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The 2016-17 State of the Rockies Speaker Series


September 7th, 2016 Susan Hassol presents "Telling the Climate Change Story"
September 28th, 2016 Dr. Rory Cowie presents "The Gold King Mine Spill: A wake up call to address legacy impacts of mining on water resources of the mountain west 
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December 5th, 2016 Dr. Reed Benson presents "Revising Reservoir Operations for a Changing West"

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016 at 7:00pm, Gaylord Hall, Worner Student Center, Colorado College

Telling the Climate Change Story

Susan Joy Hassol, Director of Climate Communication

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The science is clear that climate change poses a serious threat to life as we know it, yet the broader public has largely failed to grasp the urgency of action. To what can we attribute this communication failure, and what can we do about it? This talk will include current information on what Americans think about climate change. It will address problems with communication and offer high-level suggestions for improvement. It will address both what we say and how we say it, dealing with framing, psychological and cultural issues, and questions involving language. And it will point the way to a hopeful vision both for communicating more effectively and for tackling the climate challenge.

Susan Joy Hassol is a climate change communicator, analyst, and author known for her ability to translate science into English, making complex issues accessible to policymakers and the public for 25 years. Susan is the Director of Climate Communication, a non-profit project that helps scientists and others communicate more effectively. She has written and edited numerous high-level reports, testified before Congress, written an HBO documentary, addressed many influential groups, and appeared on national media. Among her many projects, Susan was the Senior Science Writer on all three U.S. National Climate Assessments. For more information, see climatecommunication.org


Wednesday, September 28th, 2016 at 7:00pm, Gaylord Hall, Worner Student Center, Colorado College

The Gold King Mine Spill: A wake up call to address legacy impacts of mining on water resources of the mountain west 

Dr. Rory Cowie ’04, Hydrologist and Program Director of Mountain Studies Institute

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The August 2015 Gold King Mine spill near Silverton, CO turned the Animas River orange, sparking national media attention and re-igniting public outcry to address a long history of mining impacts to watersheds across the west. The legacy of past hard-rock mining in the United States includes more than 200,000 abandoned or inactive mines, thousands of which are located in the Rocky Mountains. At the time the mining operations were at their highest levels, environmental controls were limited or non-existent, leading to a wide range of environmental impacts. The impacts include movement of sediments, discharge of acidic waters, and the release and transport of metals and other contaminants that can pose a risk to human health and/or the environment.   

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with approval from the local government and regional stakeholders, has proposed placement of the Gold King Mine site on a National Priorities List (NPL) making it eligible for additional study and cleanup resources under EPA’s Superfund program. The proposed listing, known as the Bonita Peak Mining District site, consists of 48 historic mines or mining-related sources located in the Animas River watershed near Silverton, CO.  

Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) is an independent not-for-profit research and education center based in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado to develop “science that people can use” to address local and regional environmental issues.  With funding from the EPA, Trout Unlimited, and the City of Durango, MSI has monitored water quality and ecological health of the Animas River before, during, and after the Gold King Mine release. Dr. Cowie is a hydrologist and program director for water research at MSI and is currently contracted by the EPA to conduct hydrologic investigations in the Bonita Peak Mining District. Dr. Cowie’s current research addresses the interactions between legacy mine sites and natural water cycles to understand how the mines are impacting water quality in the Animas River. After receiving his degree in Biology from Colorado College, Dr. Cowie moved to Telluride, CO where he began his career in environmental restoration in the San Juan Mountains. He went on receive his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Colorado focusing his research on the processes controlling hydrologic fluxes in natural and human altered mountain regions around the world.  Dr. Cowie is currently working to develop targeted remediation strategies to clean up abandoned mine lands and improve water resources in headwater regions of the American West.   


Monday, December 5th, 2016 at 7:00 pm, Gaylord Hall, Worner Student Center, Colorado College

Revising Reservoir Operations for a Changing West

Dr. Reed Benson, Professor of Law and Chair of the Natural Resources & Environmental Law Program at the University of New Mexico School of Law

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Federal agencies built most of the West’s major dams and still operate them today; their operations bring both benefits and costs to the region. Neither the Bureau of Reclamation nor the Army Corps of Engineers regularly revises its plans for operating these dams, meaning that the plans may be increasingly out of step with the needs of a changing West. If the agencies would review their long-term operating plans, evaluate a range of alternatives, and engage the public in the process, resulting changes in reservoir operations could help the region meet its water management challenges.

Reed D. Benson is a Professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law, where he teaches courses relating to water law, natural resources, and administrative law, and chairs the school’s Natural Resources and Environmental Law ProgramProf. Benson has published nearly thirty articles on western water law and policy, focusing largely on environmental issues and federal water project operations, and he is a co-author of the Water Resource Management casebook from Foundation Press. He spent four months in 2015 as a Fulbright Scholar, serving as Visiting Chair in Water and the Environment at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, where he did research on dam operations in southern Alberta. He served from 2002-08 on the University of Wyoming law faculty. Before he began teaching, Prof. Benson worked in Oregon for the nonprofit conservation group WaterWatch, including five years as executive director. He has also worked as an attorney for a Boulder, Colorado law firm, for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC, and for the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies (now Western Resource Advocates). He earned a B.S. with honors in economics and environmental studies from Iowa State, and a J.D. magna cum laude from Michigan.