Understanding water to navigate a complex world

watershed student walks on glacier
Kate Bollen is a watershed science senior. She participated in the Juneau Icefield Research Program during summer 2016. In the program, students conduct research projects while traveling across the Juneau Icefield.

By Brigid McCreery

Water is the essence of life on this planet.

That’s what Steven Fassnacht will tell you.

Fassnacht, a professor in Colorado State University’s Watershed Science program, has seen watershed sciences evolve to better understand water’s importance in an ever-changing, complex world.

“As the world’s population grows and the weather changes more dramatically, water availability and water quality are crucial issues for human survival,” he said.

This year, CSU’s Watershed Science program is celebrating its 60th anniversary and the department’s legacy with a public event that will look at the future of watershed sciences at CSU and in the field.

The agenda includes panels, a poster session, and dinner. Speakers include CSU Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda, Jeff Hughes of the National Park Service Water Resources Division, and Jennifer Kovecses of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed.

About Watershed Science at CSU

Since 1958, the watershed program has provided students an interdisciplinary education on the natural processes and human activities that affect fresh water resources.

Colorado State’s first master’s thesis in watershed science was written in 1960 by Dr. Roger Hoffer, who then became a CSU professor focusing on spatial analysis and remote sensing. Since then, Geographic Information Systems coursework has been integrated directly into the Watershed curriculum, reflecting the increasing importance of spatial data in the field of watershed science. Over the years, the program has adapted to advances in technology, increasingly complex water issues, and the need for interdisciplinary problem-solving.

One thing in the program has remained constant: practical field experiences that provide students analytical skills and hands-on experiences to understand hydrological processes and critically evaluate analyses. Today, the Watershed Science program includes a watershed practicum, a 6-day summer field trip to examine water issues across the state through the eyes of professionals in the field, a measurements class, and a CSU Mountain Campus trip.

Waist-deep in the Poudre River

“My favorite part of the watershed program is the relationships,” says Alex Olsen-Mikitowicz, a senior watershed science major. “The curriculum includes a lot of field trips and practical application of classroom learning, so after a couple semesters the watershed department begins to feel like a family. A sense of closeness develops through our shared experiences. The professors are always open to engage with students on a variety of issues and provide support, whether the students are in the classroom or waist-deep in the Poudre River taking flow measurements.”

Watershed Science students and faculty travel the world working in interdisciplinary teams to study and solve multi-faceted water problems. The current Watershed Science faculty has worked in all seven continents, and their graduate students come from all over the world. Faculty offer short courses in Vietnam, Mongolia, China, Germany, Spain, Iceland, and Ethiopia.

“Studying watersheds allows us to better understand how water moves through the environment,” said Fassnacht.  “ … [informing] how we manage the landscape, and how we help manage water resources.”



Watershed Science 60th Anniversary

2 – 6:30 p.m.

March 22

Iris and Michael Smith Alumni Center,

701 W. Pitkin St.



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