Gail Schwartz joins a majority of women on Colorado’s state water board

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Courtesy Gail Schwartz

Gail Schwartz, a resident of Basalt, is poised to represent the Colorado River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. She's the first woman to do so, and she'll be a part of the first CWCB board, since 1937, to have a female majority.

Former state Sen. Gail Schwartz is expected Wednesday to join the board of directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency established in 1937 to protect and develop the state’s water supply.

In doing so, Schwartz will become part of the first female majority on the CWCB board, and she’ll be the first woman to represent the Colorado River Basin on the board.

Schwartz moved to Aspen in the early 1970s, lived in Snowmass Village when she served in the state Senate for two terms (2007 to ’15) and then moved to Crested Butte. While there, she lost to Rep. Scott Tipton in her race for Congress in 2016. She has since moved to Basalt and has now volunteered for a three-year term on the CWCB board.

Schwartz and two other women — appointed by Gov. Jared Polis and now slated to be confirmed on March 20 by the state Senate — are expected to be sworn in Wednesday at a CWCB meeting in Fort Collins, and then six of the 10 voting members of the CWCB board will be women.

And if the board’s five nonvoting members are added to the mix, it means eight of its 15 members will be women.

Will a majority of women on the CWCB board help solve the water challenges facing Colorado and the Colorado River system?

“I think it will change the conversation,” Schwartz said, noting her experience in the state Legislature, where about 40 percent of the lawmakers were, and are today, women.

“Women are about looking for solutions,” Schwartz said. “They go into public service or elected office to serve, and it’s not a power grab, and what I found at the state level is that women are willing to compromise, they are willing to seek resolution and they draw less of a hard line on issues.”

And Schwartz won’t be alone in making state water history this week.

Jaclyn “Jackie” Brown of Oak Creek will become the first woman to hold the CWCB seat allocated to the Yampa, White and Green river basins in northwestern Colorado.

Brown is the current chair of the Yampa, White and Green river-basin roundtable, and she is one of only two women on it. She also is the natural resource policy adviser for the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

“The water industry is moving in a direction where there is more diversity,” Brown said. “And I do think that matters. I think every board does better with more diversity.”

That said, Brown said her goal in serving on CWCB is to represent all the water users in the northwest corner of the state.

Also joining the board this week is Jessica Brody, the general counsel for Denver Water, who will be representing the seat allocated to the city and county of Denver.

Brody said she’s proud to follow in the footsteps of Patricia Wells, who was also the general counsel for Denver Water and served on the CWCB from 1996 to 2000 and from 2012 to this past January. She noted that Wells also was the first female city attorney for the city and county of Denver.

And Brody will be the fourth woman to represent Denver on the CWCB board, following Wells, Barbara Biggs and Carolyn McIntosh.

“It’s really to be celebrated that there are so many incredible women rising to prominence in this industry and in this sector,” Brody said. “Obviously, we all bring our own unique perspective, and gender may influence our perspective, but honestly, it’s just a thrill to be part of this new class and to get to share this moment with so many incredible women, and men.”

Of the remaining six voting members on the CWCB board appointed by the state’s governor, three are women. They are Curran Trick, the first woman to represent the North Platte River Basin; Heather Dutton, the first woman to represent the Rio Grande River Basin; and Celene Hawkins, the fourth woman to represent the San Miguel, Dolores and San Juan river basins in southwestern Colorado.

The other three appointed voting members on the CWCB are Steven Anderson, who represents the Gunnison River Basin, which has never had a female representative on CWCB; Jim Yahn of the South Platte River Basin, which has previously had two women on CWCB; and Jack Goble of the Arkansas River basin, which has not had a woman on the CWCB since Vena Pointer, who was a founding board member and served from 1937 to 1948.

Of the nine appointed voting members, four (Schwartz, Brown, Brody and Hawkins) are Democrats, four (Curran, Dutton, Anderson and Yahn) are Republicans and one (Goble) is unaffiliated.

There also is one ex-officio voting seat on the CWCB board reserved for the director of the Department of Natural Resources, which brings the number of voting seats to 10. Dan Gibbs now holds that seat.

And there are five nonvoting seats, two of which are currently held by women: Rebecca Mitchell, the director of the CWCB and the agency’s second female director, and Kate Greenberg, who is the first female commissioner of agriculture in Colorado since the office was created in 1949.

As such, here’s how the gender math works out: Six of the 10 voting members are women, and eight of the 15 members are women — a female majority in each case.

For Mitchell, the CWCB director, the gender makeup of the board is not as important as the ability for the board members to work together to further the agency’s mission, which is “to conserve, develop, protect and manage Colorado’s water for present and future generations.”

Still, Mitchell recognizes the gender milestone being reached.

“It is historical, and being an engineer, the numbers are the numbers,” Mitchell said. “But it wasn’t a goal — it’s just the way it turned out.”

However, the water sector in Colorado is still dominated by men — including many older white men — so the first female majority on the CWCB board is notable for those who follow the agency.

“It’s about time that we have this level of representation on our most important water board in the state regarding water policy,” said Tom Cech, co-director of the One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

He, along with William McDonald, wrote “Defend and Develop: A Brief History of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s First 75 Years,” published in 2012.

“I’m very pleased to see this change occurring on the CWCB because it provides a different outlook and voice to our important water issues of the day,” Cech said. “That said, our next challenge is engage more people of color in this conversation and as members of boards like the CWCB, because then we get a true voice of the people in the state of Colorado.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in the Colorado River basin in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily, and the Steamboat Pilot. The Times published this story on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.

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