Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack opened the first day of the inaugural Water in the West Symposium likening the situation around water to a book he reads to his grandchildren – a book where there was a problem. First, the children’s book characters try to avoid the problem, then they try to ignore the problem, then they try to bury the problem.
“All without realizing that within each problem there is enormous opportunity,” said Vilsack, who serves as a special advisor to Colorado State University. “There is an incredible opportunity to lead a national and global effort in this area, that’s why this convening is so important.”
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Watch Colorado State University Denver Center social media for live updates at #WaterintheWest2018 as the Water in the West Symposium continues through Friday, April 27.
The Symposium, presented by CSU and held at the McNichols Civic Center Building in downtown Denver, sold out with 400 attendees, and showcased more than 30 speakers from across the state and nation representing diverse perspectives in water. Farmers, policy makers, researchers and educators, conservationists, associations, consortiums, corporate professionals, cities, utilities, municipalities, agribusinesses and hundreds of businesses and individuals who rely on water for the production of their goods and services filled the room, representing more than 200 different organizations.
The Symposium is the initial step as CSU prepares to begin construction on the Water Resources Center, the first building to be constructed on the new National Western Center campus, in Spring 2019.
The discussion at the Symposium mirrors what will happen at the Water Resources Center – mirrors the effort to educate, mirrors that innovation will play a key role, and mirrors that policy will continue to be important, Vilsack said.
Vilsack joked that the Symposium is the first conference he’s ever been to without built-in breaks, which will “show how serious we are about this.”
A full day of programming on Thursday included speakers and panels around:
- Water challenges and opportunities
- The Colorado Water Plan
- Colorado water successes and challenges
- A forum featuring Colorado gubernatorial candidates
Dr. Tony Frank, president of CSU and chancellor of the CSU System, noted the University’s importance as a convener for the conversation around water – a conversation furthered by the Symposium and the future Water Resources Center.
Land grant universities such as CSU are about breaking down boundaries, creating new knowledge, and disseminating that knowledge, Frank said.
“We’re going to see that really apply at the Water Resources Center. You’ll see a robust application of innovation,” he said. By listening to one another and respecting diverse perspectives, “I’m confident that the conversations we will have will be fruitful.”.
Speakers echoed Frank’s charge of the importance of the issue of water having an impact on everyone and having the power to galvanize diverse interests to collaborate around it.
“We do realize that every drop counts. We all live here, we breathe the same air that you breathe, we drink the same water that you drink,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.
“Yes, I’m a CSU graduate; yes, I’m the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, but at the end of the day, I’m a farmer and rancher from Yuma County, Colorado,” said Don Brown. “Water is a great connector; we all need it, we all use it.”
Mizraim Cordero, vice president of Government Affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said water is important to the entire state, and water policy and sustainability is key to attracting businesses.
“We care about our agriculture industry, our tourism industry, our beverage production industry, our energy industry,” said Cordero. “We want to make sure that in Colorado – not just Denver but all of Colorado – the economy is thriving.”
The conversation commencing because of the Symposium is in essence “a beginning of the virtual water center,” Vilsack said.
“It hasn’t even been built and look what it’s already doing … this is just the beginning.”