Regenerating Watersheds in Colorado

Joe Brewer
5 min read4 days ago


We are on a sacred journey to regenerate the Colorado River and all of her tributaries across the mountains and deserts of the Southwest. In the last few days, we have visited two major watersheds that provide source waters to this massively important hydrological system.

On Monday and Tuesday, we were in the town of Paonia helping weave dialogues about how to regenerate the North Fork of the Gunnison River. This is a landscape made famous by its breath-taking beauty and hard-working farming community.

Major rivers that contribute to the main flow of the Colorado River

We have been in an active support role to the people of Paonia since November of 2022 — giving talks and workshops about integrated landscape management and bioregional regeneration. A local team has formed around this scale of work. Our time with them this week included strategy sessions and community dialogue about how to regenerate the entire Colorado Basin from headwaters to the sea.

Meeting in a local bakery to talk about land trusts, regenerative finance, and cooperation at landscape scales

We talked about the weaving of local projects into a tapestry, how to establish a non-profit whose purpose is to mobilize local resources in service to the watershed as a whole, and what it might look like to collaborate with neighboring watersheds within other parts of the Colorado Basin.

It is humbling work to sit in conversations like this. Nuance really matters and the contexts involved are incredibly intricate and complex. Yet here we are holding the field of relationships in service to large-scale regenerative work.

A typical view of the beautiful landscapes of the North Fork Gunnison Watershed

We left Paonia feeling the need to maintain relationships and help them over longer periods of time. This kind of work unfolds on timespans of 20–30 years and we are just getting started. The local organizing team has much to reflect upon as they continue weaving themselves into local political and ecologically impactful dialogues.

The Roaring Fork and Crystal Rivers

A view of the alluvial plains where the Roaring Fork and Crystal Rivers meet each other

Our next stop was to visit the people of Carbondale where two important tributaries of the Colorado River flow together below the magical peaks of Mount Sopris. Here we are also helping a local team to organize around the regeneration of their watershed and have been since last November.

There are several community land trusts and regenerative farms int his landscape. The local people feel deep connections to the waters and mountainous vistas that give it such a unique and beautiful texture.

A visioning session about regeneration of the Colorado River Basin

We arrived to a circle of women who hold visioning sessions together — all of whom deeply loves the watershed and holds a guardianship role in service to life. Our purpose in the morning was to dream into what it might feel like to regenerate the entire Colorado River Basin. Intentions were held for the delta that no longer receives water in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

Then we moved into field site visits and strategy meetings throughout the rest of the day. So much intricacy and complexity in the social context of this Roaring Fork Valley. In part this is because there are a lot of existing organizations that care about the local food shed, conservation efforts, and landscape planning at various scales.

Visit to the community land trust at Kauffman Ranch

We visited the 141 acre Kauffman Ranch that is exemplary of community land management and regenerative practices. They are affiliated with the Aspen Valley Land Trust that coordinates around conservation efforts throughout the watershed.

Areas in red are conservation projects throughout the watershed

This blend of agriculture and conservation is a hallmark of the region. We learned how they are envisioning educational offerings and future land acquisitions that increase the ecological connectivity of the area. It was a powerful reminder that all of this is already real and happening around us.

We later sat down with the local organizing team to develop funding strategies to support them in their unique role of “activation” for the weaving of local projects. It is a process that emerges from the details of each local context where landscape scales of regeneration are beginning to emerge.

At the Design School for Regenerating Earth, we are developing frameworks of support to help new landscapes begin to organize around regenerative visions at these large scales. Our current bioregional activation tour of the Colorado Basin is a learning opportunity for us to develop new ways to help these local teams as they go about their work.

What I want to stress in this article is that we are really doing this. There are people on the ground who already have projects underway. A great weaving effort is unfolding within and between watersheds of the Colorado Basin.

If you would like to get involved or support this work in some way, please go here to make a donation and sign up for future updates.

Onward, fellow humans.

Joe Brewer is co-founder of the Design School for Regenerating Earth and author of The Design Pathway for Regenerating Earth. He will be accompanied by Penny Heiple and Benji Ross on this sacred journey in service to the Colorado Basin.



Joe Brewer

I am a change strategist working on behalf of humanity, and also a complexity researcher, cognitive scientist, and evangelist for the field of culture design.