Land & Environment

Watershed Moment: Spring Runoff Conference to Address Utah's Accelerating Pace of Change

By Lael Gilbert |

Graduate students share research during last year's Spring Runoff Conference. This year's theme — Utah’s Watershed Moment: Innovation in a Time of Accelerating Change — reflects the complexity and urgency many of Utah’s water managers now face.

Between digging out from under a season of snowstorms while riding out an ongoing multi-decade drought, or commiserating over record lows from the parched shoreline of the Great Salt Lake while wrangling the state’s rivers — Utah’s water managers are buckled in for a bumpy ride. Preparations for this year’s Spring Runoff Conference reflect the sense of complexity, tension and urgency many of these water practitioners feel these days.

Utah’s Watershed Moment: Innovation in a Time of Accelerating Change is the theme for this year’s conference, scheduled March 14-15 at the Eccles Conference Center. Although there is plenty of existing discourse centered on Utah’s tangled water situation, the 2023 Spring Runoff Conference has a distinct and practical goal — to support connections between on-the-ground management and research by highlighting the collaborative ways that professionals are responding to unprecedented challenges they face in water management.

“It can be really complicated, when circumstances shift dramatically from year to year, to build confidence in the long-term research and management efforts,” said Erin Rivers, ecohydrologist and conference co-director. “But most people are recognizing that these scenarios are our difficult ‘new normal’ and that we have to adapt more efficiently, and at a faster pace.”

The speakers slated for presentation reflect a cross-section of water management experience from the state. Tim Hawkes, former District 18 representative and self-described “conservative advocate for natural resources,” will kick off the event with a keynote address. Also on the docket are Laura Haskell, drought coordinator for the Utah Division of Water Resources and Deidre Henderson, Utah lieutenant governor.

This year’s conference explores research and management efforts across a range of water topics, including hydrology, water conservation, water quality, restoration and environmental justice.

The conference has grown steadily over the past few years. Beginning in 2020, the event shifted focus from academic networking to promoting exchange between water researchers, managers and decision-makers.

“We’d really felt a need for input from wider experience to find a successful way to navigate water conservation and watershed management,” Rivers said. “This year, we hope to make some serious headway on defining solutions that can be put into place now, while still keeping an eye on big-picture goals for the future.”

A new feature for this year’s conference is the Wild and Scenic Film Festival on the evening of March 14 — featuring imagery and voices from around the world to illustrate the diverse connections people have forged with water systems, and the energy and passion they’ve invested into advocacy and solutions. The inaugural Wild & Scenic Film Festival On Tour event for USU, it will be hosted by USU Restoration Consortium, USU Water Quality Extension, and the USU Department of Watershed Sciences. Tickets can be purchased as an add-on to the Spring Runoff Conference registration or standalone through Eventbrite.

“The Spring Runoff Conference provides an important forum for the water community in Utah and facilitates partnerships to address western water issues, showcase research, and catalyze collaboration, critical to creating holistic and just solutions to our water challenges,” Rivers said. “With all eyes on the West’s megadrought, we are witnessing unprecedented challenges coupled with unprecedented resources committed to finding solutions. More than ever, it’s important to bridge the gap between research, management, and water sectors, and we hope this conference helps to break down barriers to coordinating and building collaborations.”

The Spring Runoff Conference is sponsored by Utah State University Extension, Quinney College of Natural Resources, College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, College of Engineering, Institute for Land, Water, & Air, Utah Water Research Laboratory, Ecology Center, and Center for Water Efficient Landscaping.


Lael Gilbert
Public Relations Specialist
Quinney College of Natural Resources


Erin Rivers
Assistant Professor and Water Quality Extension Specialist
Watershed Sciences


Environment 259stories Water 252stories Rivers 101stories Great Salt Lake 34stories

Comments and questions regarding this article may be directed to the contact person listed on this page.

Next Story in Land & Environment

See Also