Building resilience to drought in the West with Dr. Caroline Nash

On today’s episode, Western Landowners Alliance Programs Director Hallie Mahowald was joined by Dr. Caroline Nash, a hydrologist and geomorphologist with the consulting group CK Blueshift LLC. Dr. Nash got her PhD at Oregon State University and has done field work throughout the American West. She has extensive experience in rangeland conservation and stream restoration. She brought knowledge about the science and regulatory systems relevant to watershed scale conservation efforts to the conversation. At CK Blueshift, Dr. Nash leads the company’s current projects and consulting work related to hydrologic analysis, restoration design, and monitoring strategy.



Links and references from Building resilience to drought in the West with Dr. Caroline Nash

CK Blueshift:

Culp & Kelly:

Blue Commons Fund:


Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet

Charles Luce and the Rocky Mountain Research Station

Topics discussed

[00:01:09] What is CK Blueshift?

[00:03:02] The new abnormal?

[00:06:13] Long Term Solutions

[00:10:24] About the Blue Commons Fund

[00:13:38] Matching finance and funding to right levels of risk

[00:15:50] The once-in-a-lifetime influx of federal investment in water

[00:17:10] About the ReBeaver program

[00:20:31] What is Process-Based Restoration, actually?

[00:24:30] Why we can’t just move beavers and be done?

[00:26:38] Zuni water management in the Southwest

[00:28:13] Beaver persistence as inspiration and information

00:32:02] How do landowners get involved? Highlighting the existing innovation on the land.

[00:35:31] Making sure landowners have the risk management tools needed to participate in experimentation

[00:36:12] Why you should communicate with your neighbors about your experiments

[00:38:20] What keeps you up at night, and what gives you hope?

[00:40:05] Aging rural population, waning land-based expertise

[00:42:02] Young people getting excited about land stewardship

[00:43:20] Seven generation perspective

Episode transcript

On Land Podcast – Caroline Nash with CK Blueshift on building resilience to drought in the West

[00:00:00] Caroline: (Cold Open) Any solutions that require water use reductions, that create more resilience, that allow for those technological advances.

All of them start with people.

 (Musical Open)

[00:00:09] Hallie: Hi there and welcome to the On Land Podcast. I’m Hallie Mahowald, programs Director for the Western Landowners Alliance. On today’s episode, I was joined by Dr. Caroline Nash for a wide ranging conversation about Western Water. Caroline is a professional hydrologist and geomorphologist with experience in rangeland conservation and stream restoration.

She brought a ton of knowledge about the science and regulatory systems relevant to watershed scale conservation efforts to our conversation. Caroline got her PhD at Oregon State University and has done field work throughout the American West. She is a principal at CK Blueshift, L L C, where she leads the company’s current projects and consulting work related to hydrologic analysis, restoration design, and monitoring strategy. We will be right back with my conversation with Dr. Caroline Nash after this break.

 (Ad Break)

 (Interview Start)

[00:01:09] What is CK Blueshift?

[00:01:09] Hallie: Hi Caroline, welcome to the show today. Your background is impressive and clearly connected to water as a PhD hydrologist, but what is CK blueshift? Why should landowners know about what you all do?

[00:02:02] Caroline: Thank you so much for having me today. In short, CK blueshift is a consulting group working to develop and implement innovative solutions to water, ecosystem and climate risk throughout the west. We operate as a joint enterprise with our parent company, a law firm, Culp and Kelly, and together we offer a sort of unique integration of water law and policy alongside management and technical expertise.

You know, we work with everyone from individual landowners looking to develop, find funding for resilience oriented restoration and management plans. To federal and state agencies who are trying to interpret policies in light of some of the changing landscape of how we think about these problems. Though in general I think I often half joke that really what I am is a capacity pinch hitter.

And that the heart of the services I provide to our partners is just offering up to another person. I’ll come with you. I’ll stand at your fence post together, we’ll scratch our heads and try to figure out this problem that you’re trying to fix.

[00:03:02] New Abnormal

[00:03:02] Hallie: Great. Thanks. That’s really helpful. So the drought in the West, and the Western water crisis, we wanna talk to you about that today. It’s ongoing. Though 2023 looks like it will be wetter, at least heading into the growing season. Maybe too wet in some places. For instance, the LA Aqueduct was undermined by flooding on March 10th this year.

Some scientists are talking about this as the new abnormal. What are your thoughts on that?

[00:03:29] Caroline: You know what’s so wild to me? And I’m based in Idaho, and when I looked at the NRCS Snowtel Map today, right? It says we’re at 123 for the Boise Basin. And it’s wild because I look outside and I see so much snow for this time of year. It feels just unprecedented and it’s really just a smidge over median, and that’s always a really helpful grounding for years when it feels like, wow, this is so much that, oh no, actually this is.

On average from the period of record that we have about middling. It’s one of the reasons that when I go to new sites, when I’m trying to get better situated in a new landscape, I really love talking with the folks who’ve lived there for generations. I had one operator who was telling me, and I remember this so much better than I would data otherwise saying, in 1956, I remember riding my sled off the barn roof because there was so much snow and it.

I don’t know. That’s, I always ground myself with that, which is, it’s amazing how resilient our brains are to recontextualizing and retelling stories about what a lot is and what isn’t a lot. Which bodes well in some ways for us, our mental resilience. But I think representing anything is a new abnormal, new normal, anything undersells some of the level of change that we’re seeing. It’s not like we’re stabilizing to some new and different level, right? But the rates of changes, the types of changes, the directions, they’re becoming increasingly unpredictable. as we know. And the types of feedback loops that they’re spurring are really different than we’re used to. Things like, you have drought for 10 years and then .You get so much rain like we’re seeing right now our snow pack as it were, and we’re triggering all sorts of mudslides and earth movement at rates and magnitudes and in locations where there just was never enough disturbance and never enough change to really spur that before.

As a geomorphologist, I think a lot about that because of course, changing the amount and type and timing and location of where sediment is moving is so critical to how our rivers work, how our diversions work, how our pipes and canals and ditches work. These are seemingly small things or seemingly, you know, niche things that can just massively transform our landscape beyond the ways that we often think about climate and water risk. But one of the quotes I think of the most of though is Charlie Luce, who’s a hydrologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Center, actually here in Boise. He once said that this changing climate, this changing set of patterns is just destroying so much of our institutional knowledge, and that’s one of the greatest risks.

And so I think resilience comes into this sort of decision making with massive amounts of uncertainty of how do we proceed? How do we test things out and try things out and make smart guesses with incomplete, imperfect, and oftentimes zero information.

[00:06:13] Long Term Solutions

[00:06:13] Hallie: Yeah. Wow. That’s a really helpful perspective. And I think your point, it is key to get the local perspectives on drought and baseline. Assuming and I understand that there is this variability and this change and these unknowns. Assuming that aridification and population growth continue in the west and that we are going to have to make do with less water for the foreseeable future, where do we need to be looking for long-term solutions, both in terms of water use reductions, but also as you mentioned in terms of increased resilience?

[00:06:47] Caroline: Yeah, this is the $4 billion question I, I. Think of, there’s a great book called The Wizard and the Prophet, written by Charles Mann, and it’s a really nice reorganization of the sort of traditional narrative of the environmental movement in the US through the 20th century, and it categorizes folks as the title suggests into wizards.

Who believe in the power of technology to allow us as humans to adapt, come up with new solutions to make increases in efficiency, as well as then the prophets who really believe in the necessity of living within very specific means to prevent catastrophic collapse. And the whole concept is pitted against this one very charismatic, nihilistic, microbial biologist who says the destiny of any organism is to go extinct so that we’re trying to fight against it in any way is comical. But, ultimately isn’t the most human thing that we could end be doing is fighting against what feels inevitable. And so I open with that because I think it’s so easy to think in binaries there of either we come up with more efficient solutions and therefore we can continue to grow, we can continue to change at paces facilitated by that technology, that technology is the answer. Just as easy it is to say, we just need to use less. We just need to reduce use. And I think it’s, the both. And one of my, one of my colleagues, Margot Malloy, who’s here in the Boise office, is a organizational management expert, and she works on facilitation a lot and often talks about the power of the “both and,” and I really do think that’s where, when we’re thinking about how we make due with changing water availabilities in the foreseeable future, we’re going to need to be rethinking some of what we take for granted in terms of the technology we use to distribute water.

And there’s already such great examples of those changes going on around the west right now. You see Folks over in Hermiston, Oregon who. Are bringing to bear some of the most unbelievable technological changes in irrigation efficiency and application, and that’s really exciting to see. That’s, a spot of great hope.

Similarly, folks who are doing really thoughtful and really. Forward looking conservation work of saying, Hey, you know what, let’s actually put some easements in. There is a group over in East Idaho working on some really neat, scientifically driven easement purchases that are saying, we’re not saying let’s take the whole landscape out of production, but let’s think about where.

The wildlife that we’re trying to protect are fawning where they’re needing really specific resources. And let’s be strategic. We don’t need to shut down everything if we pick some of the right places. All of this is couched in vast amounts of uncertainty, which is just the theme of water in the West which is, I think, Any solutions that require water use reductions, that create more resilience, that allow for those technological advances.

All of them start with people. All of them start with communities and with groups of people who trust each other and even if their values aren’t always necessarily aligned, have frameworks to come together to talk to each other honestly, and to experiment freely. And I feel like if that’s the one takeaway from today, it’s.

The goal of treating land management as community supported experimentation where we all collectively work to try to see if something will happen, but nobody is chastised or punished if it doesn’t go the way we think it will, because when does it ever.

[00:10:24] About the Blue Commons Fund

[00:10:24] Hallie: Yeah, and I think this is a good lead in to move a little bit. Know Some of the problems that you’re looking to address or could be addressed. And I’d love if you could tell us a little bit more about the Blue Bank, the Blue Commons Fund.

What gaps in project finance, CK blueshift is working, to fill: what’s the problem? What are the solutions?

[00:10:45] Caroline: Yeah. You know, It’s funny because when the changes brought forward by the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act. It almost feels like we’re Scrooge McDuck swimming through pools of federal funding. But in some ways, that increase in available federal funding has also made clear some of the persistent capacity gaps and some of the persistent structural issues in how funding gets translated from these large initiatives to the actual partners doing the work.

So Blue Commons is a startup that was developed by Blueshift. It’s a first of its kind Blue Bank, which is modeled off of the green banks that are commonly used to fund renewable energy on the East coast. And to vastly oversimplify it, it’s solving for some of the major credit gap issues in conservation and restoration spaces and better aligning the risk tolerance of funding and financing sources with the types of projects they’re matching to.

So as an example of the first, I’m sure you and your listeners and anyone who works on Land in the West is familiar with the issues of needing timely cash match to get federal grants and maybe having to pay people salaries while you’re waiting for those grant contracts to finalize, but not having a source of credit to be able to put that forward.

So the difference is that with Blue Commons funding, We can provide some of that upfront cash match where it’s applied to the project upon notice of award and immediately available as credit for the project applicant. And so in this example, let’s say I apply for a federal grant. I ask for $2 million and they need 25% cash, cash match. Blue Commons puts forward the 500,000. And when you get notice of award, suddenly in your bank there is fi. There’s, you have a shiny credit card from mom and dad with a limit of up to $500,000. You can use it to pay for things that the federal grant will eventually reimburse, but that the funds aren’t in the bank yet to do.

So things like salaries, things like getting moving on project permits. The second piece that makes Blue Commons and its fund development really interesting is this idea of making them revolving funds, not just one time payments. So in the example I just shared, you get your grant, you have 2 million together between the federal money and your non-federal cash match.

But then over the course of your project, you have some state funding come in. You have a couple other small non-federal grants come in. That money can slide in and replace some of that initial Blue Commons money that then goes back into the fund and can support other projects in the same way. And by doing that it.

That fund recycling in a way allows things like philanthropic dollars to go a lot further for a particular region, for certain project types, while also helping on the ground partners deal with the credit limitations that conservation organizations typically face.

[00:13:38] Matching finance and funding to right levels of risk

[00:13:38] Caroline: The latter topic around better aligning risk tolerance. This was a concept that blue shift’s managing director and our finance specialist, Anna Eliah, introduced me to, and I won’t do as good a job as she probably would explaining it. But effectively it’s that things like federal funds and philanthropic grants. They’re typically fairly risk tolerant, all told since many of them don’t expect explicit financial returns, they might require outcomes reporting, of course, but we’re not looking for a 10% return on initial investment.

And as, such, they can support the types of projects that are really cutting edge, innovative, where we have a lot of uncertainty around. What’s gonna happen? Things like private investment and private financing, and again, another thing she taught me, the difference of funding, which is money given to you and financing, which is money loaned to you and private investment, are typically less risk tolerant.

These financing models do expect that return and as such are often best deployed to projects where there is a really reliable outcome that you can literally take to the bank, and then take back to your investors. And one of the issues we see in the conservation space, both is an underutilization of private investment in corporate dollars and a misapplication of the different types of funds and the risks they’re best aligned with.

With the sorts of projects we’re doing. Things like putting philanthropic and federal dollars towards really bread and butter. Established, documented project outcomes. We should be turning that into something private finance can cover and pay for. An example of this is the cooling water conservation fund that Blue Commons is doing in the Phoenix Metro area.

And this is where using really well established, well-documented and piloted technology to increase the efficiency of cooling infrastructure for large industrial, in this case hospital facilities. Private investors can come forward, put down the money. That money is recycled through a number of projects to be able to reduce the water use for all of these clients of a water utility and the cost savings from water reductions, pay back that initial loan.

So that’s one of those places where private finance can really be brought to bear and things like philanthropic grants, federal funding, we should be making better use of those to test the sorts of exciting and innovative ideas that folks are coming up with for their particular regions.

[00:15:50] The once-in-a-lifetime influx of federal investment in water

[00:15:50] Hallie: Yeah, thanks. And I can say, I mean that in my nonprofit experience, without a doubt, that kind of financing for immediate capacity is so critical in this space. And I appreciate that you touched on kind of this. Increase in federal funding and how it, we keep hearing about more and more money coming in at that level, but what does that really mean, on the ground and how can groups access it?

And it seems like in this case, you really are solving for that credit gap issue.

[00:16:17] Caroline: And I think one of the things that I’ve heard a lot of folks talk about and we’re thinking a lot about, which is this is a massive, unprecedented, one-time investment in a lot of really great programs, but as folks who work on the ground know, Shovel-ready projects don’t. Birth from the ground, shovel ready, they’re there because people spend a lot of time developing them.

People who know the ground, who live there. And so how do we translate this huge one-time investment into the types of funds that are able to support the transaction costs of supporting F T E, of paying for people to have sustained livelihoods in places where they can really put down roots, pay for housing, raise a family if they want to, and I think being able to solve for that.

Of people need to do this work and we need to make sure that this funding is going towards those people. And that’s, I know, a topic of conversation among a lot of different smart people right now.

[00:17:10] About the ReBeaver program

[00:17:10] Hallie: Yes, as it should be. There’s some really good questions there that need to be answered and thought about. I’m curious just moving a little bit into some of the other work. I know it’s related, but other work you’re doing with CK Blue Shift. I’m curious about the concept behind re beaver what can be accomplished with watershed restoration efforts, including restoring beaver to the landscapes of the West.

What should landowners know about your program, particularly how does it work .

[00:17:37] Caroline: I’ll start with the part that’s related to Blue Commons, which is the ReBeaver Fund, and then I’ll move into some of the more watershed scale restoration pieces that can be funded through ReBeaver, but also our services that we’ve provided to individual landowners independently. So the ReBeaver Fund is one of the three funds currently being operated by Blue Commons, and it was, as I discussed previously, very explicitly developed as a support fund for process-based restoration projects that are trying to increase their scale, but in so doing are really struggling with acquiring the sufficient match non-federal match to access federal funds and have some of those credit gap challenges as we’ve implemented our first. Re Beaver projects. One of the other things we’ve really been seeing come up is also the challenge of upfront technical assistance, which is even though process-based restoration tactics and a lot of these emerging conservation concepts, which in a lot of ways that I’ll get into in a second, are, you know, what’s old is new again,

Scaling up, it’s not so much the technical difficulty of installing the things themselves, but how do you. Across 10 miles of stream. How do you get the permits for that? How do you write a grant application that addresses all of the questions being asked of you? How do you integrate it with grazing management and your water management?

And do you have to change where you put your mineral out? And so helping to develop that upfront technical assistance where we help identify project locations where this could be viable. We work with partners to develop the stakeholder maps and collaboratives necessary to bring folks to the table and talk about, ‘what do we wanna see?’

I think one of the really critical things we do through the ReBeaver Fund is look to where work’s already happening. Something, a specter that looms large over a lot of conservation work in the West is, has NEPA been done? Well, can we start to look at places that have already been analyzing for really expansive changes to the landscape in their NEPA and help the people who are doing the work already and say, Hey, you analyzed for this and even though it’s not in your next five year plan, we’ve got funding that can support for this and we can bring project partners to bear.

Would you be willing to let us move forward there? So that’s the concept behind the ReBeaver Fund. One of the critical additional components to having that upfront cash match for the federal grants is also coming to that aligning risk piece of it. Starting to think and work with some of our longstanding partners.

How do we leverage private investment into some of these restoration spaces? How do we properly align what corporate funders, what private investors are looking to support and have the risk tolerance to support with the types of outcomes that we may or may not see on these projects. But I’ll put a pin in the ReBeaver fund conversation because I might have been using some phrases in terms that people are either very familiar with or have no idea what I’m talking about.

[00:20:31] What is Process-Based Restoration, actually?

[00:20:31] Caroline: And that’s this concept of process-based restoration, watershed restoration, beaver related restoration, and I’ll have to really keep myself in check cuz this was the topic of my dissertation.

In short, process-based restoration has emerged as a concept in the past 25 years. That was really in response to what had previously been the paradigm that practitioners used for stream restoration, and that paradigm was very field of dreams.

If we build it, things will come. If we make a river that is the right shape and that has certain hydraulic properties, ecosystem health will come and. I think it’s easy to be like, that was bad and this is good. There’s a time and a place for form-based engineered restoration, but the idea of process-based restoration emerged as.

Hey, are we trying to just create the form of what we think healthy rivers look like? Do we even know what a healthy river looks like? What is a healthy river? With this idea of what if we took barriers that we know are currently inhibiting some of the things that we think might make this river function?

Something like overbank flooding. If you’ve got a stream that’s really cut down so that the water doesn’t top over its bank, pretty much ever. Chances are it’s not functioning. The way that rivers that aren’t that cut down are, which is they flood over bank. They distribute the flow of water, they deposit sediment, build up your floodplains, help irrigate those plants.

And so process-based restoration says, let’s focus more instead on the processes that we’re trying to initiate. It’s the field of dreams versus the by hook or by crook, which. Do what you want, make it work. What I wanna see are overbank floods every two to five years. That varies obviously based on the location that you’re at, the stream system you’re at, but that’s sort of the motivating force behind process-based restoration, and it’s become really synonymous with the subset of process-based restoration centered.

Beavers. And of course, because you have this very charismatic macro fauna, the classic environmental movement playbook and this really compelling story around the history of beavers in the West.

One of the hypotheses that drives a lot of this excitement and this concept is that through the 1820s we had massive amounts of fur trade going on through the Western US. You have the Hudson Bay Company, you have Peter Skeen Ogden coming through. You have folks who are just decimating, in the very literal Roman sense of, one in 10 left beaver populations. And, when you look at the work that beavers do as ecosystem engineers of damming rivers, of creating big ponds, of creating that overbank flowing, a lot of folks started thinking, shoot are beavers and their dam building one of the processes that our management of rivers has eliminated that we maybe need to put back in place?

And so this is where the concept of beaver related restoration comes into play at its most… at its purest, I guess you could call it. It is Beaver translocation. And folks might be very familiar with the Idaho Fish and game video from the fifties of them strapping beavers into boxes with parachutes and sending them into the Payette National Forest to try to reestablish them there.

That is not how it’s happening now. There is a lot more science going into translocation techniques, and when you move beavers from one location to another, What’s the appropriate distance to take them? What kind of testing do you do for disease to make sure you’re not transferring something into a new population?

What is the right number of beavers to have in any given area given the amount of food and resources available for them? So there’s a lot of resources developing around that, but this is where, what I was saying, what’s old is new again, because Beaver Translocation Wildlife Translocation is a bread and butter tool in wildlife management.

[00:24:30] Why we can’t just move beavers and be done

[00:24:30] Caroline: We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years. And the difference with beaver related restoration is the expectation that once we move the beavers, that they’re also then gonna do some dam building and stream fixing for us. And it turns out that expectation is not always something you wanna take to the bank.

Because in a lot of studies of beaver translocation, people are always shocked to hear this cuz you see a beaver move and they don’t seem like they would hold any land speed records. And they don’t, but they are very persistent and beavers will translocate themselves. You translocate a beaver to a new watershed.

Some of them will move 200 kilometers from where you put them, which is remarkable, but also goes to show if they don’t wanna be there. They won’t. The other and slightly sadder number is of course you translocate beavers into a watershed and a lot of predators are suddenly saying, thank you very much for these tasty treats.

And this is in part because if you move beavers into a location where they don’t have protection, if there aren’t sufficient resources adjacent to their central place, central point foragers. They can really be in harm’s way and risk being predated on. Jimmy Taylor is a co-author of mine on one paper who’s done a lot of work specifically on the wildlife management and translocation efforts of this.

He’s with the USDA APHIS in Fort Collins now, but that’s one piece of it. The next one is probably the one most people think of, which is, Artificial structures. So this is where folks are using things that are called Beaver Dam analogs. Some folks are taking the more established large woody debris of sort of the Western Cascades streams and changing it to small wood, small woody debris.

So creating. Roughness in channel, full channel spanning structures, partial channel spanning structures, again, by hook, by crook, trying to introduce things that will slow water down and send it up over its banks. And here this is again, what’s old as new again, these bear a lot of marked similarities to things like Zeedyk structures, run rock rundowns, the Paiute Wicker weirs, one of my favorite.

[00:26:38] Zuni water management in the Southwest

[00:26:38] Caroline: Studies that is just criminally under-cited from Norton in 2002 documents how Zuni water managers in the Southwest have been using woven wicker structures, woven willow structures as part of their integrated upland and lowland management for millennia. And interestingly, the way that it was described that Zuni managers were using these technologies was, not just putting structures in the stream itself, but also thinning the uplands of Junipers and of other conifers that might be encroaching to the lowlands and using those materials to build the structures.

And that’s a piece that’s often missing from our current conversations, which is it’s an upland and lowland. And you would expect that, stream managers and watershed managers who’ve lived in a place as long as the Zuni have, would probably know what they’re talking about. And this is where. We come back to this initial concept of are we restoring beavers to the landscape or , is it that we wanna restore beavers to the landscape explicitly?

Is it that we wanna create conditions that allow for beavers to continue to exist as a sort of C positive canary in the coal mine, which is if beavers are here in building dams, that’s probably a good sign that we’re generating healthy watersheds and have processes in place that do support that. But then the other question that.

I think we need to be really honest with ourselves about, which is when we removed beavers in the nine, in the 1820s, that also coincided with the removal of a ton of institutional knowledge and traditional knowledge from the landscape at the same time. And so how much of this was the beaver themselves being removed?

[00:28:13] Beaver persistence as inspiration and information

[00:28:13] Caroline: How much of it was also removing a lot of really, Informed managers of streams and watersheds from the landscape, akin to the very storied tale of Yellowstone. Not the new N B C show, but the creation of the national Park in its first instance. And so all of this that I could talk for genuinely hours about is to say, There are a lot of different ways to manage a landscape, and what all of this has taught me is that we derive inspiration from beavers, which is, beavers are not the best engineers, but boy are they persistent.

And the only folks I see out on a stream as much as beavers are the people who live there. And so having restoration projects that are designed and integrated into landowner’s lives and into their processes and operations is essential.

Beavers do not drive long haul trucks pulling gravel in from watersheds away.

They use local materials. You will see beavers build with juniper. You will see them build in one instance in South Dakota with cornstalks. Beavers build with mud, they build with what’s there. And I think that’s another really great principle derived from Beaver inspiration, which is. Use what you have and that goes to the materials that you’re using to do your restoration, as well as things like equipment.

If you don’t own an excavator, let’s design a project that doesn’t require an excavator. If you have those three attachments for your skid steer, let’s figure out how to use them to do what we’re trying to do. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll come up with a plan to address it. And so all of which is to say, Restoration programs that we support and that I help landowners with are really as much about.

Rigorous. I guess that feels very aggressive, but I really try to get to know people, their values, what they’re trying to accomplish, try to understand the landscape, the history of it, what they’ve seen, how it’s changed, and understand what they’re trying to accomplish. What are the challenges they’re facing when it comes to water on their landscape?

What have they tried that’s worked? What have they tried that absolutely didn’t work? And how do we design something that can allow us to both try to make things better and learn along the process?

[00:30:25] Hallie: Yeah, you just made a lot of great points. There could be a lot to respond to. One kind of recurring theme that came across to me was really, again, coming back to that. Concept of resilience, right? Resilience by having people be part of this process that are out on the land, part of that decision making moving away from the one size fits all and thinking about, what is needed in that landscape.

What are you really trying to accomplish? But then also as you were describing process-based restoration, which I appreciate you defining. It’s really become a buzzword, but it’s key that we understand. What it means and what it encompasses, but also, you know, even just the cost and materials and the incorporation into that and how different that is than maybe some of the river restoration work that, was a million dollars a mile in some areas not too many years ago.

And then I’ll just say I, I find it really refreshing that this concept, especially the way that you’re talking about it, and in this Re beaver program really moving away from so much of water management and the focus on water right now is really that bank to bank management. But thinking about, upland management and lowland management and the holistic system, not only of the landscape, but again it’s the people in that landscape and that connection to the whole system. you ended kind of talking about the landowners and their perspective and what they’re doing on the ground. Western Landowners Alliance represents landowners across the west many whom have agricultural water rights. What should landowners be thinking about right now, both in terms of protecting their water rights as they’re looking at some of these solutions, but also, how do they do that and also be part of the solution?

[00:32:02] How do landowners get involved? Highlighting the existing innovation on the land.

[00:32:02] Caroline: Yeah. You’re asking a lot of those $4 billion questions right now and. I think it would be impossible for me to give an answer that would apply to the diversity of types of agricultural water rights that folks have, the types of operations that those funnel into, the tools and options available to them in terms of payments, leasing, insurance in their region, for their operations, for their size, for their adjusted gross income.

But the thing I keep coming back to is something that’s been really inspiring to me since I started this work. Down in Southern Oregon. And that is just the amount of innovation and inspiration that landowners give me when I see that solutions that they’ve come up with for different things on their properties.

And I feel like one of the, the. The point I keep hoping to drive home is we just need to keep experimenting. We don’t have a proven solution yet. There’s probably never gonna be one that fits everyone. So what we need to do are empower the people who know their land best to tinker and to tinker with as many in the sort of Aldo Leopold view of it, tinker with all the pieces in place, and provide any of the supports that we can to make sure that as they’re tinkering, they’re not gonna get in trouble in irreversible trouble.

And that we can really learn from those solutions. So I think part of being part of the solution is trusting your instinct and trusting your gut. When you look at something and you’re like, I feel like that shouldn’t be that way, or I wonder if it could be better, or, I wonder if I could try that. Part of this being the solution is just, is doing it.

Reaching out to maybe partners. We’ve been a really big fan and are starting to push for some new program developments of partnerships with community colleges and other local educational entities that are really well grounded in a community to have folks come out, do a little data collection, have a student project, have them come and think about it with you.

And I think the question of protecting water rights, this is, this is the groundwork of. Western property values, and I don’t claim to be an expert in this. You’d have to go to some of the folks at my firm like Peter Culp and Kelly Kennedy and Mary Kelly to think about that. But when we think, if you’ll allow me a little bit of artistic license here I th it makes me think about the fall of the Roman Empire and bear with me.

And there’s this one theory, and of course there’s a million theories. But there’s one theory that really resonates with me. Which is that the shift from the expanding empire to the declining empire was the point at which we stopped, in a Star Trek sense, boldly exploring and going where we had not yet gone before to a more defensive, protecting our borders, closing off the walls, circling the wagons.

Pick your metaphor. And it was that point where the Romans went from really pushing the boundaries, depending on who you were. Not a great thing, but. And I think that when we think about. Western water. That’s the sort of tension we’re at, which is do we circle the wagons? Do we retreat to our own silos and our own groups to protect what’s ours?

Is the solution going to be found in sort of digging in our heels that way? Or is the solution going to be found in building partnerships and engaging in community and collaboratives of being willing to. Still protect yourselves. Don’t say, I’ll give up my water rights, but say, you know what, for two years, let’s experiment.

[00:35:31] Making sure landowners have the risk management tools needed to participate in experimentation

[00:35:31] Caroline: I wanna make sure that there’s the financial incentives for this to not harm my bottom line for this to not harm my family, for this to not harm the land. But let’s give it a try. I think the. There’s an onus on a lot of the rest of us to make sure we develop the programs that allow landowners to participate that way.

Oftentimes, it’s only folks with really high net worths that have the safety net to be able to do that right now and being able to expand the programs and the opportunities available to folks who’ve have a ton of experience, a ton of. History on a landscape, a lot of good ideas, but maybe don’t have that same safety net.

Making sure we can take it to them so that they also feel like they have the ability to experiment, they have the ability to engage creatively.

[00:36:12] Why you should communicate with your neighbors about your experiments

[00:36:12] Caroline: One concrete thing I will give around the being part of the solution with restoration as well as the water rights, and this is an issue that we’re starting to see crop up around the west, which is this issue of when you put in these process-based restoration projects, we’ve already seen multiple cases of projects going in without having effectively communicated what the project was doing to downstream landowners and those landowners rightfully saying, ‘whoa. There are 50 dams upstream of my diversion for my off channel storage, and now I can’t fill my off channel storage during peak runoff. In some places, Idaho, for instance, Fish and Game’s done a ton of work on this.

Josh White gave a talk a couple weeks ago where he is like, easiest thing, don’t build during irrigation season. Build at the end of the year. Let runoff come in from there so you’re not taking anyone’s water. Obviously a very specific solution to a very specific problem, but it comes back to that community piece, which is scarcity breeds fear and water scarcity can create conditions that are high stress, high tension.

And when we’re doing projects like this, that can be great, we need to also be really diligent about talking to everyone and then some. Who we think this could affect, who we think this could be of interest to who we think this might harm. Being proactive about communication. This is one instance where I feel like the ask for forgiveness is not the policy.

You’ve really gotta get out there ahead and build and maintain the trust with the folks around you, with the folks downstream of you, upstream of you, because that’s how we move forward with some of these innovative solutions. So many folks are willing. Are willing. They’ve said as much folks who have been part of these project like taking projects out because of this, they’ve said I would’ve been willing, I just got caught flatfooted.

And that’s a really scary position to be in. So I think for landowners, so many of them are already parts of great collaboratives. But if not, working with your neighbors, understanding what local NGOs, agencies, state, local, otherwise are doing in terms of conservation, see what might be appropriate for your area and get out ahead of the ball so you can get some of that funding, get that support and be on the leading edge of it.

[00:38:20] What keeps you up at night, and what gives you hope?

[00:38:20] Hallie: Yeah. I appreciate that and I think you had a lot of good advice and I knew you were up to the challenge of answering these big questions, so I appreciate you taking them on. And I also appreciate how you are explaining some of maybe the complexity and challenge, like things come up around process-based restoration or solutions on the ground and, why isn’t everyone jumping on them?

And I think we’ve covered, financial reasons, maybe some of the policy barriers, maybe some of the need for that kind of communication, collaboration in order to move forward. And that what may seem at times like. A more simple solution. There’s often some layers of complexity, but it’s exciting that folks like you and CK blueshift are tackling some of those barriers.

And looking at these solutions, I’d love to just end on a broader question for you, and I know you’ve touched on some of things that may give you some hope and maybe some of the concerns or challenges, but broadly, In terms of this Western water crisis and what’s happening with water in the West, what keeps you up at night and what gives you hope?

[00:39:25] Caroline: Okay. I definitely clearly need to answer the Keep me up at night so we can end on the hope. It’s so hard to disentangle the water crisis from. Everything it affects, and that’s such a broad response. But when I think about the Western water crisis and I think about what do we need to address it, we need people.

We need people who know places, who know really specific places really well. We need people with the tools and expertise to do projects to try projects. Just like the ReBeaver, what we need are smart, engaged, perceptive people watching their landscapes and thinking about what’s happening, distributed as much across the landscape as we’re able.

[00:40:05] Aging rural population, waning land-based expertise

[00:40:05] Caroline: And what keeps me up at night is thinking about the forces at work, whether they be economic housing wise. But thinking about how I’m seeing so many folks who are in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, all age ranges. I’ll give an example.

The average age of a logger in the us this was last year’s data is 56, and the number of logging operations is dwindling, and we need that kind of expertise in equipment operation. If we wanna continue doing projects like this, we need folks who know how to run the equipment. We need folks who know how to do it in a restoration context.

We need folks who are able to. Live in the place where they live, own a house, maybe crazy. So that they can continue doing the work of project development, of collaborative support. And it worries me so much to see some of the stagnating wages for folks at state agencies, for folks in positions that do a lot of this work of project development, stakeholder support, landowner support.

It also worries me seeing the. Diminishing rural economies. This I, you’re getting me into my theory of everything where I’m like, what we need are vibrant rural economies that folks are excited to stay and raise families in so that they can build their businesses there and have steady lines of work to support those businesses so that they can spend their free time hunting and fishing and horseback riding and riding bikes and appreciating the landscape so they care enough to wanna protect it and know how, and have the skills and tools.

And I get really worried… When, sorry. I get really worried when I see such exodus happening from rural places, from agencies, people who care so much and are burning out and can’t afford to live and do that work anymore. So that keeps me up at night. And it’s the same thing that gives me hope, which is people who, it’s people who are willing to experiment, are willing to try, are.

[00:42:02] Young people getting excited about land stewardship

[00:42:02] Caroline: Excitedly testing and being wrong and trying again and being right or maybe being wrong five times and then being right. I just, I’m so inspired by the level of care and thoughtfulness and innovation I see from folks

 I think I’ll, one of the things that gets me most excited is when I’m out on some of these properties, when I’m out on the ranches and, there’s, I’m thinking of one, I’m thinking of one 10 year old in particular who is just a. Fantastic horseback rider, self-affirming, described cowgirl. It’s all she wants to do.

And seeing her come out and make observations about the streams with her dad and say Hey, why is it doing this? Hey, what’s going on here? And realizing that level of engagement, she sees it, she gets it. It’s, it’s not a matter of you don’t need a PhD in hydrology. For this in some ways that PhD in hydrology might prohibit you from seeing some of these things.

But when you see kids who can go out on the landscape and like they see where the water’s moving, they see where the animals are going, they understand the year in year out dynamics. Those are the people who are gonna be making conservation decisions for us, and they’re gonna be hopefully the ones raising the next generation.

[00:43:20] Seven generation perspective

[00:43:20] Caroline: And next, And next you know, I always think about tribal partners who laugh at this goal setting. They’re like seven years. Seven years. We’re thinking seven to 10 generations down the line. And again, coming back to what’s old is new, what’s been true continues to be true, which is there’s so much hope.

And seeing the excitement from kids when they do get out and start to really see how everything fits together in these landscapes and who wanna stay out there and keep being part of it.

[00:43:48] Hallie: That’s beautiful, Caroline. Thanks. Um, Thanks for sharing your, your knowledge, your work your perspective and especially your hope with us today. Really appreciate you joining us for today’s show and your willingness to share with us.

[00:44:02] Caroline: Thank you so much. I have to say, I feel like we need to train, chat, g p t whatever the next iteration we get on your ability to synthesize, simplify, and elegantly re project because that was very impressive in real time.

[00:44:18] Hallie: Thank you.

Okay. Thank you again to Dr. Carolyn Nash for joining us today. Thanks to Louis Wertz for editing this episode. Stay tuned to the On Land Podcast for more conversations with water experts, innovators, and enthusiasts across the west. If you like the show, give us a rating wherever you listen.


Thank you to Wade Crowfoot and Lesli Allison for the excellent conversation. Thanks to Albert Lundeen who helped us get time in Mr. Crowfoot’s busy schedule. And thanks to Resonate recordings for editing this episode. 

Stay tuned to the On Land Podcast feed for upcoming conversations with other major players and innovators in Western Water. 

If you liked the show, please give us a rating wherever you listen.

Hallie Mahowald is chief programs officer for the Western Landowners Alliance. She lives in Salida, Colorado, where she also serves as vice president of the board of directors of the Central Colorado Conservancy.