2021 State of the Rockies Interns' Research and Projects

State of the Rockies Project:  Navigating Change

Being Here              

  • Rockies projects immerse students in their physical surroundings gaining a sense of place
  • Students are encouraged to pursue their interests in investigating the environmental "rattlesnakes" of the West
  • Students learn how to take care -- the importance of living responsibly

Deep Dive

  • Working alongside faculty, staff, professionals, and practioners, students plunge into the social, political, and environmental challenges that shape our lives in the Rocky Mountain Region

Innovative Solutions/New Ways of Learning

  • Rockies Students explore and contribute to what we know about vulnerability, resiliency, and sustainability


  • Students, faculty, and staff engage in well-timed projects

Working Together and Community Engagement

  • Opportunities for students to engage with community, stakeholders, professionals, other campus departments and organizations

Skill Building

  • Research and reporting
  • Interview techniques
  • Field data collection
  • Data analysis
  • Team work
  • Acceptance of others

National Awareness

  • Conservation in the West Poll
  • Conference presentations

Investigations + Projects

The future of water supply in Castle Rock, Colorado, a rapidly expanding Rocky Mountain Front Range city

Castle Rock, Colorado is the one of the fastest growing cities in the country and has been for two decades.  The city’s area continues to expand to accommodate the increasing population in spite of the growing cost of building and utilities.  Supplying water to the town’s residents has been a challenge since Castle Rock's founding in the 1870s.  Relying on limited surface flow and a confined aquifer, the town continues to boom as the scarcity of water supply in this geographic location rapidly increases.

Woman Sitting on Castle Rock 1889From the Castle Rock OCT 20Castle Rock 1925Castle Rock Looking SW 2020Images from top to bottom:  Woman Sitting on Castle Rock Summit: 1889.  Photo courtesy of Douglas County Arhives; Looking SW from Castle Rock Summit: 2020.  Photo by Josie McCauley, '21; View of Castle Rock: 1925.  Photo courtesy of Douglas County Arhives; View of Castle Rock: 2020. Photo by Josie McCauley.

Anna Diellza Joan Library photo

Anna Vera, '22 and Diellza Muriqi, '22 
work their way through heaps of
historical materials provided by
Douglas County Archivist Joan Gandy.

What is the future of water supply in Castle Rock, Colorado?  How are officials and residents in this Colorado Front Range town responding to the growing water demands and a changing climate?  What are their plans for a sustainable future? Does the plan consider equally all segments of the town’s population?

This summer, two Rockies summer interns documented the spatio-temporal changes the town of Castle Rock has undergone since 1937.  A GIS analysis demonstrates significant changes in land use cover as expected with population increase.  To provide an accurate historical account, the interns worked closely with the county’s archivist to help tell the story of the town's evolution and its on-going water crisis.  

The students interviewed Castle Rock, Douglas County, and state officials about the town’s current conservation programs and plans for the future.  We looked for broader implications in our findings by asking whether the sustainability approach implemented by the town of Castle Rock could serve as a model for other cities in geographically semi-arid environments.

We are sharing our research findings and implications with Castle Rock town officials, Douglas County Library, conservation advocacy groups, economists, the campus community, and others by featuring this work in State of the Rockies publications, web posts, social media platforms, and other campus communications venues and media.  

- Cyndy Hines, State of the Rockies Project Specialist

Cyndy Hines headshot OCT21

Cyndy Hines





Recent Investigations

Water management in Castle Rock, Colorado:  how a Front Range city is responding to groundwater uncertainty

 By Diellza Muriqi, '22 and Anna Sofia Vera, '22


Vera Muriqi Score poster



Castle Rock has a population of 75,285 people and is rapidly expanding. While the town's population continues to grow, water shortage has become an important concern. In the last decade, the town has implemented programs to increase supply and decrease demand. One of their main goals is to supply the town with 75% renewable water by 2050, which includes water from surface streams, tributary groundwater, and reused water. However, renewable water has two issues (1) it is more costly (2) it is subject to high variability and vulnerability because of an increasingly hotter and drier climate. One section of our research focused on finding ways that the city can provide water in an equitable and accessible way while maintaining their goal of 75% renewable water, given that water rates are projected to significantly increase. The other section of our research was investigating Aquifer Storage and Recovery programs as an alternative storage strategy (to surface reservoirs) as a means to secure water during times of drought and wildfires and decrease the strain on overallocated surface streams in the Front Range.

Orange Skies:  A glimpse into the future of Rocky Mountain Wildfires 

Wildfires always have played a critical role on Rocky Mountain landscapes.  Historically, low-intensity fires helped create and maintain a mosaic of diverse multi-age forest habitat. 

Over the past century, human alteration of the natural fire regime, combined with removal of water from forests, a warming climate, and years of severe drought have shifted fire behavior from low-intensity fires toward regional fires that cause greater ecological and social impacts. 


US-287 & WY-130, Wyoming
Mullen Fire 2021
Photo by resident Jonathan Dragojevic

Record-breaking wildfires in 2020 scorched nearly 2.6 million acres of forests across the eight-state region affecting people and costing hundreds of millions for firefighting and mitigation.  As climate warming trends lead to more frequent and bigger fires, Colorado College students created Orange Skies -- an exhibition of photos taken of wildfire activity around the Rocky Mountain West, exploring visually the far-reaching effects of smoke and flames.  

- Cyndy Hines 



A New Era of Wildfires in Rocky Mountain Landscapes

by Nate Blower, '21, 'Ada Evans, '21,  Josie McCauley, 21' and Calaya Hudnut, '22

Wildfire in the West for millennia has played an important role in the Rocky Mountain ecosystem by reducing hazardous fuels, releasing nutrients and increasing biodiversity. Historically natural, frequent, low-intensity fires are unlike the raging, vast fires we have seen over the past decade and most recently during the summer of 2020. Human-induced climate change is a major driver of the transition from natural, lower-intensity fires to unprecedented destructive wildfires. Intensifying drought conditions, increasing global moisture demand, and vegetation shifts toward susceptible non-native species add to the extreme conditions that feed the flames. Even if conservative climate projections continue, these conditions will amplify droughts and fire frequency and severity. The threat to life, livelihood and property of those living in the Rocky Mountain region and the disastrous effects of wildfires can persist for years.

The State of the Rockies Conservation in the West Poll shows that of registered voters in the Rocky Mountain region, 36% say that the most important environmental problem is pollution and 35% say that the most important problem is climate change. Wildfires relate directly to pollution and climate change; climate change catalyzes wildfires which cause an increase in air and water pollution.

Owen Braley Calwood Fire

Calwood Fire 2021
Photo by resident Owen Braley

Western voters increasingly view wildfires as a serious problem affecting their state, with more attributing the problem to changes in the climate and drought, rather than to forest management or other policies. Today, 90% of Western voters characterize “uncontrollable wildfires that threaten homes and property” as a serious problem in their state. Still, vast majorities embrace increasing efforts to reduce the potential for catastrophic fires, including ones that affect homeowners in fire-prone areas.

"Fire Science Critical for Combating Wildfires Out West." Fire Science Critical for Combating Wildfires Out West. October 15, 2020. Accessed January 12, 2021. https://www.usgs.gov/news/fire-science-critical-combating-wildfires-out-west?qt-news_science_products=1#qt-news_science_products. 

Craig, Christopher A., Myria W. Allen, Song Feng, and Matthew L. Spialek. “Exploring the Impact of Resident Proximity to Wildfires in the Northern Rocky Mountains: Perceptions of Climate Change Risks, Drought, and Policy.” International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 44 (April 1, 2020). doi:10.1016/j.ijdrr.2019.101420. 

Carter, Vachel A., Mitchell J. Power, Zachary J. Lundeen, Jesse L. Morris, Kenneth L. Petersen, Andrea Brunelle, R. Scott Anderson, et al. 2018. “A 1,500-Year Synthesis of Wildfire Activity Stratified by Elevation from the U.S. Rocky Mountains.” Quaternary International 488 (September): 107–19. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2017.06.051.  

Rockies Project 2021 Research Interns

Anna Sofia Headshot

Anna Sofia Vera, '21
Environmental Science

My name is Anna Sofia. I am from Santiago Chile and an Environmental Science major at CC. I joined State of the Rockies because of my interest in using scientific tools to engage with a socio-ecological issue, namely, what is the future of water supply in Front Range cities where currently, demand exceeds available water supply? 

When I am not in the GIS lab mapping or digitizing, you can find me dancing to the beats of some Salsa, Dancehall, or HipHop; or else playing some pick-up soccer! I hope to take what I learnt from this research and the relationships I built through this project to places in Chile that are facing water insecurity and overallocation.

My name is Diellza, and I am an Economics Major from Kosovo. I am particularly interested in the economics and management of water. Colorado College has proven to be a great place to pursue my interests as it stands on land with significant water challenges. Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to work on a literature review that examined the economic impacts

Diellza Muriqi Headshot

Diellza Muriqi, '22

of water demand management in the Upper Basin. This summer, I worked with the State of the Rockies where I looked at what Castle Rock has done to manage water scarcities, and the behavioral economics of communicating water rates. My senior thesis is also focused on water issues, except this time I am looking at Kosovo rather than the American southwest. It is exciting to learn more about what challenges my country faces in that area, and how I can produce something useful for my thesis project.

Report an issue - Last updated: 12/10/2021