Western Water Futures Games

Western Water and Community Resilience in a Changing Climate.

Western Colorado University—dubbed “The Headwaters University of the American Southwest”—invites the water leaders of today and tomorrow to the Western Water Futures Games in Gunnison, Colorado, May 20-22, 2020.

WHAT ARE THE WESTERN WATER FUTURES GAMES? Three intensive days of brainstorming, collaborating and contending with future and current western water leaders over evolving water issues in serious need of new thinking and new ideas.

THIS IS NOT YOUR FATHER’S WATER CONFERENCE. After 43 years of hosting a traditional water conference, the Colorado Water Workshop moved in a new direction in 2019. Rather than the standard conference format of experts speaking to a passive audience, the Futures Games give future water leaders a no-holds-barred opportunity to develop solutions in collaboration with current leaders.

WHERE ARE THE FUTURES GAMES? You will be in the headwaters of the Colorado River, one of the world’s most interesting rivers—and at this point, one of the most used and abused. Field trips into the beauty and wonders of the headwaters will relieve the intensity of your efforts to address the river’s challenges, which are an extreme example of global challenges today.

WHO SHOULD PARTICIPATE IN THE FUTURES GAMES? Are you both worried and intrigued by the converging challenges to human culture such as climate change, population growth and resource depletion? Do you see potential answers to such challenges through more and better applied science? New or refined technological interventions? Human communications or other social/psychological interventions to change human behavior? Changes to legal institutions and political policies? Learning from other cultures? Answers to current challenges will come from many fields.

We are, in short, encouraging undergraduate and graduate students from any fields of study, and recent graduates beginning to make their way in water-related professions, to put together a team to bring to the Western Water Futures Games or to come by yourself and join a team here.

IS THERE MORE? We can work on serious issues and have fun at the same time, right? There will be camping on campus, campfires at night, music and good food. Half a day will be devoted to field trips in the headwaters of the Colorado River. And you might just want to stick around for the Memorial Day weekend!

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? The cost for the Games is $75.00, which includes 2 breakfasts and 3 lunches. Lodging is extra but camping on campus is free!

“Touch water, and you touch all.”


The Challenge for Participants

Recent studies reveal the serious implications of climate change for the American West—so serious that piecemeal solutions are inadequate; significant changes are needed. With up to 50% more people and 20-30% less water by 2050 in most of the American West, how will we meet human and ecological needs for systems that are already stressed by heavy use?  

Your team may address any of the following options:

  • • Focus on a specific kind of use, such as agriculture, municipal/industrial, environmental needs, or recreational uses
  • • Focus on a specific area (a river basin, a local watershed, headwaters area or a particular city)
  • • Focus on a specific kind of approach to addressing the question, such as technological innovations and improvements, conservation strategies (including public education, communications outreach), legal remedies (better land-use regulations, Colorado River Compact modifications reflecting emerging realities, changes in appropriations doctrine), cultural issues (reluctance toward change).

What Last Year's Participants Said:

“I loved the free-flowing creative energy and emphasis on imaginative ideas. The format was very engaging and unconventional. I believe the elders played a key role too in guiding the groups and applying practical knowledge to lofty concepts. The combination of structure and imagination seemed to produce innovative ideas that were grounded in reality and had the potential of coming to fruition. It was inspiring.” (graduate student)

“This was a great event. I took a lot away from fellow participants and from the elders attending. I was also really impressed with the students who were leading the field trips – it was great to hear their local knowledge.” (young professional)

“The design process that we used is something I will take with me forever. I can adapt that to any project big or small. I plan to use that on projects I have to do for school and work.” (undergraduate student)

“I feel more confident talking to professionals in the field.” (undergraduate student)

“It was a good opportunity to practice defining problems and building effective collaborative relationships quickly with strangers. I think it reinforces my belief that I need to work in multi-discipline settings.” (young professional)


See our Schedule

Agenda: Day 1

Noon: Welcome Lunch @ Campsite 1:00: Welcome to all! 1:30: Introductory Presentations from Some of the Elders 3:30: Teams: Work Session I 5:30: Free...

The Challenge

The Challenge for Participants With up to 50% more people and 20-30% less water by 2050 in most of the American Southwest, how will we meet our water needs...

Free Time
5/29/2019 5:30pm
Music at the Bandshell

We'll have a band; bring your guitar, mandolin, sousaphone, etc.


Rivers of Empire

The Colorado River in a Changing Climate

Readings for the Western Future Games

The Challenge for Participants

Basics of, and challenges to, the Appropriations Doctrine

America uses 322 billion gallons of water each day