Four Corners Water Center
Whether you're a researcher, a professional, or a resident curious about water issues in our area, bring your questions to the local pros. All of the professionals listed here are willing and eager to lend their expertise in service to water.
Environment & culture
Dr. Rebecca Austin
Dr. Austin is an applied environmental anthropologist with over ten years of experience working alongside tribal governments in the southwestern United States, and with various water-related issues, including acequias (traditional irrigation systems) in New Mexico as well as teaching about Puebloan farming and gathering techniques. Some examples of her research on human-environment relationships include studies of: social impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska; traditional places on the Navajo Nation; and public perceptions of lawns and landscapes; as well as a current National Park Service Project on the ethnohistory of African American homesteaders in the Mojave Desert. Dr. Austin’s integration of anthropology and human ecology has lead to a variety of teaching and applied projects, and she teaches a wide range of courses, including ethnobotany of the Southwest, and traditional ecological knowledge.
Swift water rescue
Mr. Ball is an expert in swift water rescue, and conducts trainings annually for first responders, river guides, and recreational boaters.
Environmental geography & climate change
Dr. Jared Beeton
Dr. Beeton is an environmental geographer, whose research covers an array of fields.
He studies how climate change, humans, and intrinsic controls affect mountain river systems. He also researches guitar tone woods and how they relate to deforestation and climate change. Dr. Beeten rounds out his studies with soils and paleoenvirontmental analysis.
Human, animal, landscape intersection
Dr. Keri Brandt Off
Dr. Brandt Off is a Professor of Sociology and Gender & Sexuality Studies. Her curiosities center around how the worlds of humans, animals, and landscapes intersect—especially in the context of agriculture and food. She is particularly interested in the connection between soil health and water conservation in the American West.
“We know depleted soils do not hold water well, so any discussion about water conservation should also include a discussion about the restoration of healthy soil.”
Microbiological water quality & environmental engineering
Dr. Christie Chatterley
Dr. Chatterley has a background in Environmental Engineering, with a focus on service provision in low-resource settings. She has worked with NGOs and multiple governments to assess sustainability of water treatment and sanitation systems. She collaborates with the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene to support global monitoring of UN Sustainable Development Goals. Locally, Dr. Chatterley is simultaneously working with students to understand microbiological water quality in urban and wild streams, and the Computer Engineering faculty to develop an in-field rapid detection system for fecal contamination in surface waters.
“Water is a human right! Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, etc, everyone deserves access to safe water.”
Social & ecological systems
Dr. Becky Clausen
Dr. Clausen researches the interaction between social and ecological systems, with a focus on the role that water plays in community well-being. She collaborated with researchers and community members from the Navajo Nation to study the social impacts from the Gold King Mine Spill on Diné communities. Dr. Clausen lived in Ecuador from 2019-2020 to learn more about struggles for water rights and new models of water governance.
“In my work and in my life, I have seen how water has the power to connect us all.”
Dr. Melissa Clutter
Dr. Clutter focuses on groundwater modeling and field measurement network design. Through statistical modeling, she figures out the best ways to study, measure, and communicate about groundwater in a region.
“From hot springs, to rivers, lakes, and aquifers- I just love water!"
Elemental analysis of water samples
Dr. Callie Cole
With background of expertise in analytical chemistry, Dr. Cole studies the elemental analysis of water samples — focusing on the heavy metal analysis of soil, plant, and water in the wake of various contamination events like the Gold King Mine spill.
“The human body is over 50% water, and the surface if the Earth is over 70% water. If you are a human being living on planet Earth, I suggest you learn something about water.”
Aquatic ecology & riparian habitat
Dr. Cynthia Dott
Dr. Dott studies the interaction of groundwater and surface hydrology with floodplain forests. She focuses most of her studies on the Dolores, San Juan and Animas Rivers. At the core of Dr. Dott’s research interests are riparian community dynamics and invasive plant species, geomorphic processes and natural disturbance regimes, and changes in river flow dynamics due to flow management. Dr. Dott also mentors student researchers in the fields of aquatic ecology, and riparian habitat changes, including how such changes impact wildlife.
“I find rivers endlessly fascinating and inspiring. Rivers have a wonderful way of highlighting the interactions between living things, water, land, and people. As an ecologist, I see interactions everywhere I look, and rivers have a way of weaving them together. I hope you can join me sometime in a walk along the river bank!”
Sedimentary geology & aquifers
Dr. Gary Gianniny
Dr. Gianniny researches sedimentary geology with focuses on aquifers, oil and gas, climate change, and water issues among other related topics in the southwestern United States.
Geologic hazard evaluation
Mr. Gleason specializes in geologic hazard evaluation and mitigation. His scope covers landslides, rockfalls, debris flows and snow avalanches. Formerly, he forcasted avalanches with the CAIC and worked as a geologist with the Colorado Geologic Survey. Andy is currently conducting research on snow hydrology for NASA’s Snow Ex project. He also volunteers with the Village Aid Project and helps build water systems and schools in developing countries.
Human history & wilderness in the American West
Dr. Andrew Gulliford
Dr. Gulliford is a professor of History and Environmental Studies. He integrates human history and wilderness through courses related to water in the American West. Dr. Gulliford leads tours across the West by raft and canoe on the Green, Yampa, White, Colorado, Dolores, San Juan, and Gunnison Rivers. As a historian for Rocky Mountain PBS, he led three consecutive tours through the Grand Canyon by water. History Colorado sponsors his canoe trips on the rivers which traverse our state.
"Water is life for me and I like to drink it, watch it, play in it, see it as snow, as rain, and see it as white water off the edge of a raft heading into Class III rapids. I also like to see it dripping slowly off my canoe paddle as we silently make our way down the Green, the Gunnison, the White, the Dolores, or the Colorado River. I know how important it is to preserve and conserve our water resources here in the arid Southwest. As an historian I tell many stories about communities which have both failed or thrived because of their water policies."
Floods & river terraces
Dr. Jon Harvey
Dr. Harvey is a geomorphologist, researching ancient and modern floods in slot canyons of the Colorado Plateau. He also uses UAVs to map topography of landslides, river terraces, and other geomorphic features. Jon’s specialties include meteorology, hydrology, GIS and remote sensing applied to geomorphic and environmental change.
Farming, drought, water policy & conservation
Dr. Kathleen Hilimire
Dr. Hilimire is researching sustainable food systems — particularly in the western United States. She is currently analyzing western farmers’ experiences and perceptions of drought, water policy, and conservation.
"What's amazing to me is how interconnected soil and water are for farmers. I've met farmers who are able to slash their irrigation needs almost in half just by increasing soil organic matter. Add to that the creative choices farmers make with crops and livestock to be resilient to water scarcity, like planting beans deep in the winter-moist soil, and it's astounding."
Watershed curriculum design
Dr. Kay Hensler Phelps
Every June, Dr. Phelps partners with the Mountain Studies Institute, Water Information Program, and San Juan Mountains Association to offer a two-day exploration of our local watersheds. The “Forests to Faucets” professional development class is based on the My Water Comes from the San Juan Mountains book and curriculum guide, which includes place-based activities aligned with Colorado State Standards for science. Forests to Faucets is free to area teachers and features visits to rivers, reservoirs, and water treatment plants.
“The green oasis where my gardens thrive are in stark contrast to the piñon, juniper, prickly pear, and sage canyons that border my property. The difference? Five shares of MVI water - in drip lines and on timers, and never taken for granted!”
San Juan River
Dr. Joslyn Lee
Dr. Lee's areas of interest include biochemistry, genomics, and bioinformatics, with a special interest in the San Juan River.
Dr. Wade Litt
Dr. Litt is an applied economist with a Master’s specialty in Environmental Economics and an interest in water-related research that has led to involvement in multiple international projects. He consulted for an NGO in Kenya focusing the on the process of drying and storing maize to prevent the growth of aflatoxins. In Panama, Dr. Litt worked as a field volunteer with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, taking water samples in the Panama Canal watershed on a project researching land-use and water runoff.
“We can use Economics to study water in a myriad of interesting ways, from thinking about the Tragedy of the Commons problem facing public goods and the associated negative externalities, to using nonmarket valuation techniques to estimate the economic value and pricing of water sources, to examining the important role waterways have played in developing and facilitating economic infrastructure and activity around the world.”
Dr. Jennifer Lowell
Dr. Lowell has been teaching microbial ecology, ecology of infectious diseases, epidemiology, and research methods to undergraduate students, graduate students, and public health professionals for 15 years. She strives to combine microbiology, ecology, genetics, and statistical modeling into epidemiologic investigation techniques to help students understand the interdisciplinary nature of the health sciences, as well as the roles of environment and ecology in human health. Dr. Lowell joined Fort Lewis in 2016, and mentors student researchers in the areas of aquatic microbiology and how pollution in lotic ecosystems affects river microbiome diversity and function.
Food & ecology sustainability
Sadie helps coordinate student-led sustainability initiatives centered around food and ecology. Additionally, she is the point of contact for the Environmental Center’s Campus Garden & Permaculture Food Forest, and the newly formed Lands and Water Team. Previously, Sadie worked as a hydrology and field technician for various riparian and mountain watershed restoration programs in Utah, Arizona, and Colorado.
“Water is deeply engrained in the work I do related to agriculture and ecological systems. In addition, it is inextricable from our identity as humans on this planet! I love living in Durango, because it sits on the border between desert and mountains, with a river running through it. How lucky we are! Playing on all forms of water, frozen and liquid, is a top priority for me — whether it be skiing, rafting, paddling, or swimming.”
Hydrology & water supply and sewer design
Dr. Don May
In 2004, Dr. May launched the Fort Lewis College chapter of Engineers Without Borders (now the Village Aid Project); a humanitarian and educational organization that engages students in engineering and construction projects to assist the neediest communities in the developing world. As a registered professional engineer, Dr. May has published numerous reports and engineering studies around a multiude of topics, including: Village Aid Project, open channel hydraulics, surface water hydrology, groundwater hydrology, water supply system design, sanitary sewer design and more.
Culture & ecology in the American Southwest
Dr. Pete McCormick
Dr. McCormick's interest include historical landscape change and land use; ecological and cultural ramifications of human migration and settlement; the intersection of race, place, and landscape; and the American Southwest and Southern Plains.
Commercial water system engineering
Mr. Pool has experience with water systems in buildings and conducting commercial water audits from his time as an engineer at a sustainability consulting firm. Through this work, he explored ways that the built environment could use water as efficiently and effectively as possible. He also spent 8 years as a multi-day whitewater expedition guide on the Colorado and Green Rivers with over 5,000 miles and 400 days on the river.
“Floating down a river in a raft is one of the happiest places I can find myself, and as the current carries me along I often think about all the life and all the communities which that river supports.”
Surface water hydrology
Dr. Gigi Richard
Dr. Richard is a surface-water hydrologist and civil engineer. Her research focuses on the connection between people and our water systems; both natural and human-built. Implementing the tools of GIS and GPS, she studies how humans impact rivers, and – most recently – streamflow generation from varying elevation snowpack.
“I’m fascinated by water in all its forms as it moves through our planet’s weather and water systems.”
Dr. Heidi Steltzer
Dr. Steltzer is an environmental scientist and explorer. She has spent over two decades conducting field studies in Colorado, Alaska, Greenland and most recently China to understand the impacts of climate change on mountain and Arctic regions with a focus on ecosystem function. She conducts research and talks about how changing snow affects plants and people through water supply. Heidi is a lead author on the high mountain areas chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.
“Water connects people across the Southwestern US to the mountains, including the tall peaks in Colorado and the hills in our backyards. At FLC, we can see and celebrate the water that falls seasonally as snow and sustains us.”