Learning to Share Precious Water in the San Luis Valley. - Kelsey Cody - University of Colorado, Boulder - Tuesday 8/29

Learning to Share Precious Water in the San Luis Valley.
Kelsey Cody
University of Colorado, Boulder
Tuesday 8/29

When John Fleck went from being one of the best environmental reporters in America at the Albuquerque Journal to writing books, teaching and doing research at the University of New Mexico, he brought with him a key journalistic observation and turned it into a philosophical cornerstone.

When people understood that they had less water to use, reporter Fleck noticed, they used less water.  And not only that, he covered elections in which people voted to pay more per unit for the water they used, so that conserving use didn’t reduce cash flow to public water systems.

In his fine book, Water Is for Fighting Over, Fleck shows how a shared public understanding of how shorter-term drought and longer-term climate change were threatening water supplies in the Southwest spurred a push-pull of individual sacrifice and collective action which, in turn, enhanced the survival and future prospects of the region.

A perfect microcosm of Fleck’s paradigm may be found in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado, an arid region of very profitable farming and ranching, made possible by irrigation.

The broad valley floor between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and San Juan Mountains to the west is a high desert, 7700 feet above sea level.  The upper Rio Grande runs through it, and several aquifers lie beneath it and the surface water of the river and its tributary streams and the ground water of the aquifers are what sustain the irrigation.

The San Luis Valley gets just 6 to 9 inches of rain a year, and surface water comes mostly from snowmelt which is both shrinking and evaporating because of Global Warming.

The residents of the Valley get it: less water means less use, but driving that simple, elegant and all-powerful principle are a lot of moving parts, and getting them to productive synchrony isn’t simple at all, and sometimes can be far from elegant.


Kelsey Cody studies collective action, institutions, and climate change adaptation as they relate to water, common pool resources generally, and other environmental problems.  His dissertation focuses on the performance of irrigation systems undergoing signals of climate change in the San Luis Valley of Colorado.  Grounded in the Institutional Analysis and Development framework and systems thinking, Kelsey incorporates aspects of various fields and approaches including evolution and ecology, political and social sciences, behavioral economics and game theory, and ethics and law.  Since coming to CU Boulder he has worked on research projects related water and climate change funded by the State of Colorado, CU Boulder, NOAA, and NSF; taught science labs and writing seminars on campus; and been actively involved in ENVS student affairs and the United Government of Graduate Students. 

A Tough Economic Choice for Water Rights Holders in the San Luis Valley – duwaterlawreview.com

San Luis Valley water: Beneath the surface – Alamosa News

Locals Drink in Water Information– Alamosa News

When farmers must pay for groundwater, they cut use by a third – CU Boulder Today



Who Gets the Water in a Cross Border Aquifer? Who has the Biggest Straw? -7/19

How the West Learned to Share its Scarce Water. – 7/4

Trump Loves Methane; Martinez Loves Diverting the Gila River: Two Bad Choices. – 6/21





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