Blog | What's New

Celebrating the Coalition’s Women in Water

Mar 08, 2023

The Water for Colorado Coalition is lucky to work with incredible women every day on securing a more resilient future for Western Water. For this International Women’s Day, they shared with us some of their reflections on the people who inspire them, the places they’re passionate about protecting, and how the world of water has changed.

Orla Bannan, 
Western Resource Advocates, Healthy Rivers Strategic Engagement Manager 

I’m always amazed and impressed with Abby Burk doing so much to protect and restore rivers while spending so much time enjoying them! For me, I spent last week in Southwest Colorado (Wolf Creek Pass and Silverton). I spent some time checking on the snowpack for everyone (back-country skiing).

Orla backcountry skiing in Wolf Creek Pass, and reminding everyone that, while we’re grateful for lots of snowpack this year, it won’t solve our water crisis long-term!

Abby Burk, Audubon Rockies, Western Rivers Regional Program Manager

Over the last nine years, it’s been an honor to be part of a quietly radical movement of women in western water, a rising tide. At first, we were rare rather than expected. Because of our experience and encouragement for each other, our numbers are growing through a predominantly male profession. I feel lucky to draw on the pioneering strength of those women before me and from my time in, on, and around rivers as a woman whitewater kayaker. I see clear parallels from my time as a rare woman kayaker 25 years ago to today. Drawing from one woman, a mentor, kayaking as if she was liquid silver and part of the river itself, and building my connections and strength through river experience arriving today still running rivers and the rapids of a western water career. Women in western water everywhere use their unique skill sets and abilities to make big and small differences to support our river systems. Because it will take everyone. Western river conservation is deep but hopeful work illuminating better ways to live with water equitably, providing more room for healthy rivers, and stoking the fire for the next generation of women river caretakers.

Abby and her paddling partner celebrate a big moment in the Grand Canyon!

Orla and Abby smile at the release of the new Colorado Water Plan

Jessica Gelay, Western Resource Advocates, Colorado Government Affairs Manager 

I grew up learning about ecological and biological sciences from my aunt, renowned herpetologist Dr. Linda J. Cayot. She tracked Grizzlies in Yellow Stone while studying at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, and then spent four decades leading the tortoise and iguana programs at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands. Her deep passion for science instilled in me a dedication to methodology, evidence-based practice. She also taught me how to respect creatures and nature, by doing my best to minimize human impacts in the natural world through small actions — like staying on the trail!

Jessica enjoys a day out on the water

Hannah, a Western Slope resident, with the Colorado River


Hannah Holm, American Rivers, Associate Director for Policy, Southwest Region

I get great satisfaction out of learning the complexities of how water interacts with the landscape, how we manage water, and how our actions impact rivers, streams and wetlands. I am very motivated to help find ways of managing water to meet our own needs that can also allow these important and beautiful natural systems to flourish.

Samantha Grant, Audubon Rockies, Senior Project Coordinator 

“I’m inspired while paddling the Green River and marveling at the beauty of what we all work so hard to protect.”

Abby and Samantha attend Vice President Kamala Harris’s event in Denver, March 6

Fay Hartman, American Rivers, Conservation Director, Southwest Region 

I love that I get to wake up every morning and think about how we can protect and restore Colorado’s rivers and streams – as my job! How cool is that! Not only do I have the privilege of protecting the places and communities I love – but I also get to work alongside some of the smartest women conservationists out there who inspire me daily with their passion, commitment and dedication to Colorado’s rivers – I have learned so much from each and every one you – thank you!!

Fay Hartman grinning aside a river

Lindsay Schlageter, The Nature Conservancy, Senior Media Relations and Communications Manager 

The best part of my job is getting to tell the stories of the work my colleagues and our partners are doing on the ground to make a difference and find solutions to protect the Colorado River.  This is especially true of the amazing women leaders that work for The Nature Conservancy.

Lindsay and fellow TNC staff members Jennifer Wellman and Diana Lane celebrate the Yampa River Fund’s third anniversary

Ayla Besemer, Water for Colorado, Communications & Outreach Associate

Starting my career in the water world, I have had the privilege of meeting and being inspired by so many passionate, dedicate, women. The women in this community celebrate their female colleagues and elevate each others’ voices, creating one of the most profoundly supportive and joyful work environments a young professional could wish for. Whether taking time out of a busy schedule to help me with a paper on stream restoration for my masters, or enjoying a pint by the riverside in Steamboat while giving me a crash course in water law, every woman in this blog — and in this Coalition at large — has left an indelible mark on my life. I look up to them every, single day.

Ayla and members of the Coalition laugh during a Water for Colorado happy hour on stream restoration at Water Congress 2021

Caught in the Middle

Apr 18, 2023 -
A River Between Two Dams and the Future of the Grand Canyon