Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
Thursday, October 12, 2023

CIRES We Are Water team receives Governor’s Award

Annual CO-LABS awards recognize high-impact research across Colorado

Anne Gold and the We Are Water team speak on stage
Anne Gold and We Are Water team accepts their award
- Stephanie Maltarich

Last night, the CIRES’ We Are Water team received prestigious recognition at the annual CO-LABS Governor’s Awards. The Pathfinding and Partnerships Award honored the ongoing program and the collaboration that was integral to the program's success. 

Anne Gold, CIRES director of Education & Outreach and We Are Water’s lead principal investigator spoke on behalf of the team. 

“There is a lot of learning our team did while working with Tribal, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities, and so many different world views came together,” said Gold. “What we did in our exhibit is pull these different worldviews together to tell a story, and elevate these stories from these communities.”

We Are Water is a collaboration between CIRES Education & Outreach, Western Water Assessment, Indigenous education organizations, local libraries, and climate scientists. The NSF-funded program is hosted in public libraries in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The primary goal was to engage a lot of people in important conversations about the desert Southwest’s most critical topic: water.  

The program kept collaboration at the top of mind by starting with a "needs assessment," comprised of surveys and conversations with community members across the region, to identify the most important water topics. These discussions included diverse communities in the Four Corners Region in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, with a focus on Indigenous, Hispanic, and rural communities. Then, the group collaboratively planned, built, and implemented an exhibit branded in colors, photos, and stories of the desert Southwest with physical interactive pieces, video and audio stories in multiple languages, and developed multiple takeaway activity materials including “Be a water detective kits” and “Be a water historian.”

Thousands of people visited We Are Water installations in libraries across the Four Corners region, including in Southwestern Colorado. They engaged with the physical exhibits—the augmented reality sandbox where visitors could shape sand into a watershed and let it rain, was the most popular component—and watched or listened to local water stories in person as well as online. And they took home, collectively, 2,800 activity kits so far. 

In 2022 and 2023 the program visited seven locations in the Four Corners Region. Soon, it will move to its next location in Page, Arizona. 

Members of the team accepted their award at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Brigitta Rongstad Strong, the We Are Water Program Manager, said the award is an important reminder about the many voices that made this project possible. 

“We are Water wouldn’t be successful without the support of our partners—from scientists and community members to Indigenous science educators and library staff,” Rongstad Strong said. “Partnerships and collaborative efforts continue to drive the project forward, and our entire team is so honored to be recognized for our work.”

CO-LABS is a non-profit organization that supports the state’s federally funded research centers and runs an annual competition to highlight some of Colorado’s most high-impact science. Launched in 2009, The CO-Labs Governor’s Awards celebrate ground-breaking discoveries and research from Colorado’s federally funded laboratories and institutions.


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