CSU, Denver students to raise water awareness in communities of color

The National Western Center Youth Water Project, now in its second year, is an eight-week internship program created by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute to foster collaboration between high school and University students around water conservation, education, and policy. The program is designed to inspire underrepresented youth to engage and inform their peers about water-related issues and resources.

Eight students are participating in this year’s program — four high school students from the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods in north Denver, and four CSU students participating in CSU’s Water Sustainability Fellows program. The 2018 cohort identifies as the 5280 Youth Water Project.

The student interns have been able to attend a number of conferences and events, including CSU’s inaugural Water in the West Symposium. The internship’s primary objective, however, is to plan and deliver Colorado’s first Youth Water Expo, which will be held in Argo Park on Saturday, August 4, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The family-friendly event is free and open to the public.

Organizations supporting the event include the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center, Denver Water, Metro Wastewater, the Gateway II fund of The Denver Foundation, Hunter Industries, CH2M Jacobs, the Walton Family Foundation, and Groundwork Denver. The Expo will be included as part of the lineup for the fifth annual Denver Days, a week-long event created by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. 

Aliyah Fard, 18, graduated from Colorado Academy in June and supports the group’s outreach and event planning efforts. Recently, she received an acceptance letter from Whitman College in Washington, where she plans to major in environmental science.

“I’ve really been enjoying the actual event planning and pulling everything together — reaching out in the community,” said Fard. “I think [people] should attend because we’re going to have a lot of valuable information. And it’s also going to be fun!”

Fard is particularly interested in water rights, and is debating whether to pursue a career in water law or politics after college.

5280 Youth Water Project student intern Aliyah Fard poses for head shot in front of St Charles Recreation Center in Denver.
Aliyah Fard
5280 Youth Water Project student intern Hugo Lezama poses for head shot in front of St Charles Recreation Center in Denver.
Hugo Lezama

Hugo Lezama, 22, is a senior at CSU, majoring in civil engineering. His second year participating in CSU’s Water Sustainability Fellows program, Lezama went outside his “comfort zone” by taking the lead on the project’s marketing efforts — teaching himself Adobe Photoshop and developing the group’s social media presence.

“All of the activities we’re going to put on are made specifically for the people in the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea communities,” said Lezama, noting that his neighbors “don’t think about simple things like watering their lawns at certain times, or how to use their water effectively.”

The Expo will deliver various water-related resources and activities to north Denver residents and provide context around the National Western Center redevelopment project taking place in their neighborhoods over the coming years. The expansion will include a building focused on water education and community engagement.

“I’ve been focused on getting my work done and haven’t really taken a step back to see how important this really is. It’s kind of a big deal!” Lezama said.

Post-college, Lezama intends to pursue a Masters degree to equip himself for an engineering career, with a focus on water.

“At some point, if I have enough money — which is why I want to get my Masters — I want to start my own foundation and start funding those kids [in the Latino community],” said Lezama. The foundation he envisions would provide internships, scholarships, networking opportunities, mentoring, and “everything you need to be successful.”

Following the Expo, the 5280 Youth Water Project team hopes to create a Youth Water Advisory Board to encourage more youth to get involved in water conversations. The group aims to have participation from at least 10 youth from communities of color, with a 50-50 mix of male and female members. The Advisory Board would host monthly meetings to explore opportunities to bring water education and advocacy to other underrepresented youth in Colorado and beyond.

5280 Youth Water Expo flier - bilingual

Colorado State University at the National Western Center

Colorado State University has made a long-term commitment to the future National Western Center in north Denver and its surrounding communities.

As Colorado’s land-grant university, CSU’s mission of research, service, and access fits with the outreach vision of the National Western Center. CSU’s plans at the site focus on research and educational programming in the areas of food systems, water, environment, energy, and health.

A key and founding partner, CSU will have three buildings within the 250-acre National Western Center campus, including a water resources center, breaking ground in late 2019, and an animal health building, breaking ground in early 2020.

The University is currently working to engage with the community and to partner with local schools, nonprofits, and businesses to create vibrant spaces, impactful research and collaboration, and year-round programming to this unique project.  

For additional information, visit nwc.colostate.edu.

About the 5280 Youth Water Project

The 5280 Western Youth Water Project is a coalition of high school students and students from Colorado State University that has convened throughout the summer to learn about issues around water. The program has been in existence for two years, and is tied to work around the future National Western Center, which will house the CSU Water Resources Center in collaboration with Denver Water.

Follow 5280 Youth Water Project on Facebook (@5280YWP) and Instagram (@52wavy).