A problem I have seen in the field of sustainability is that though sustainability is indeed making strides in our society and is becoming more prevalent in the minds of people, I feel that it is not being addressed in enough education and teaching in a creative ways. For sustainable practices to be implemented within our society, our people must have a stronger understanding of its importance; and our youth could be the answer to the long-term preservation of our world. What is difficult about implementation is not just finding a way to relate this information to young people so that they understand how important this work is, but also relaying it in a format that is more relatable. Performing arts could be the solution!
Several studies have shown the positive effects that performing arts offer to communicate sustainability concepts in an academic setting ranging from nursing to language skills. This is a topic that can be intimidating to many students but performing arts-based work has made the topic of sustainability more approachable, relatable, and keeps the message clear. Being someone who has worked in performing arts for roughly a decade, I have performed and helped create many pieces ranging from music to theatre with messages that needed to be heard. As river conservation is a major issue in Colorado, I felt that this topic would indeed be the best to showcase what performing arts can do as well as bring this issue to a younger audience.
What I decided to do with my senior capstone research project at Colorado Mountain College was to investigate methods of performing arts the 12th grade students at Glenwood Springs High School responded to best on the topic of river conservation. I focused on three forms of performance art: a song parody, a poetry slam, and a series of improv games with a river conservation theme. The session received positive reception from all the subjects with unanimous praise going towards the musical elements. It was so rejuvinating to see these young students become so involved in the work taking place and allowing their own true colors and personalities to shine. This was not only a time of learning and epiphanies, but also a time for all of us to look at these ideas and have fun with them in a creative way. The students relayed to me that while the information was not new, it affirmed the importance of river conservation and how perspective is critical to understanding all sides and finding an answer that is suitable for everyone.
This reaction of self-knowledge was exactly the answer I was looking for as many of us in this line of work know that opposition is not the answer, but an opportunity to create relationships and compromises. This demonstrated that performance-based teachings are not only effective in direct results, but ignite critical thinking afterward and if implemented in a large-scale setting could even prove to be more successful that even I would have predicted. In these findings on the merging of performance art and sustainability, I feel that we have again proven how impactful performing arts can be to informing people on imperative messages needed for our world and this research has solidified that notion for me and many others that are intrigued by this field. As one of my favorite singers of all time said, “I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” It’s to make that statement a reality for sustainability and our world.
Travis Wilson is a recent graduate of Colorado Mountain College with a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability. He is originally from the Western region of Georgia and has been in Colorado since 2013. Aside from his studies in sustainability, Travis also does various theatre and musical work in the Roaring Fork Valley having been involved in over a dozen productions and performances since living in Glenwood Springs. Currently he works in retail and is looking forward to starting internships and trainings this coming fall that will adhere more to his area of focus in sustainable communication, directing, and development.
By Katia Meyer, 2018 Youth Water Leadership Program Intern
I spent last summer working at a summer camp in Connecticut, where I experienced weekly thunderstorms that filled the nearby river so high that it often overflowed as it made its way towards the lake. This could not have been more different from what many people experienced this past summer with the Lake Christine Fire and drought induced water restrictions. When I returned to Colorado and heard these stories from my friends and neighbors, I was reminded of what a precious resource water is. I became curious as to whether or not water restrictions were an effective tool for mitigating the impact of drought on residents and the surrounding ecosystems, and this became the focus of my research project for the 2018 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit. My main focus was identifying the differences in how each local town or city handles water restrictions. I was also curious about how residents view water restrictions and whether they adhere to them, and well as their general level of understanding of our watershed, the Colorado River Compact, and the effects of drought. To do this, I interviewed at least one water manager or similar person from Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs. I learned a lot about water restrictions, and I hope this information can help both water leaders and residents gain some new insight.
One of the most interesting things I discovered was the unique way each town or city makes decisions about when to enact water restrictions. In Aspen, the city utility makes the decision and reports to the city council which currently has 5 members. Similarly, the Carbondale utilities director makes the call and is advised by public works, the town manager, and the board of trustees. Glenwood Springs’s City Council decides when to put water restrictions in place (or not to, as was the case this summer). In Basalt, water restrictions are simply put in place yearly from April 1 to October 31 regardless of the water level. Finally, Snowmass Village has 5 board members, advised by an environmental advisory board, who make decisions, although they have a permanent Stage 1 restriction in place. Although each place has a slightly different decision making process, they generally look at the same factors including snowpack, precipitation, consumer demand trends, drought forecasts, and water levels in the rivers or water treatment facilities. They also put similar restrictions in place. This typically focuses on reduced watering of lawns and parks, often on an alternate day watering schedule.
One common misconception about water restrictions is that most people don’t actually follow water restriction guidelines, or that it’s pointless to follow them. This is very untrue. All of the water managers I interviewed said that most people in their towns followed the water restrictions, and that it made a huge difference in the amount of water in their reservoir, well, streams, or other water source. Most towns have some kind of monitoring system so they can see if people are responding to the water restriction and using less water. For example, Snowmass Village, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs all use water meters to track consumption. In most places, neighbors encourage each other to do the right thing and adhere to the guidelines, so the town doesn’t often have to step in. If they do need to enforce guidelines, there is typically a graduated system of fines a person can incur for repeated violations.
Another misconception is that restrictions mean there isn’t enough water to go around. In reality, you will most likely always have enough water for domestic uses like drinking, showering, brushing your teeth, and washing dishes. Things like watering parks, lawns, or golf courses are unnecessary and use a lot of water, so just reducing those uses saves the town a lot of water. One of the best things citizens can do to help their town conserve water is to stay informed about drought, the Colorado River Compact and other water laws, and how climate change impacts ecosystems like the riparian habitat in local streams and rivers.
Although the decision makers, requirements for enacting restrictions, and methods of enforcement vary from place to place, the goal is generally the same. Everyone wants to ensure that their community and surrounding ecosystem has the water it needs to sustain itself. All of the water leaders I spoke to agreed that increased education is an important factor in getting people to follow drought restrictions and be good stewards of the river. I would also recommend ongoing communication between communities in the Roaring Fork Valley. I think that sharing information between towns and cities could be an extremely valuable tool for increasing the effectiveness of drought restrictions. By hearing what works and what doesn’t, water leaders can avoid repeating each other’s mistakes and make faster progress towards a healthier and more sustainable watershed.