around irrigation, standards are confusing and not always accessible to real people and producers. That is where A.J. efforts makea difference.

Professor Melinda Laituri

Staff Spotlight

Melinda Laituri headshot
Professor Melinda Laituri, Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Director of the Geospatial Centroid, Colorado Water Center Fellow 2018-2019

Water is everywhere and is the link between everyone. While we all need water, each person who uses water has a different relationship with it. Professor Melinda Laituri characterizes this as the hydro-social cycle. Her time as a CoWC Fellow gave her the rare opportunity to take a step back from the gritty details of water management to look at the bigger picture of people and water.

How we react to water in our society and culture defines it beyond just rivers or rain. Farmers may see the immediate economic value, indigenous peoples may have connections to scared plants growing on the riverbanks, some may harvest water directly from a lake to drink, while others have the luxury of turning on a faucet. Each of these people have a unique connection to water. This is what drives Dr. Laituri’s research.

“Water is really my passion.” Dr. Laituri grew up in California, where water was common household discussion as her father worked on water management projects. She spent much of her career understanding and teaching others how to use water data to plan for the future. Dr. Laituri benefits from the wide perspectives on water she has encountered working with indigenous peoples in the US, New Zealand, Ethiopia, and many other countries.

Secondary Cities are places with rapidly expanding populations and under-mapped resources and infrastructure. Studying the urban waterscape reveals the less glamorous side of water, tours of wastewater treatment facilities show Dr. Laituri how water resources are really managed. She is keenly aware of the impact of access to water and sanitation.

When visiting universities in developing countries, she always asks to use the student bathroom. While the staff bathrooms are locked and stocked with toilet paper and soap, such essentials are rare for student facilities. This lack of safe access to sanitation leads to a high dropout rate among women. Improving water management is directly linked to social equity and economic growth.

As a headwaters state, Colorado is a microcosm of water issues around the world and what she learns here is widely applicable. Melinda Laituri will be speaking at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Association of  Geographers conference in Denver.

Click here to view the November 2019 issue of The Current.

Haley Smith

Student Spotlight

Haley is a current student in the Conservation Leadership Through Learning (CLTL) Master’s program in the Warner College of Natural Resources at CSU. Haley is originally from Asheville, North Carolina, where she grew up playing in creeks and streams and began doing water quality sampling at summer camp at the young age of 13. She received her undergraduate degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA. As an undergraduate, she continued to pursue her interest in water issues by conducting research on water quality and its public health implications in southern Kenya while studying abroad with the School for Field Studies.

For her Capstone Project this past summer, Haley is partnered with the Big Thomson Watershed Coalition (BTWC) to help develop and pilot a Community Science and Stewardship Project. The vision of the project, as a part of BTWC’s larger adaptive management efforts, is to increase the organization’s capacity to monitor restoration sites along the river while engaging local community members to help care for their water resources.

Haley’s capstone project ran from June through September, during which time Haley worked with other local watershed initiatives as well as academic literature to design an adaptive volunteer monitoring program. She piloted the project with initial trainings and workdays where she gathered feedback from participants on how to improve the program going forward. She hopes this project will contribute to BTWC’s overall efforts by increasing community engagement and input towards fulfilling their vision for a resilient Big Thompson Watershed.

Professor Dennis Ojima

Staff Spotlight

Driving impact is Professor Ojima’s legacy. Though retiring from the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, he continues to contribute to global environmental change as a senior research scientist for the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at CSU. Ojima’s 30 productive years in the field are not short in prestigious accolades. From participation in a Nobel Prize-winning team to a 20-year stint as an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow to serving on notable boards and contributing to major scientific research, his impact has been well recognized.

Moving forward Professor Ojima continues his work to inform decision making around challenges of sustainability in the anthropocene. In our current time period, humans have impacted every ecosystem, aquatic and terrestrial, fundamentally changing our world and life-giving water cycles. Mitigating negative consequences of past and ongoing management decisions takes work like Ojima’s to develop strategies to adapt here in Colorado, the US, and around the world.

Click here to view the October 2019 issue of The Current.

Ryan Roberts

Student Spotlight

Ryan received his PhD in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at CSU in May. His dissertation was focused on assessing the role of scientific evidence in the decision-making processes of collaborative watershed partnerships throughout the Intermountain West region. These watershed groups invest in wildfire mitigation treatments as a risk reduction strategy to avoid the negative impacts catastrophic wildfires can have on watersheds. Specifically, Ryan assessed how groups use scientific evidence to justify making investments and decide on specific wildfire treatments to employ, as well as what scientific information they relay back to their stakeholders and the public.

After graduating, Ryan briefly worked as a consultant for the National Park Service’s Climate Change Response Program. His project was focused on assessing the status of climate change interpretation across the National Park System. Ryan recently accepted a position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Fort Collins as a conservation social scientist. Through this position, he will be leading a long-term visitor management program throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System. In the future, Ryan is specifically interested in conducting large-scale feasibility analyses or impact evaluations to assess the efficacy of conservation finance programs that invest in water and other natural resource conservation initiatives. If you would like to learn more about Ryan’s research and interests, please explore his LinkedIn page or email him at

Aditi Bhaskar

Staff Spotlight

Adit Bhaskar

Aditi is an assistant professor in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She moved to Fort Collins from Maryland, where she grew up crawling through storm sewer pipes. Today, her research focuses on hydrologic change from urban growth, which can be seen through shifting streamflow or flooding on city streets. Her past and present work has investigated how stormwater management and lawn irrigation change low flows in streams, and one of her current projects was recently awarded $25,000 through the Colorado Water Center’s annual competitive grant program.

The project, called Flood Tracker, collects reports of street flooding from the public. Aditi’s team is working to collect crowdsourced information because people driving, biking, walking, or bussing around town are right now our best monitors of flooding conditions on the street at that time and place. The time and place of street flooding will be used to improve predictions of urban flooding and target improvement efforts.

Click here to view the June 2019 issue of The Current.

Dominque Ashe

Student Spotlight

Dominique is a San Francisco-born nature lover who came to CSU for its environmental programs. As a Human Dimensions of Natural Resources major, she began her water journey with a graduate level course taught by CoWC Director Reagan Waskom her sophomore year, which furthered her desire to engage in water management.

She promptly added the SWIM minor to her portfolio, delving into the world and professions of its sustainable uses. For her senior project, Dominique worked with the local Peaks to People Water Fund to highlight their collaborative public engagement efforts across Fort Collins’ companies, community members, and resource agencies. Dominique graduated in May and hopes to attend graduate school in public administration or environmental law in the next few years. Until then, she continues gaining experience in water management and sustainability consulting around the Front Range.

MaryLou Smith

Staff Spotlight

After 10 years of exceptional service to the CoWC and the Colorado water community, MaryLou is retiring from CSU on June 30. MaryLou has served as a policy and collaboration specialist, designing and facilitating group processes for stakeholders working through complex water policy issues throughout Colorado and the West.

Her efforts include the formation and leadership of the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group (PRTI) and Water Literate Leaders of Northern Colorado. Much of her work has centered on agricultural/urban/environmental water sharing strategies, groundwater/surface water conjunctive use challenges, and the integration of land use policy with water supply policy. To plant a seed to increase the ethnic diversity of voices in Colorado water policy decision making, MaryLou launched CSU Water Sustainability Fellows in which CSU students of color learn about water issues and share that information with similar students in North Denver communities through a National West Center Youth Water Project. MaryLou previously served 35 years as the vice president and co-founder of Aqua Engineering, Inc., an irrigation engineering firm with projects worldwide. MaryLou grew up on a cotton and alfalfa farm irrigated with groundwater in eastern New Mexico. She earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from New Mexico State University. She also served twelve years on the City of Fort Collins Water Board and has given presentations on her work in places as diverse as Tehran, Iran; Fortaleza, Brazil; and Wray, Colorado.

Click here to view the May 2019 issue of The Current.

Alyssa Anenberg

Student Spotlight

Alyssa is a Master’s candidate in Watershed Science in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at CSU. Prior to her graduate studies, she received her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences with a minor in Sustainability from California State University, Chico. Her current research—which was recently awarded at Hydrology Days—focuses on linking snow persistence and biogeochemistry in mountain regions and understanding the associated impacts of climate change on catchment hydrology.

Alyssa is currently working on a project to determine how climate warming directly affects snowpack dynamics in the western United States, and how it results in decreased snow cover and earlier snowmelt. The goal of her research is to understand how the duration of snow persistence affects soil moisture across an elevation gradient and how this gradient in snowpack affects soil water nitrogen. She is working at three research sites in the Colorado Front Range to monitor snow, soil moisture, and soil water nitrogen. Her hope is that this research will increase our understanding of how changes in the duration and quantity of snowpack affect the supply of soil water nitrogen in these mountain regions.

Cary Weiner

Staff Spotlight

Cary Weiner is the State Energy Specialist for Colorado State University Extension and Director of CSU’s Rural Energy Center. He works with Extension agents and other partners across the state to determine and meet educational needs related to sustainable energy. His work includes making public presentations on home energy, farm energy, and electric vehicles; conducting community energy assessments; hosting a Local Government Energy Academy; developing web content and online decision tools for sustainable energy; and conducting economic feasibility assessments for on-farm solar.

In a recent USDA-sponsored project called Farm Assessments for Solar Energy (FASE), Cary and his team conducted 60 economic feasibility assessments for irrigated farms, feedlots, and other agricultural operations in Colorado—many of which are rely on water. One participant has installed a solar array to reduce energy use for pumping water, while other participants are now applying for grants to do the same. With the cost of solar dropping significantly in recent years, a federal tax credit for solar, and federal and state grants for on-farm renewable energy projects, the project aimed to give agricultural producers an estimate of their returns on investment from solar. Cary is driven to identify opportunities like these where local economic benefits could be gained while reducing climate impacts. Learn more about Cary and his efforts at, and visit CSU Extension’s Your Energy Colorado website for more information about sustainable energy in Colorado.

Click here to view the April 2019 issue of The Current.

Hannah Harrison

Student Spotlight

A senior at CSU, Hannah studies Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and is a SWIM student. She comes from Bainbridge Island, WA, which fostered her deep appreciation for both the happiness- and life-giving properties of water. Living in a place surrounded by water impressed on her just how necessary water resources are and how often they can be overlooked, even in environmentally-conscious communities. When she first came to CSU, she quickly realized just how passionate she is about environmental water quality and water resources.

After her sophomore year, Hannah became a research fellow with Central Michigan University and spent the summer of 2017 at a remote biological research station on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. While there, she conducted field work, lab testing, and statistical analyses on the changing ecology of Lake Michigan, focusing on the transition of algae from the pelagic to benthic zone. This research is important in understanding why changes in the lake’s greater food web are occurring and how they impact surrounding communities. When she returned to CSU, she began work on her honors thesis by getting involved in Dr. Stephanie Kampf’s lab. With Dr. Kampf and PhD candidate John Hammond, Hannah conducted a water balance comparison for headwater catchments across an elevation gradient in Northern Colorado by analyzing data from five different watersheds. Most hydrology research in dry states such as Colorado is conducted at high elevations, and much less is known about how much streamflow comes from lower elevations. However, lower elevation streams cover most of Colorado’s land area and may have significant, poorly quantified contributions to total state water yield. Because of the proportionally low amount of research conducted on lower elevation streams, studies such as this may help dry states calculate their water yield with increased accuracy.

Kelly Jones

Staff Spotlight

Kelly Jones is an Associate Professor of Ecological Economics in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. She addresses social-ecological systems questions related to human impacts on the environment and in turn, how environmental change affects society. In Colorado and Mexico, Kelly is collaborating with physical and ecological scientists to generate evidence on how novel watershed governance partnerships can contribute to water security. This includes understanding what factors lead to the emergence of watershed partnerships; evaluating the impacts of financial investments on economic and social outcomes; and assessing tradeoffs and synergies in the protection of multiple ecosystem services. Jointly these efforts are informing how watershed partnerships prioritize their investments in order to optimize their environmental, economic and social outcomes. Specifically, within Colorado, the research team is using the knowledge generated from their project to develop a spatial decision support tool that can be used by stakeholders to prioritize where to invest in wildfire risk mitigation activities for water security. Her research team in Mexico has used their findings related to environmental, economic and social impacts of watershed partnerships to develop a series of future scenarios, and engaged stakeholders through a role playing workshop to determine what changes they would like to make to existing watershed programs in order to enhance outcomes. More details on these research projects and others can be found at her website,