20 Under 40: Kelly Romero-Heaney inspired by the river
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Kelly Romero-Heaney was a poet-to-be when she attended a lecture by David Brower, the late environmentalist who played a pivotal role in preventing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from damming the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers in Dinosaur National Monument.
“He wheeled up to the podium, and he seemed kind of weak and feeble until he started talking, and he gave this fire and brimstone speech about the importance of free-flowing, loud rivers, and he told the story of the Yampa,” she said. “It just blew my mind.”
When: 5 to 7 p.m. July 26
Where: Haymaker Patio Grill
Cost: $35, $15 for Young Professionals Network members
It inspired her “to return home to the West and help to preserve the health of our western rivers.”
Romero-Heaney soon abandoned her English major at Middlebury College in Vermont to complete a degree in environmental geology at the University of Montana. When she got here, she realized that when it comes to western water, the “devil is in the details.”
“We all depend heavily on water to survive in the West – to eat, to drink, to produce,” she said. “Figuring out how can we optimize our use, so that we have the least amount of impact on the river and the watershed – that’s what I’ve been seeking to do throughout my 17-year career.”
In her role as water resource manager for the city of Steamboat Springs, Romero-Heaney manages the city’s portfolio of water rights, monitors and helps make management decisions regarding the Yampa River and works to help the public better understand the river. Before she worked for the city, she was a seasonal hydrologist in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, then as a consultant helping private companies comply with environmental regulations.
When she isn’t working with the city’s water resources, she’s working with the river in a number of other roles. She represents the city on the Yampa-White-Green River Basin Roundtable and chairs the group’s public education committee. She founded and continues to participate in the Upper Yampa River Watershed Group Technical Committee. She also serves on the Community Agricultural Alliance’s board of advisors
“It is clear that Kelly takes on so much because she is truly passionate about all things water, and her knowledge and experience in this area makes her such an asset to the city, community and organizations that she serves,” wrote Michelle Carr, her co-worker at the city.
“I think it’s really important that we seek to understand the river,” Romero-Heaney said. She hopes that water managers will make decisions led by science and evidence, “rather than the other way around.”
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