Eight college students from across Colorado got a bird's eye view of the state's rivers and streams this week through EcoFlight's 15th annual Flight Across America.
The goal is to engage students in water issues, from dwindling snowpacks and low rivers to invasive tamarisk, said program coordinator Michael Gorman.
Colorado Mesa University junior Meghan Cline and seven other students flew a loop across western Colorado, viewing rivers and streams in Aspen, Grand Junction, Dinosaur, Steamboat and Alamosa.
Cline, an environmental studies major, is studying how many lower elevation streams are actually making it into the Colorado River.
"When you're down below you get to know one part of the river really well, but when you're up above you see the whole picture and you can really see how the land and rivers interact," she said.
Cline said it was startling to see how low some of the rivers were getting.
"I don't think this is just a drought," Cline said. "We're getting less snow in our hydrologic cycle, and people need to realize how much they're using and what they can do to conserve."
CMU Water Center Coordinator Hannah Holm and a group of CMU students met up with the EcoFlight group during their stop in Grand Junction.
Holm said she tries to emphasize the diverse number of players and perspectives when it comes to water issues.
"I think it's important for them to understand how complex the issues are and to try to not rush to judgment too quickly," Holm said. "A lot of times with water issues people have their one big answer, but it's always more complicated and I like to try to encourage a certain level of respect for all the different stakeholders and try to get the students to get some ideas of where the different stakeholders are coming from."
Holm said she sees a lot more opportunities for mutually beneficial projects in the water world if people would reserve judgment and assumptions.
While previous EcoFlight student tours have visited different states, this year centered on rivers and streams in Colorado that could be protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Currently, only 76 miles of the Cache la Poudre River are protected.
"This hopefully encourages them to listen to people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise and to become more engaged," Gorman said.