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Water in the West explores how to engage Gen Z, Gen Alpha

Collegian | Garrett Mogel
Colorado State University System Chancellor Tony Frank speaks at the sixth annual Colorado State University SPUR Water in the West Symposium Nov. 9.

Water is an inextricable part of Western life. As such, it has caused over a hundred years of conflict, which stakeholders are collaborating to resolve. 

The sixth annual Colorado State University Spur Water in the West Symposium looked ahead to the next generation in the water industry, consulting agriculture, the outdoor industry, the future of education and the workforce and Indigenous groups. 


“You can’t really separate our Western identity from water,” Gov. Jared Polis said. “We know that a lot is changing: industry, drought, changing conditions, changing climate, growing population. We know that there’s greater demand on these resources.”

Water issues are at the forefront of major industries such as agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism, Polis said. However, the focus of the symposium on the next generation in the water industry encourages stakeholders to look forward. 

“Whiskey’s for drinking; the water’s for fighting,” Denver Mayor Mike Johnston said in a pre-recorded speech. “But thanks to you all, they’re going to find a way to have water be for combining people into working together to help solve our problems. So thank you for the work you’re doing.”

The purpose of this year’s symposium was to evaluate the workforce and look at what tools can be utilized to address the region’s water challenges.

“I think (Generation) Z and (Generation) Alpha are going to be a really fascinating generation,” CSU System Chancellor Tony Frank said. “One of the things that strikes me is how big their heart is; they have a huge heart and massive passion for the challenges that we face. And they’ll need those things because we should be honest: We’ve left them some pretty heavy lifting around some pretty large challenges.”

When considering the benefits and challenges of engaging Gen Z and Gen Alpha in these solutions, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack looked at the values of these upcoming generations. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is very concerned with the issue of the workforce, Vilsack said. A large contributor to that concern is how many employees in the food agriculture industry and the USDA look like Vilsack. 

Vilsack explained that because many employees in ag look like him, a older white man, they are not engaging the youth or the available workforce as much as they need too. 

“We’ve got to figure out a way to socialize and popularize — if there’s such a word — this industry,” Vilsack said. “This opportunity isn’t just bib overalls and sucking on a piece of hay. I mean, this is a really sophisticated opportunity here. It is really, really amazing. And it’s central to life.”


The issues regarding water and agriculture in the U.S. are decades old, and this is not the only demographic that needs new, collaborative and inclusive solutions to ongoing issues. 

Prior to becoming the assistant vice president for Indigenous and Native American affairs at CSU, Patrese Atine worked in Washington D.C. for 12 and a half years, serving a variety of roles centered around tribal policy, advocacy and higher education, Atine told the crowd. 

“In each of these roles, I watched as tribal leaders traveled to our nation’s capital to meet with federal officials to advocate for the needs of their individual communities,” Atine said. “At the top of the list for many was access to clean and reliable water.”

Being of the Navajo Nation and experiencing the issues with water that Indigenous communities face in the U.S. firsthand, Antine highlighted how important Indigenous voices are in this conversation. 

In the Navajo Nation, 30% of households lack running water. As of October, 39 Indian water rights settlements have been federally approved. 

“I share this information to remind us that tribes have not always been involved or at the table,” Atine said. “In fact, tribes were excluded from the … Colorado River Compact in 1922. And two years after that in 1924, tribal members received citizenship in this country. This is just in our last 100 years of history.”

As speakers progressed — whether in regard to the outdoors industry, agriculture or Indigenous voices — the need to connect with Gen Z and Gen Alpha was very clear.

“Colorado State is preparing our future community leaders,” Atine said. “They’re engaged in innovative research and engaged in stewardship and (moving) toward a co-stewardship model with tribes. With these values, knowledge and skills, our CSU graduates will ensure all stakeholders, including tribes, are at the table as we move forward in our country.”

Reach Ivy Secrest at or on Twitter @IvySecrest.

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About the Contributors
Ivy Secrest, Content Managing Editor
Ivy Secrest is The Collegian's content managing editor. Secrest uses she/her/hers pronouns and has worked for The Collegian previously as a reporter and as life and culture director for the 2022-23 academic year. As a senior in the journalism and media communications department, Secrest enjoys reporting on environmental and social issues with a special interest in science communication. She is president of the Science Communication Club and is pursuing a minor in global environmental sustainability with hopes of utilizing her education in her career. Growing up in Denver, Secrest developed a deep love for the outdoors. She could happily spend the rest of her life hiking alpine environments, jumping into lakes, taking photos of the wildflowers and listening to folk music. She's passionate about skiing, hiking, dancing, painting, writing poetry and camping. Secrest's passions spurred her career in journalism, helping her reach out to her community and get involved in topics that students and residents of Fort Collins truly care about. She has taken every opportunity to connect with the communities she has reported in and has written for several of the desks at The Collegian, including news, life and culture, cannabis, arts and entertainment and opinion. She uses her connections with the community to inform both managerial and editorial decisions with hopes that the publication serves as a true reflection of the student body's interests and concerns. Secrest is an advocate of community-centered journalism, believing in the importance of fostering meaningful dialogue between press and community.
Garrett Mogel, Photo Director
Garrett Mogel is a third-year journalism student with a second field in philosophy. He is one of two photo directors for the 2023-24 school year.  Growing up in Colorado and surrounded by dreamlike landscapes and adventure sports, it was only a matter of time before Mogel picked up a camera. For over a decade, Mogel explored Colorado, portaging rivers, postholing through several feet of snow, rappelling over cliffs and skinning up mountains, all with a camera in hand. Through his adventures, Mogel began attaching stories to images and began to engage viewers in conversation about their favorite areas. Eventually, Mogel’s passion for photography and storytelling drew him to pursue a degree and career in photojournalism.  In his years at college, Mogel has worked with The Collegian every year. In progressing through the publication, Mogel has seen all the ways student media fosters growth both individually as well as through collaboration. Additionally, the opportunity to witness how impactful a story can be on a personal, organizational and community level is his greatest lesson thus far.  Beyond The Collegian, Mogel still finds time to appreciate his Colorado upbringing. When not on assignment, he can usually be found mountain biking, skiing, camping, river surfing or at home planning his next adventure.

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