Helping our water do more with Aaron Derwingson of the Nature Conservancy

Today on the show, Western Landowners Alliance’s Programs Director Hallie Mahowald had the pleasure of talking to a good friend, Aaron Derwingson. Derwingson is the water projects director for the Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River program. He and Hallie both live in Salida, Colorado.

Derwingson has piloted water banking and other tools for flexible water management, conducted field research on the impacts of reduced irrigation, evaluated alternative low water use crops, and upgraded irrigation systems to help improve river flows. Before joining The Nature Conservancy, Aaron served as the Stewardship Director for the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. They discussed the current situation on the Colorado River, some of the many ways that landowners, in partnership with organizations like TNC, are making their water go farther and do more, and the role of water markets in creating the flexibility in the river system that is needed.


Links and references from Helping our water do more with Aaron Derwingson of the Nature Conservancy

Maybell Project Restores Hope for Irrigators and Endangered Fish

Minute 323 – The Nature Conservancy

Senators add $4 billion for Colorado River drought relief into Inflation Reduction Act

Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom

Topics discussed

[00:01:30] Shortage challenges in the Colorado River Basin

[00:02:19] Doing more with less water

[00:04:50] Examples of solutions for making our water go farther

[00:05:56] Maybell irrigation District diversion improvements

[00:08:31] Minute 323 water for the environment

[00:09:59] Role of water markets

[00:11:38] All water is local

[00:12:20] Power, rural communities and water

[00:13:30] Federal funding and the big opportunity right now

[00:14:56] Role of the states in water funding

[00:16:38] Are our institutions nimble enough for the water crisis

[00:18:09] How water rights holders can be involved in solutions

[00:19:00] Auto Tarp and appropriate technology

[00:20:11] Low-tech restoration

[00:20:57] Compensation for leaving water instream

[00:21:46] Markets for flexibility and public benefit

[00:22:58] Creative water sharing agreements

[00:24:41] Integrate the social with the technical

[00:27:07] The urgency of the Colorado River crisis keeps him up at night

[00:28:25] Elinor Ostrom and the tragedy of the commons

[00:29:37] We need landowners to solve this crisis

Episode transcript

Aaron Derwingson, TNC’s Colorado River Projects Director

[00:00:00] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: (cold open) And really what we can do is paint a picture of how we can thrive and be successful with less water. And it doesn’t have to mean that, we’re living in, in Dune where we’re trading water credits and, nobody can, have a pool anymore.

[00:00:12] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: (musical open) Hi there, and welcome to the On Land Podcast. I’m Hallie Mahowald, programs director for the Western Landowners Alliance. Today on the show, I had the pleasure of talking to a good friend, Aaron Derwingson Aaron is the Water Projects Director for the Nature Conservancy’s, Colorado River Program.

Aaron has piloted water banking and other tools for flexible water management, conducted field research on the impacts of reduced irrigation, evaluated alternative low water use crops, and upgraded irrigation systems to help improve river flows.

Before joining The Nature Conservancy, Aaron served as the Stewardship Director for the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. We’ll be back with my conversation with Aaron Derwingson right after this break.

[00:01:30] Shortage challenges in the Colorado River Basin

[00:01:30] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: (ad break) All right, so we’ve had a strong snow year in the Colorado River Basin, but we know that doesn’t mean water shortage challenges are over. As water projects director for TNCs Colorado River Program,

what concerns you most about the situation on the river right now?

[00:01:45] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: What concerns me most, many things I think, you said we know one good winter doesn’t change the trajectory, but I don’t think most folks know that. So I think of keeping our eye on the prize is, a lot of times what keeps me up most at night. I think, we didn’t get in this crisis overnight and we’re not gonna get out of it overnight either.

So making sure we’ve got conviction to see through a lot of the efforts that we know are necessary to bring the river into balance is, know, I’d say primarily at a high level what, concerns me most about this current situation.

[00:02:19] Doing more with less water

[00:02:19] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Great, thanks. And yeah, you’re right. I do say we know, but I think it’s well said that there’s still a lot of, education and understanding of what’s happening on the river, to sh to share broadly. So there has been a lot of focus in the media on shortages and Colorado River management and policy, particularly at the federal and state level.

That sometimes really sounds like a zero sum game. More water for one person equals less water for someone else. Do you think there’s anything we can do to grow that pie, to produce more water? To do more with less?

[00:02:54] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: There’s a few things there. So, I mean, I think that, that, that one, we do have to break the narrative that it is a zero sum game, and that’s something we deal with all the time. That there’s a perception that, if we want water for fish, if we want water for the environment, it’s gotta, of come outta somebody else’s pocket.

And, that is a hard conversation to have and nobody likes to feel like they’re losing something. And so our approach has been to really try and find those win-win projects that demonstrate that we can do more with the water that we have. And so it’s proving that it’s not a zero sum game, and it’s recognizing that because of the situation we’re in, we don’t have the, we don’t have the luxury of having our water only do one thing, right?

Our water has to serve multiple purposes. We’ve gotta figure out those creative arrangements where we can use it to grow food, but we can also have it growing wildlife habitat and we can get it back in the stream at the right time for flow benefits and we can deliver that down for municipal users.

We’ve gotta, be thoughtful and strategic about how we stock those benefits because again, we just don’t have the luxury of having kind single purpose uses. Everything we do, I think, going forward has gotta have that lens of multiple benefits. You said growing the pie. I think we would, my perspective, we’ve gotta be smart about using the water that we have and the effort that we spend chasing a pipeline from the Missouri, towing icebergs down from Alaska, all these proposed solutions to grow, to make more, you know, detract us from the hard work that we’ve gotta do to figure out how do we live within our means in the basin, which is entirely possible to do and entirely possible to have communities that thrive, with less water. But it’s gonna take some thoughtful, thoughtful work about how that happens in every geography.

[00:04:50] Examples of solutions for making our water go farther

[00:04:50] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah. I love your optimism there of you really feeling like we can, and that there are real solutions. You mentioned, some projects you guys are working on to, to maybe do more with less or with the water we have. Do you wanna share any examples of stuff that you’ve been working on in the Colorado River Basin on that front?

[00:05:07] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Oh, I would love to, I think, I think in seriousness, I think we do have really great project examples and I think, part of our effort is to tell that story because I think you see the headlines you see shortage declarations. We’ve gotta cut all these use. and not to take away from the challenges of any of that, but, I think it makes it a little bit harder to do our work because, again, it just feels like loss and how do we deal with that loss?

And really what we can do is paint a picture of how we can. Like thrive and be successful with less water. And it doesn’t have to mean that, we’re living in, in, in Dune where we’re trading water credits and, nobody can, have a pool anymore. some of the projects that we have, our program, we work from the headwaters here in Colorado all the way down to the Delta and could talk about examples at every level.

[00:05:56] Maybell irrigation District diversion improvements

[00:05:56] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: I think some that really illustrate our. You know, would be, we have one in Colorado on the Lower Yampa River, where we’re working with the Maybell Irrigation District to improve, to improve their diversion from the river. They divert water, and carry it through a pretty long canal to serve their agricultural lands.

And their canal was built. It’s pretty amazing. Was built, at the turn of the century. the turn of the 19th century, was built by hand, has these amazing dry stacked rocks that form the ditch bank. it’s an incredible feat of engineering for that time, but it has not been changed much since, and it doesn’t give them very much control over how they manage their water..

To get to the head gate to change. It is a four wheel drive road and a mile walk up the ditch to then go try and change this old rusted half functional you know, piece of equipment that was put in the fifties. And so what happens, the result of that is, they can really turn it on and the beginning of the year and turn it off at the end of the year.

They don’t do much adjustment because it’s just not feasible or practical.

And so what that means is, they take a little more water than they practically need to grow their crops, and that depletes the river and causes challenges for fish passage, causes challenges for flow passage and creates a bit of a recreational hazard.

But we can’t just ask ’em to not def divert that water to go down and change it more So our approach is always collaborative, always science-based. We’re working with them right now. Hopefully construction will start this fall and we’ll be redoing that whole diversion, and head gate piece of infrastructure.

It’s gonna give them more control over the water they divert and let them better match it to what they need. It’s gonna automate it, it’s gonna be able to be adjusted from the cell phone in the field instead of having to make this half day trip to the head gate. And then once they’re getting the water they need, the diversion itself is gonna be better for fish, it’s gonna be better for boaters, and it’s gonna allow, flow passage, to get flows downstream, to a really critical reach of important habitat for the endangered fish.

And so that’s the kind of thing, we’re talking about. And there’s examples like that in every basin. They’ve got infrastructure that was, put together 50, 60, 70 or more years ago. That’s in huge need of repair. But you know, it takes time and it takes a lot of money and resources to do that, and that’s where we can help with these partnerships and figure out the win.

[00:08:31] Minute 323 water for the environment

[00:08:31] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Maybe real quick, another good example. Let’s see if you think about a different one. We work down at the other end of the Colorado River Delta and we do project work and policy work, and we helped with the renegotiation of the treaty between the US and Mexico. So they’re called minutes when you amend a treaty.

We are involved in a minute that amended that treaty and created a water sharing arrangement between the US and Mexico. Where they share in surplus, they share in shortages, and there’s an environmental allocation of water for the delta. And so we helped ensure that piece was in the minute.

And then our science team helps take that chunk of water and figure out how do we distribute this to the delta for maximum benefit. And a few years ago you may remember, there was a pulse flow where we shot a pulse of. down there to try and help restore flows and really even restore wetland habitat down in the delta, which used to be, one of the most vibrant and biologically diverse areas of the basin.

And so trying to figure out how to bring that back with both policy tools and science tools.

[00:09:35] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah, so really working from kind of the ground level on actual projects, working with folks that are trying to better, utilize infrastructure improvements in technology to, to manage their water, know the amount of water they’re using and maximize that water, as you said, for multiple uses, but then also at that, Higher level looking at kind of water policy, not even just at the federal level, but in this case, even across international borders.

[00:09:59] Role of water markets

[00:09:59] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: That’s really interesting. And I think, you brought up. The fact that these types of projects and work, require financial resources as well as the people to put those in place. But on the money side, it’s often said that water follows money. What role do you think water banking or water markets will play in addressing these challenges?

[00:10:18] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Yeah, that’s a good one. that’s a tricky one. I think that, I think they’re important opportunities that we wanna look at in terms of water banking or water markets. I think about broadly as a way to create more flexible water management and create other economic opportunities for water users.

I think that, the concerns that we have around that is that, if water just follows money, we know from past experience, not our experience, but past examples, that can have really devastating consequences. For local communities and know, we’ve

[00:10:52] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah, definitely.

[00:10:53] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: example here in Colorado, right?

Otero County, when you take the water out of a community, you take their economic, you can take their economic engine out and just have catastrophic consequences for those places. So I think we want to balance what we see as We have a water management framework that’s not well adapted for the situation that we’re in now.

It’s not designed to meet the rapid changes that we’re seeing. We want to create more flexibility in that through things like water markets, but balance that with protections for communities, protections for. That, that don’t let us just strip water away to what we think is the highest and best use for this time now, and make sure water continues to serve multiple benefits.

[00:11:38] All water is local

[00:11:38] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: I think what we’ve seen, and this is our kinda, one of our mantras, is that all water is local. And if you can have the local community really involved in creating a water market or a water bank that meets their needs and addresses their concern. That’s where we think we’re gonna see success and see the ability to have water be balanced between ag, between recreation and the environment and avoid kinda what you said earlier about that zero sum game.

A lot of times we don’t need water in the river all the time. We need it for a really specific window in time in a really specific location, and we can make that work with a flexible water market and we don’t have to just put water away from one use to another. We can make it do, you know, double, triple duty.

[00:12:20] Power, rural communities and water

[00:12:20] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah, and I think you’re right that then, thinking about maybe what those like sideboards are or how you build those systems to ensure that you’re kindmanaging water, but supporting, The interests of all of the different people involved

[00:12:33] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Yeah. Iyou all work in rural communities and know as well as I do, they feel for good reasons, a big risk when it comes to their water. It’s a big economic engine for them. But they often lack the resources or kind of the, certainly the political power of municipalities and other places that,

[00:12:51] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: yes.

you know, the power scales, not even, Yes. And there is definitely concern about, will water be, taken and diverted? And also even if it’s voluntary, a lot of communities that already are seeing or are certainly concerned about a buy and dry system and permanent water removal and then, land being bought for water speculation, all of those things come up, especially. as you as water follows money or as these kind of markets become available?

[00:13:15] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: it’s interesting cuz water is a private property right in the west, but provides enormous public benefit and. How we create tools that protect that private property. But recognize the public benefit is, I think gonna be the sweet spot.

[00:13:30] Federal funding and the big opportunity right now

[00:13:30] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah, I agree. Continuing just a little more on the topic of money, we keep hearing about, significant federal dollars available to go towards this work towards drought resilience and water management. What does that mean for landowners on the ground?

[00:13:44] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: ground. I think we all recognize it’s kinda a once in a lifetime opportunity that we may have to make significant investments and water infrastructure, natural resource management. I think if I were a landowner, I would be looking, I’d be working with my NGO partners for sure, and I’d be looking for, I’d be looking at all these opportunities and how they could help.

Create a landscape that’s more resilient to the challenges that we’re seeing, whether that’s drought, whether that’s wildfire, invasive species, economics. There’s no shortage of challenges that landowners face, and I think we’ve got a great chance right now to use this. Investment to really help prepare our lands for an uncertain future and help those landowners thrive.

cuz at the end of the day, and, yeah, again, y’all recognize this, we need good stewards on the land and this is a way to help them, do their job in increasingly challenging circumstances and continue to do it for the future. It could be looking wholesale at all these opportunities and what fits my place, what fits, how I operate it, what fits where I’m located, and then you know, your values and objectives for your property.

[00:14:56] Role of the states in water funding

[00:14:56] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah. And what, you mentioned, landowners partnering with NGOs and trying to figure out how, to of get some of this funding onto the ground to support, better water management as well as, the stewards on the ground to make it work with their operation. What, in your work in the Colorado River basin, what do you see as the role of the states in that? In these kinds of projects in this connection to this federal funding.

[00:15:19] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: yeah, I think a few things. we know a lot of the federal funding will actually flow through the states, so making sure they’ve got robust grant programs and program officers and, contractors, et cetera, to help that money flow freely and easily. I think a concern a lot of us have is that you got a once in a lifetime funding opportunity, but you may not have the capacity to make sure it gets on the ground easily.

So I think a state role is to use that capacity so people know how to access these funds and I’ve seen that already happen. You’re seeing program coordinators get deployed in communities, throughout the different states. Work with different partners to, to help secure those funds. And I think that’s a great role of the state to support those program coordinators.

I think states also have a role in providing matching funds. some of these monies will flow quite flexibly, but a lot of ’em will have pretty stringent match requirements. And, state funds are a great source for those match requirements. And then I think our, at least how I think about our state partners is they’re really key in.

Target where these funds can go for maximum impact. Because even though it’s a substantial amount, it’s not gonna just, can’t just, maybe spend it willy-nilly. I think we’ve gotta be thoughtful about how we coordinate it for maximum impact and get it on the ground for the highest priorities.

[00:16:38] Are our institutions nimble enough for the water crisis?

[00:16:38] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Great. Thanks. Moving just a little bit to a new topic. So we talked to the California Secretary of Natural Resources, Wade Crowfoot, on our last episode of this podcast, and he said his biggest worry was that we don’t have nimble enough institutions and infrastructure to match the speed of how the hydrology is changing.

I’m curious about your thoughts on that.

[00:16:59] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Yeah, I would a hundred percent agree. I think, again, we’ve got a, in a lot of places, an infrastructure and a policy framework that’s designed for, a hydrology that we don’t have. And as we see, as we see bigger swings and dryer dries and wetter wets, more variability, continued, drought and aerification.

I would agree that I think our system’s not really well prepared to handle it. know, on the flip side, being an optimist, I think we’ve got the tools in place to figure that out. And, it’s interesting to see California this year that’s dealing with such a banner, year they’ve gone from worried about drought and wildfires to, extreme flooding and how can we use things like natural infrastructure to.

Use this, huge snowfall to recharge groundwater. How can we create those new tools that can help us adapt? Because we know that, we know this is our future. And, somebody said this in a meeting I was in the other day. we’ve gotta get off of the hamster wheel of reaction where all we can do is respond to the kind of, Water crisis or other crisis that’s right in front of us and make sure we’re making decisions and investments, that, that are gonna have to pan out over, the 3, 5, 10 plus years.

[00:18:09] How water rights holders can be involved in solutions

[00:18:09] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah. And leading on that from that and what you’re saying, and some of those investments, programs, tools that’ll be needed to do that. you’ve spent years working with producers in the basin on everything from low water use crops to tools for flexible water management. You gave some examples.

What options right now exist for water rights holders in the Colorado River Basin? I recognize that those will probably vary by where people are, but what are some options out there already? And also, what options don’t exist that you’d like to see?

[00:18:40] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Yeah, I think, yeah, you’re right. again, all water is local and so your opportunities are gonna depend. which states you’re in down to, even which, irrigation district or what the nature of your water right is. I think some ones that I think about on the daily are just improved management and and improved infrastructure.

[00:19:00] Auto tarp and appropriate technology

[00:19:00] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: And some infrastructure can be expensive, but there’s other really simple approaches that can help people, adapt and improve their operations. Like I was just over in Gunnison the other day and they’ve been working on. Great new piece of technology called the Auto Tarp, which essentially helps people that do wild flood irrigation, time that irrigation.

and I bet you’ve heard stories like this where, people irrigate and they’re busy, they set their irrigation, and then they’ve gotta run off and do 10 other things, and it may take ’em a while to get back and change that irrigation. And then, the cows get out and you’re delayed again.

And then, oh, I’ve gotta go fix this. And you get delayed again. And so water can run pretty and effectively and it doesn’t make sense for a lot of those landowners to invest in a multi-billion dollar sprinkler, but they could invest in this auto tarp, right? Which is, a $200 piece of equipment.

They would just help shut the water off and move it down to the next field. And they could set it on a timer. They could even set it to a soil moisture monitor. And so very like appropriate technology that, suits these places that are pretty low tech and don’t need a big technological investment, but can really help with kind of that labor issue and that irrigation water management issue.

[00:20:11] Low-tech restoration

[00:20:11] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: so I think lands across the board have those opportunities to think about improved irrigation, water management, approved infrastructure at a minimum. Then I think the other thing we’ve been working on a lot lately is stream restoration. A lot of streams on, on public and private lands are pretty degraded, and that can, really impact the forage that you grow can impact your vulnerability to wildfire.

And coming in and doing some pretty low tech stream restorations where, you’re not talking about a bunch of concrete and a bunch of, backhoes, you’re talking about simple rock or log structures that you can put in, over the course of a. That can help slow the water down on your property, spread it out so you get more forage, and bring more benefit in, and again, can be done pretty cost effectively and pretty, pretty low tech.

[00:20:57] Compensation for leaving water instream

[00:20:57] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: I think some of the more creative things we think about then are what are your options? if you, for whatever reason, how it fits into your operation, don’t want to grow a crop for part of the year, only want to grow for part of the year. have a fishery that you care about. Being able to leave your water instream for environmental purposes.

And then a lot of cases get compensated for that. Have that be part of your management, and operational portfolio. and again, I think our MO is like, we need more tools in the toolbox and they’re not gonna work for everybody all the time. But the more options we have, the better prepared landowners are, can be.

And so if you’ve gotta make major. Ditch, maintenance things and you are not gonna be able to irrigate. You could leave that water instream that year. You wouldn’t have to worry about your water. you could get compensated. So creating those kinds of tools. And

[00:21:44] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: More of those kind of opportunities. Yeah.

[00:21:46] Markets for flexibility and public benefit

[00:21:46] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: yeah, more of those opportunities, just, that flexible water management.

Like right now, you think about somebody’s and they, especially an ag water. they can do two things with it. they can grow food with it. Food and fiber. Or they could sell it permanently to another use. And we know that has consequences to sell it permanently. So can we create more value in the middle where people can expand the value of their private property, right?

And then again, maximize some of the public benefits that are associated with that. So that’s one we think about a lot. and that maybe the furthest one might be some of those alternative crop. And thinking about what else could I grow and how would I grow it and who’s gonna buy it?

Working on those challenges, because a lot of what we’re seeing in certain geographies is that the crops that we have grow well when we have water, but if we don’t have that water, There could be, much better alternative crops that are more drought resilient, know, maybe better suited towards deficit irrigation or dryer conditions, and could fit into existing markets.

We wouldn’t have to do some wholesale changes, be the most extreme, knowing that, people grow what they grow for a reason. But I think there’s, people are recognizing a big, a big opportunity to look at alternative crops.

[00:22:58] Creative water sharing agreements

[00:22:58] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Great. Thanks. Yeah. And then some of what you were saying around even some of the water sharing, whether that’s, and having options that. More temporary rather than permanent, and more flexibility there.

[00:23:09] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve even looked at, ag to ag leases. a lot of basins, they’re water short and people, all people are doing this already. It’s just not formalized in policy that they don’t follow strict prior appropriation. They share water because, they’re neighbors and that’s what they do.

And so figuring out how to support those kind of creative water sharing arrangements, that are again, built from the ground up and making sure, know, again, people have the protections and resources to do that.

[00:23:36] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah, it’s interesting you mentioned that. I was talking to a guy recently, south of Steamboat area and he was talking about, seeing benefits of having better technology for measuring water and adjusting head gates and actually. They have a ranch that’s trans basin.

So interestingly, like half of their water already has a bunch of technology in head gates and all of that. And the other’s still really old infrastructure without the measurements. And, but one of the concerns he had is he’s but I’ve got agreements with my neighbor. Were like, some of my water rights are on this other ditch that’s higher up.

So I just let him use that water and then I’m using extra of his water down in this other ditch. And we’ve done it for years and it’s a handshake. But what does it look like when it can’t be. And will it create almost like the potential without flexibility, worse management? Because if I have to go use that water and he has to come down and use this, it’s actually less efficient for us.

But wanting to, keep water rights. But how do do you improve the monitoring of a system without eliminating maybe some of the flexibility that’s really been positive without water sharing? So I’m glad you mentioned that, cuz.

[00:24:41] Integrate the social with the technical

[00:24:41] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Yeah. Yeah. And I think we’ve gotta, we’ve gotta integrate the social with the technical, right? It’s not just about, we’ve just gotta go out and put sprinklers everywhere and measure everything and get this detailed accounting, and that’ll be the way to go because, there’s a lot of different values attached to this water.

There’s a lot of different arrangements, just like you said, and there’s a lot of value in, in figuring out how those work and. making sure that we’re not just pushing a solution. that seems like a good idea on paper. That doesn’t work when it touches down in somebody’s local circumstances.

[00:25:11] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: And then thinking about on that social level, and I think you touched on it early with. The importance of these communities. Like how do we think about it? water rights are very much attached to an individual property, what does it look like at a community level to be making decisions around water, and water sharing and water being local, which I think is really important that you’ve touched on.

[00:25:30] Aaron Derwingson, TNC:

Yeah, just one. One of the concerns we hear the most about different water sharing arrangements or water banking is if you make it available to the private property, right? How do you make sure that those neighbors and other community members aren’t impacted by that shift? And I think that’s gonna be, that’ll be an interesting challenge that we’ve been, tackling.

How do you build a program? Works for the individual as well as it works for the community.

[00:25:55] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a big question. And you’ve touched, II feel like you’ve had a lot of, you’ve shared some of your optimism and hope already, and in the beginning you were talking about, some of the concerns. But I guess I’d just ask you the question again. in terms of Western water and the Western water crisis and what we’re seeing, you know,What most keeps you up at night and what gives you hope?

[00:26:15] Hope from the people involved and their tenacity

[00:26:15] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Yeah. don’t know, like what gives me the most hope is all of the people involved. Every, everybody I know in water, I feel like by and large, is an optimist. They want to roll up their sleeves and they want to get to work. especially on the ag side, I think that there’s just a, if there’s a problem, let’s just go, let’s get out there and fix it.

and I love that attitude and I love working with people who have that mindset that. I am committed to addressing this challenge and figuring out how my community can thrive, how my ranch can thrive, and, where we play in these bigger river situations. So think that’s definitely what gives me the most hope, is just seeing the enthusiasm that people bring to these challenges even when they’ve got so much else going on in their day, that they have this energy to really pursue these creative arrangements is to me really inspiring.

[00:27:07] The urgency of the Colorado River crisis keeps him up at night

[00:27:07] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: I think the thing that keeps me up at night, especially lately, is just the urgency. It just feels like we’ve got a, we’ve got a really important window right now where we’re gonna be making decisions that are gonna impact how we manage water in the spacing for the next couple of decades or longer.

And, I just wanna make sure we’re making the right decisions, that we’re listening to the people on the ground that deal with this every day, and that we’re providing the protection and resources and space for people to come with creative solutions in an environment where we know human nature. When there’s scarcity, people don’t want it.

Like their natural reaction is not to cooperate. When they’re scarcity, I think people want to, they wanna hold onto what they have and retreat to their corners. And I feel like if we do that, if we retreat to our corners, if we end up taking this to the Supreme Court because we can’t figure out another path, then you know, we’ve all lost.

and I worry most about what’s gonna happen to our rivers and what’s gonna happen to our I communities. Cause I feel like they’re on the front lines of that and are gonna be the least likely to be in the room and the most likely to be impacted.

[00:28:25] Elinor Ostrom and the tragedy of the commons

[00:28:25] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Yeah, I think that’s really well said. and what you’re saying about scarcity reminded me of the ever true on a lot of levels kind of idea of the tragedy of the commons, and what. I remember about a decade ago being at a water meeting in Phoenix though, and Elinor Ostrom came up and she was there and she had just won the prize.

And it was really interesting in her work how she was talking about essentially how. The tragedy of the commons is negated at the community level when people are working people to people that if you have at that community level and people see each other and they see each other as human and they’re working face to face, those kinds of solutions of working together come together.

And the farther you get from that community level, the more chance there is to really end up in that case where people. Take as much as they can while they can. And it really ties well together, I think, with what you’ve been talking about on that importance of the local level in those communities and being part of that decision making.

[00:29:18] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Yeah. It’s, that’s, yeah, exactly. I can’t believe you got to meet Elinor Ostrom

[00:29:23] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: I did, yeah. I know. All right, that’s great. I, I just say, is there anything else that you would. Western Landers Alliance is a network of landowners and partners working across the west. Is there anything else you wanna share with us about the work you’re doing? Any other thoughts today?

[00:29:37] We need landowners to solve this crisis

[00:29:37] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: there’s plenty I could share. I think that the main thing is we need you all, we need your organization, the landowners that you connect with. Like it’s really an all hands on deck kind of moment to make sure we’re, we’re building resilience and we’re building strong, communities and healthy watersheds together.

And that’s gonna. So much action in every single place. And TNCs working in many places, but nowhere near the number of places where we all need to be working to have the impact we need. And so I just invite everybody to the big table to help get this important work done.

[00:30:14] Hallie Mahowald, WLA: Great. Thanks Aaron. It’s awesome.

[00:30:17] Aaron Derwingson, TNC: Yeah. Thank you, Hallie.

[00:30:19] Hallie: 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.

[00:30:29] Western Landowners Alliance: If you care about the future of the American West, then make sure to check out Working Wild U. A podcast from Montana State University Extension and Western Landowners Alliance. This show takes you out into the field, forest and range to meet people and wildlife of the American West. You’ll hear immersive stories that ground you in place and at the crossroads of culture and.

These stories focus on the challenges and successes of managing working wild landscapes. That’s farms and ranches. Our first season Exploring wolves in the West is available now. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

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.