Listening to Understand: Poudre River Forum brings perspectives together

The Cache la Poudre River means different things to different people. A craft brewer, a farmer, a rafter, an ecologist and an urban water manager all look at the river differently. And those who simply enjoy biking along the trail – whether through Fort Collins, Windsor or Greeley – have an even different perspective. It’s fitting, then, that “listening to understand” is the theme for this year’s Poudre River Forum.

Table of participants at previous Poudre River ForumOn Friday, Feb. 2, the fifth-annual event will bring together all those interested in the Poudre River,  8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave., Greeley.

The forum focuses on building collaborative relationships and understanding among the rivers’ users and those concerned about its health. It is organized by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group (PRTI). Pre-registration is required for all participants and includes breakfast and lunch.

“The forum embodies the group’s mission: to work toward improving the health of the river while respecting that it is a working river, providing a wide variety of economic benefits,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

Martin Carcasson, director of the Center for Public Deliberation at CSU, will kick off the forum with presentation, “Can ‘Listening to Understand’ Make our Water Talk More Productive?” and discuss how building relationships with those outside our own value structure can break down  polarization over water issues.

Flows, urban growth and Greeley water history

Participant asks question at Poudre River ForumThe Cache la Poudre River begins in the mountains west of Fort Collins and empties into the South Platte River just east of Greeley. Along its route, the river provides drinking water to more than 365,000 people, irrigates crops and lawns, and is the site of many recreational activities.

The fast-growing communities within Northern Colorado make smart water planning a priority, and a panel of presenters will discuss approaches underway and progress toward “growing water smart.” Attendees will also hear from Wellington dairyman Jon Slutsky about what farmers are currently doing to reduce pollution of the Poudre River from nutrients. This will include discussion about how voluntary retiming of operations on local farms is improving air and water quality in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A forthcoming water history book featuring the Poudre River brings back retired Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs as the event’s keynote speaker.  Hobbs is joined by Michael Welsh, a history professor at the University of Northern Colorado, who is co-authoring the book that describes how Greeley’s water history helped shape prior appropriation as we know it today throughout the West .

“A lot of people think the Poudre River stops at I-25, but the Poudre is a key part of Greeley’s history and we are quite proud of that,”said Greeley City Manager Roy Otto. “We are pleased that the Poudre River Forum is once again being staged in Greeley.”

Afternoon sessions, awards

“As the Poudre Flows” is the theme of an afternoon panel of “lightning speakers” who will each tell a story pertinent to the question of Poudre flows, and offer contrasting views about what can improve and what can damage them. Storytellers include John Kolanze, former legal counsel to the City of Greeley; Ellen Wohl, CSU geosciences professor; Dan Brown, legal counsel for the Cache La Poudre Water Users Association; Karlyn Armstrong, Colorado Parks and Wildlife water projects mitigation coordinator; Kurt Fausch, stream ecologist and CSU professor emeritus; and Ken Kehmeier, retired from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

A guided active listening exercise follows the lively panel discussion so that attendees may listen to understand their table’s perspectives on Participant listens at Poudre River ForumPoudre flows.

The all-day forum also includes “Poudre Splashes,” 10 spotlights on what various groups and individuals have accomplished on the Poudre in 2017; interactive audience polls; the presentation of the first-annual Poudre Pioneer Award; and more than two dozen Poudre-focused displays from community agencies and organizations. The day concludes with a social hour featuring beer, soda, and water-themed door prizes.

Registration is $60 and includes breakfast and lunch. Scholarships for students and reduced rates are available. The deadline to register is Wednesday, Jan. 31.

For more information, contact event coordinator MaryLou Smith at or 970-491-5899.