By Aidan Boyd, Coal Ridge High School student
Working with the Youth Water Leadership Team the past two years has helped to inform and qualify many of the beliefs that I have about the water issues that unify our community. It is terrifying to think how little I actually understood about the inner-workings of how water use works before this program. Even though I am growing up in a community steeped in mining and agriculture, I have not fully comprehended the nuances this brings to discussions of water. I thought that the way I used water was somehow more right than how other people used it
In Fall 2018, I joined the Youth Water Leadership Team to help share student research and calls-to-action with the community, something that I believe is paramount to creating a sustainable water future for future generations my entire life. Through helping shape the annual Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit, we accomplish this goal every year, and as the event grows with more students, community members, and policymakers the effects and impacts grow exponentially. However, when I signed up for the program I did not think twice about what wound up being the most important part of the program for me—the interactions with community members.
During my two years on the team, I have discussed water issues with a wide variety of people from farmers to raft guides, environmental activists to state representatives. As all of these groups discussed how deeply important water and the Colorado River are to them, I started to realize something. So often water and environmental issues are portrayed as these divisive issues that no one can agree on. However, there is so much all these diverse groups agree upon in the West. They all agree that we need the Colorado River and that we need to do all we can to protect our water. They all agree that we are heading in a bad direction that will hurt everyone and harm our way of life. By only focusing on what brings us together rather than what tears us apart can we attempt to solve problems this complex.
I also started to realize that my way of thinking in absolutes, “right,” “wrong,” “necessary use,” and “wastefulness” was deeply flawed. Since everyone has a fundamentally different background, you cannot understand someone’s way of life without engaging in deep discussions with those of other backgrounds. Until someone spends a day on a farm speaking with farmers, they cannot make well-informed judgments or policies relating to agricultural water usage.
The fact of the matter is that most of the opinions I held prior to the experiences of this program were deeply ill-informed. I made rash generalizations about the evils of extractive industries and farmers who appeared to not seek to conserve every drop of water. My perspectives were not based in reality. Only through talking to people whose livelihoods depended on these practices, and realizing that they actually cared just as much, if not more than I did, did I start to realize that I needed to consider everyone’s perspective on water issues. Without the Youth Water Leadership Team, I would be much less educated and make poor decisions in what I advocate for and how I think about other people.
As I look at many of the divisions we create in our society, I realize that if everyone had access to the content and experiences taught in programs like the Youth Water Leadership Team we would be in a much better place. We could finally be in a place where we debate rationally, acknowledging what we bring to the table and listen to others. Of course, this is highly impractical. However, if we all could try to find someone who comes from a different background than us and live their life for a day, we would raise ourselves to a much higher standard of mutual understanding. If we all embrace this level of understanding then perhaps we can finally unite to solve the pressing environmental crises at hand.
View Aidan's 2019 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit presentation: High School River Watch: Increasing Equity for Students Across Colorado
Aidan Boyd is a senior at Coal Ridge High School and has participated in the Youth Water Leadership Program since its inception in 2017. Aidan is the leader of his local Colorado River Watch Team and has served on the Youth Water Leader Team for two years.
Thank to Rios to Rivers for cover photo by Weston Boyles