Vilsack announces annual international water symposium in Denver during Biennial panel

Drought, floods, and climate triggers to recent natural disasters will be among the key topics when global water experts convene in Denver in April to explore solutions to the world’s most pressing water challenges.

Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, now special advisor to Colorado State University, announced the launch of the new international water symposium – a joint effort of CSU and Denver Water.

“We want this to be a robust conversation, we want this to be a collaborative conversation,” Vilsack said, as he announced the plan for the symposium and emphasized its importance on Friday.

The inaugural symposium will be held April 26 and 27 at the McNichols Civic Center Building in downtown Denver, and will provide an introduction to the issues expected to be tackled in the future CSU Water Resources Center in partnership with Denver Water. The CSU Water Resources Center is tentatively scheduled to break ground in 2019 as the first new building at the National Western Center, a 250-acre revitalization project in North Denver.

“We hope it to be the place where we really begin to foster solutions to these problems,” Vilsack said. “It’s not just a Denver challenge or a Colorado challenge, it’s a U.S. challenge, it’s a global challenge.”

CSU President and CSU System Chancellor Tony Frank, expanded upon the importance of the joint effort.

“This symposium will provide a great foundation for the collaboration, research, and outcomes – focused on important global issues – that are at the heart of the new Water Resources Center and the National Western Center,” Frank said Friday. “I can’t image a better place than here, in a state where seven major rivers originate, to spearhead this conversation.”

Vilsack made the announcement while moderating a panel of water experts from public, private, and non-profit sectors at the Biennial of the Americas conference held in Denver last week. Panelists included Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water; Bruce Karas, VP of Environment and Sustainability at Coca-Cola; Brad Udall, senior water and climate scientist at the Colorado Water Institute and scholar at CSU; Andrea Erickson Quiroz, Managing Director of Water Security at The Nature Conservancy; and Tom Halverson, President and CEO of CoBank.

During the panel, Jim Lochhead called out that the glasses of water sitting on the tables are made up of water from the South Platte River basin and the Colorado River basin. The Colorado River is the lifeline for 30 million people, so Denver Water’s charge to address current and future water issues runs parallel to that of CSU, Lochhead said.

Water research, innovation, education, and policy – which form the foundation for the collaborative work at  the Water Resources Center – will come together in a unique model of holistic and integrated management for water, Lochhead said.

Panelist Brad Udall echoed the need for systemic change in the approach to water. Climate change has created implications to the water cycle that have triggered recent natural disasters such as floods and mega-droughts. Hurricane Harvey is estimated as a once in 25,000-year event, he noted.

“This is a challenge to humanity – the likes of which we have never faced,” Udall said. “Part of the business of water now is how to adapt to this changing cycle. We’re not doing enough right now; we are not addressing this problem with the rigor that it requires.”

Vilsack brought the conversation full-circle, painting the Water Resources Center at the National Western Center as a state of the art laboratory with a focus on educating the public on the importance of water, critical thinking around water issues and policies, and public empowerment.

“We will begin the process of educating folks more specifically on water, and a look at the future based on status quo, and the future based on change,” Vilsack said. “Status quo is not acceptable … we need to get serious, and we need to get serious quickly about change.”

Colorado State University and the National Western Center

Colorado State University has made a long-term commitment to the reimagining of the National Western Center in North Denver, and the communities surrounding the project. Efforts are under way to create partnerships with community schools, non-profits and businesses, and to actively engage in the community.

A key and founding partner in the National Western Center, CSU will have three buildings within the 250-acre campus upon completion. The project, which will break ground in the coming years, expands and regenerates the current National Western Stock Show site, turning it into a vibrant, year-round experiential, community-centric, life-long learning destination in the heart of Denver.

As Colorado’s land-grant university, CSU’s mission of research, service, and access, fits with the outreach mission of the National Western Center. CSU’s plans at the new campus focus on research and education programming in the areas of food systems, water, environment, energy and health. The university has initiated programming and service outreach efforts before buildings are constructed, as part of its commitment to the area. For additional information, visit