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Engaging low-income community leaders and CU students in energy and water conservation to cultivate sustainability.



The Water for the West’s FLOWS (Foundations for Leaders Organizing for Water and Sustainability) program will engage low-income community members and CU students in enacting water and energy conservation. Both community members and CU students will install water and energy saving devices in low-income households while providing easy water and energy-saving tips and sustainable practices. The program builds eco- and climate literacy and capacity in the community while imparting green job skills.

Through several training sessions, low-income residents and students will learn about water issues in Colorado, the West, and beyond. They will learn about the energy-water nexus and the ways in which water and energy are inextricably tied within an overview of climate issues and some of the local climate mitigation and adaptation plans. They will also gain hands-on skills for upgrading residential units with energy- and water-efficient upgrades while learning about best practices in instigating sustainable behavior change. All of this will be done using popular educational models and cooperative learning practices to build a community dedicated to sustainability and social equity. 

What actions do you propose?

Water for the West’s FLOWS program is an initiative that seeks to incorporate environmental and social justice in the use and conservation of water in underprivileged communities in Boulder and beyond. We envision the creation of sustainable, equitable partnerships that lead to community empowerment through cooperative learning and the cultivation of community-oriented leadership. This process of empowerment acknowledges that environmentally just initiatives need to incorporate socially just practices. Through the FLOWS Program we seek to simultaneously replenish the Colorado River while transforming our approach to the use of water, in particular within frontline communities in the Western United States.

At the core of this project is recognizing that specific communities within the City of Boulder do not have access to vital conversations regarding water conservation, energy conservation and climate change. This act of exclusion forces these communities “to bear the brunt of lots of the environmental burdens and not enjoy environmental benefits” (Majora Carter). Low income communities are but one of the many communities that are systematically excluded and overlooked in collaborations and projects that attempt to address environmental issues. With this in mind, the project seeks to create a community dedicated to social justice, environmental justice and sustainability.

At the University of Colorado-Boulder, students living off-campus have access to a service called SCORE that allows students to receive free energy upgrades and services in order to save energy, water and money. In addition, SCORE provides an education component that informs students about other ways in which they can save money through sustainable practices. Utilizing SCORE as a framework for departure, FLOWS extends its reach while building partnerships throughout Boulder County.

The FLOWS program will consist of several trainings that both residents and CU students will need to complete in order to undertake residential installations. The communities that FLOWS will target will be determined through collaboration with Boulder Housing Partners and other partners.

The trainings will cover how to perform installations of water and energy saving widgets. They will also educate community residents on the importance of water and energy conservation. During the trainings, students will be paired with community residents to encourage the sharing of knowledge and ideas. These pairings will continue to be used during the installations.

This framework has three main benefits. First, this enables a literal bridging between two communities in a space where both serve as educators and are equally valuable. In addition, FLOWS permits community members to be active agents of change within their communities, which cultivates a sense of community leadership. Moreover, those performing the upgrades will be members of the same community, which encourages a higher engagement from other community members.

The timeline for completing the training and at least 5 installments spans between 3-4 months in either the Fall or Spring semesters of CU-Boulder’s academic year. Thus, in the span of one year, two groups will receive certificates of completion. In addition to certificates, participants will also receive stipends as both an incentive and a fair remuneration for the valuable time spent in this program (funding dependent).

Who will take these actions?

·      CU Boulder Environmental Center: Provide funds that pay the program coordinator, curriculum designer and student coordinators.

·      Wells Fargo: Provide funds that pay the program coordinator, curriculum designer and student coordinators.

·      Xcel: Funding to pay participant stipends for completing trainings and installations. Possible donations of direct water saving installs, water quality tools and energy savers (pending funding).

·      Kohler: Provide donations of direct water saving hardware (up $20, 000 value) .

·      Whole Foods, McGukin, Lowe’s: Possible donations (pending).

·      Boulder Housing Partners: Identifies the low-income communities the program will target.  

·      Program Manager (Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish) and student coordinators: Identify partnerships, collaborations and funding sources.

·      Pablo Cornejo: Curriculum Designer, instructor and partnership liaison.

·      Long Peak Energy Conservation: Community engagement partnership.

·      Emergency Family Assistance Association: Community engagement partnership.

·      City of Boulder: Community engagement partnership.

·      City of Longmont: Community engagement partnership.

·      Intercambio: Community engagement partnership.

·      RRAFT: Possible river conservation partnerships.

·      Low-income residents: Will complete trainings and installations.

·      CU Students: Will complete trainings and installations.

What are the key challenges?

A key challenge throughout the implementation of FLOWS will be addressing potential language barriers between CU students and residents that do not speak English. Identifying students that are able to speak the resident’s language could address this challenge. In addition, the curriculum will be provided in both English and Spanish. There is also the possibility that not all community members will need translation and in these cases, they will be paired with students that can only speak English.

One more challenge will be the perceived relevance of energy and water conservation in people’s everyday lives. This program hopes to use framework and language that engages diverse and accessible heritage of sustainability.

What are the key benefits?

The key benefits of the Water for the West’s FLOWS program are delineated below:

  • - FLOWS provides water and energy-saving practices and installments that will translate into lower energy and water bills for people in the community who need it the most
  • - Making low-income residences more comfortable and safe
  • - Installation of water- and energy-saving widgets
  • - Leadership and green job skills training
  • - Promoting sustainable lifestyle behaviors
  • - Mitigating Boulder’s climate footprint
  • - Engaging both low-income residents and CU students in sustainable practices
  • - Creating pathways for low-income community members to provide feedback on Boulder’s climate action planning and other sustainability initiatives.
  • - Bringing together a diverse range of organizations and collaborators who may or may not have worked on sustainability initiatives.
  • - Building community between CU students and community members.

What are the proposal’s costs?

The goal of the first phase of the FLOWS program will be to complete 75 home installations and train between 20-40 community members and CU students. Therefore, the total estimated cost for the first year of the program will be approximately $23,862.00 dollars. The budget can be reduced to the following:

·      Program coordination and curriculum design: $6,800.00

·      Student Coordinators (2): $3440.00

·      Participant/Technician Staff: $4,654.00

·      Trainings: $2,896.00

·      Translating: $200.00

·      Community engagement and Marketing: $1,200.00

·      Water saving installs, water quality tools and energy savers: $4672.00

Time line

A Short-term tentative timeline break down is outlined below:

Fall Semester 2015:

Partners identified.

Obtaining first round of funding.


Spring Semester 2016:

Jan 11- Curriculum Designer joins partnership.

Jan. 11-16th: Contact all potential partners & design outreach materials

Jan 17-23rd: All key partners meet

Jan. 24-30th: Roles are finalized and assigned

Jan 24- Reach out to donors. Reach out to Boulder Housing Partners to determine training and meeting space.

Jan. 31-Feb. 6th: Start building curriculum; compile potential households.

Beg Feb- Start advertising for Water Leaders, creating an online application form.

Feb. 7-13th: Continue curriculum; continue advertising and enlisting

Feb. 14-20th: Continue curriculum; continue advertising and enlisting

Feb. 21-27th: Continue curriculum, continue advertising and enlisting

Feb. 28-March 5th: Continue curriculum, continue advertising and enlisting. Finalize Interviews

March 6-12th: First training, March 12 10AM-2PM

March 13-19th: Second training, March 13 10AM-2PM

March 20-26th: Spring Break

March 27-April 2nd: Third training, April 2, 10AM-2PM

April 3-9th: Shadowed home visit

April 10-16th: Shadowed home visit

April 17-23rd: home visit on their Own (3 total in two weeks)

April 24-30th: home visit on their Own  (3 total in two weeks)

May: Summer break begins


Fall Semester 2016:

August: Welcome back/re-orientation.

Sept.: Program re-launches for semester

Complete 75th home visit.

Related proposals

Value not set.



Ted Talk: Greening the Ghetto, Major Carter

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. 2014

Water for the West Overview: