Former Steamboat water manager appointed to governor’s policy team
With Colorado’s struggles to maintain a sufficient water supply for an expanding population amid a decadeslong drought, Steamboat Springs resident Kelly Romero-Heaney believes her new role as water policy advisor to Gov. Jared Polis is a call to duty.
“It’s a really important moment in time for water in Colorado. I feel like this is a call to duty for me to my state,” Romero-Heaney said. “It’s been such a pleasure to serve the governor in this new role.”
Romero-Heaney was tapped in July to join the governor’s policy team. Her role includes lots of liaison work and technical assistance to the elected legislature, which seems to be a good fit for the often-upbeat Steamboat resident who has 20 years of experience in natural resources and water management.
“I love connecting people; it’s fun,” she said, adding she enjoys having a seat at the governor’s table to advise on water-related policy.
The governor’s Press Secretary Conor Cahill said Thursday, “Kelly is the second assistant director for water from DNR to serve in this capacity increasing focused attention on water quantity and drought issues for the governor’s policy team.”
The former city of Steamboat Springs water resources manager for more than eight years has been working as the assistant director for water policy for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources since June 2021. Her new dual role has her working an average of 50 hours per week, while also balancing family life including her husband and two sons, a kindergartener and a high school freshman. She is also in her last year of completing a master’s degree in environmental science and policy remotely from Johns Hopkins University.
During 15 months working for the Department of Natural Resources, she put 25,000 miles on her car traveling across the state, including to two key areas where water is over-appropriated. The Republican River Basin in eastern Colorado and the Rio Grande Basin in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado are both facing large challenges with groundwater management, she said.
“I really enjoy working in engaging with agricultural communities in other parts of the state. It’s great to take lessons learned (in Steamboat) and apply those statewide and also learn lessons from other local communities,” she said. “It’s been great to be part of the solution.”
The advisor believes Senate and House legislation that she played a role in passing will aid Colorado with funds for water projects. In particular, some of the funding was secured to help small, rural communities with limited staffing capacity receive technical assistance to pursue water projects.
In her job for the Department of Natural Resources, her role is to “help connect the dots” across the various DNR divisions primarily as it relates to the Colorado Water Plan that is expected to be finalized in early 2023.
In the future, Romero-Heaney’s key work will be helping to make sure the Colorado Water Plan does not sit on a shelf and is well-funded and implemented. She wants to make sure water-related funding is accessible to all communities across Colorado for good projects.
She also will work to make sure that nuggets of scientific consensus make it to state legislators in need of the information.
“The legislature is not the venue to debate science, per say,” she noted. “It’s much better if the scientific community comes up with nuggets of consensus that they can feed to the legislature because our legislature works so hard and has to cover so many subjects. Those nuggets of consensus can be fed to me because that helps us to inform the policies we develop.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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