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The State of the Rockies Project is in its twelfth year, and seeks to increase public understanding of vital issues affecting the Rocky Mountain West. All State of the Rockies events are free and open to the public, who are encouraged to join the ongoing discussion of the issues that affect our beautiful yet fragile region.

2016 State of the Rockies Report

The Scales of Western Water

This spring we will be releasing the sections of our State of the Rockies Report over the course of April and May to highlight the impressive work of each of our student State of the Rockies Fellows. From the ethics of agricultural water use to the cultural value of water in the Southwest, the sections of the 2016 State of the Rockies Report focus on different "Scales of Western Water." 

April 25, 2016- A Paradigm Shift in Water Management Among Colorado Farmers and Ranchers

In the third section of the 2016 State of the Rockies Report, Rockies Project Fellow John Jennings examines a changing water management paradigm with Colorado's Gunnison River Basin as the backdrop for his research. John interviewed farmers and ranchers across the basin gathering their opinions towards some of Colorado's current water issues:

"With the ongoing drought, projected population growth, and the impending effects of a changing climate, the arid Rocky Mountain region must reexamine its relationship with water. Although state water planning initiatives, such as the Colorado Water Plan, basin roundtables, and numerous local and national nongovernmental associations, address critical water issues in the West, many of these initiatives seem to boil down in large part to economics and oversimplify complex ways diverse stakeholders value water. While the importance of the economy and jobs is undeniable and should not be ignored, the lack of other values incorporated into discussions about water policy must be recognized."

April 15, 2016- Native American Water Quality Rights: How the EPA’s Treatment as a State Program can Strengthen Tribal Sovereignty in the Southwest

In our second of four sections for the 2016 State of the Rockies Report, Rockies Project Fellow Jonah Seifer addresses water quality issues on Native American reservations and the role that the Environmental Protection Agency's "Treatment as a State" program can play in expanding Tribe's sovereignty:

"The prior appropriation system of water rights used in the western United States does not properly account for the diminishing quality of water as it flows towards the ocean. Native American tribes are often disadvantaged by this dynamic, and until recently, were relatively unable to protect themselves from the potentially hazardous discharges of upstream appropriators. Today, the Treatment as a State program administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency is allowing tribes to seek approval of authority to regulate the quality of water that enters their reservation. This new state of primacy over environmental regulations can help increase water security for all users, develop critical water infrastructure for tribal members currently without it, and promote an environmental ethic more consistent with a particular tribe’s traditional values and practices. All of these results amount to strengthened tribal sovereignty. The Treatment as a State program is imperfect, however, and the EPA’s implementation must be fundamentally modified to fully recognize the congressional intent behind the Clean Water Act."

March 31, 2016- Water Transfers in Colorado: Past, Present, and Future 

In our first of four sections for the 2016 State of the Rockies Report, Rockies Project Fellow Burkett Huey investigates the history of water transfers in Colorado and opportunities for recognizing third-party effects in future transfers:

"The West’s growing population challenges the current farming-dominated water appropriation as cities seek to buy the most senior rights from irrigators. This, in turn, leads to the term ‘buy and dry,’ because the practice of selling irrigation water can result in economic downturn for farmers and widespread negative, third-party effects throughout rural communities. However, water transfers don’t always have to place an economic burden on agricultural communities. Some examples of rotational fallowing and water leasing mechanisms in Colorado and across the West show that water transfers can provide water for urban areas and maintain the rural, agriculture livelihood."

The 2016-17 State of the Rockies Project:
Inclusive River Governance for a Changing West

A Comparative Study of the Colorado and Columbia River Systems

As we conclude our activities for the 2015-16 State of the Rockies Project, we are already preparing for the next chapter of our investigation into western water issues. For the upcoming 2016-17 Rockies Project cycle we will be expanding our traditional geographic focus beyond the Intermountain West to the Columbia River Basin and the Northwest U.S. Additionally, we will be returning our gaze to the Southwest and the Colorado River--familiar territory for the State of the Rockies Project. Recognizing the important role water plays in both of these regions, we plan to address the governance of two of the West's great rivers. We will begin this new investigative focus during the summer of 2016 and continue with activities on the Colorado College campus throughout the next academic year.

View the 2016-17 State of the Rockies Project Prospectus here.

The 2016 Conservation in the West Poll

A Survey of the Attitudes of Voters in Seven Western States

State of Nevada included in polling for first time in sixth annual survey

In January 2016, for the sixth year in a row, the State of the Rockies Project, in conjunction with Lori Weigel, Public Opinion Strategies and Dave Metz, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, has released the Conservation in the West Poll.

The survey, conducted in seven western states, explores bi-partisan opinions in each state and for the six-state region concerning conservation, environment, energy, the role of government, trade-offs with economies, and citizen priorities. This year the survey breaks new ground by polling in the state of Nevada for the first time in the poll's six-year history.

View full results and 2016 reports here.

Spine of the Continent Expedition continues fieldwork tradition of the Project

The Rockies Project set its sights on a topic of continental scale: Large Landscape Conservation. Read our 2013-14 Project Prospectus here. Developing off the successes of our 2011-2013 focus on the Colorado River Basin, we raised awareness of an increasingly important movement in the conservation community using our Project motto: Research, Report, Engage. Continuing our tradition of student-faculty collaboration, we investigated conserved lands in the Rocky Mountain region and some of the initiatives underway to encourage conservation on a landscape-scale. Building on the successes of our Source to Sea expedition and last summer's Down the Colorado expedition, we also headed back into the field to highlight the important work underway through photo and video. Click here to view our 2013 Spine of the Rockies Expedition Description. Additionally, the expedition has been coordinating with groups in the citizen science community to further awareness of this growing aspect of the science community. The expedition explores key areas of wild and open spaces in the Rockies: the Tetons-Yellowstone (Wyoming), the Crown of the Continent (Montana), Thompson Divide (Colorado), and the Sangre De Cristo Mountains/San Luis Valley (Colorado).



Visit our Rockies' Expeditions website to learn more.




View Spine of the Rockies Routes in a larger map


Follow the Updates From the Field!


Spring 2016 Plains to Peak Bulletin

Our most recent bulletin covers student research, the interdisciplinary nature of the Rockies Project, and includes a photo essay from a trip across the Southwest with the group EcoFlight.