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University of Colorado Denver


Ninth Annual Wirth Chair Awards Winners


April 12, 2006



The Denver Post, David Olinger and Chuck Plunkett, for their four part thirty plus page series "Liquid Assets: Turning Water into Gold," which explored how the municipal search for water rights, when combined with Colorado's unique water-ownership laws, creates an unregulated commodities market where Colorado water users are paying the highest fees in the nation. One part of the series dealt with the plight of the suburbs trying to provide for an ever increasing demand for water and the consequence of that task on the quality of life elsewhere in Colorado; another part of the series looked at the results of a 2003 Colorado Supreme Court decision that supported those with senior water rights and took away the right to use wells historically supplied by that water. As a result, some farmers have seen their land fall to one-tenth of it's previous worth. While water is often looked at as an environmental battle to locate and use a dwindling resource vital to a growing population, this series presented an unprecedented analysis of water in Colorado as a business.


Good Dirt Radio, Durango, Colorado, is a grassroots audio program reporting stories about people helping to solve environmental challenges. Through the broadcast of five minute radio stories, Good Dirt aims to inspire listeners to take ecological action in their own communities. Since its start in 2004, the program has reported on a variety of topics and interviewed a variety of "everyday folks" as well as noted environmentalists. A current archive of 24 stories is available by transcript or audio link at Currently, Good Dirt is an all volunteer effort of Board Members and community volunteers who collectively research, write, produce and record all stories. Good Dirt is aired monthly on public and community radio stations in the Four Corners area and is podcasting their work from five web based sites. Requests are regularly coming in for additional stories and more frequent airings.

Special Recognition

Harumi Kato, Yamagata Broadcasting Company, wrote and produced this 17 minute VHS tape (in Japanese) entitled (in English) "Little Steps in Colorado for Sustainable Living." Ms. Kato supplied an English translation of the audio. The program was broadcast in Japan in October of 2005. Ms. Kato used a number of locations around the state and interviewed Coloradans who are leaders in promoting sustainability in agriculture, business and alternative energy. "I could not resist the chance to show how some Colorado residents are doing the right things for a sustainable way of life." In her letter to the Chair, she also said that by showing her program in Japan, "I will be able to inform Japanese viewers that despite not signing the Kyoto Protocols, some Americans are really concerned and taking actions in many ways to protect our environment by practicing sustainable living."


Rick Gilliam of Western Resource Advocates was the primary author of Amendment 37. This was the first time in the nation that a renewable energy standard was put to a popular vote. The successful initiative required that 10% of Colorado's electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2015. Under Gilliam's leadership, a proposal that failed three times in the Colorado Legislature went to the people and won. Passage also included a $4.50 per Watt solar incentive. In addition to Gilliam, The Advisory Board chose a nomination which included individuals "who worked tirelessly for more than 12 months on all aspects of the campaign with a budget that was approximately 1/10th of the opponents. Because of them, the initiative is being watched by others all across the country who are seeking to support renewable energy." Those key members are Morey Wolfson, long time energy expert; Robin Hubbard, campaign director; Ron Larson, long time renewable energy advocate and current Chair of the American Solar Energy Society; Ron Lehr, an attorney who does pro bono work and advocates for renewable energy; Matt Baker, Environment Colorado Director; Ken Regelson, a respected consultant and renewable energy advocate; and, Stephanie Bonin, energy advocate at Environment Colorado.

Certificate of Achievement is given to the City of Denver for its historic sustainability initiative, "Greenprint Denver," which advances and supports the integration of environmental impacts into the city's programs and policies, alongside economic and social considerations. Seven agencies with fifty staff working in five thematic groups developed a comprehensive set of strategies during an intensive six month period. They include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 9% from 1990 levels by 2011, developing and implementing a municipal green building policy, increasing residential recycling, and increasing urban forest to cover 18% by 2026, planting more than 22,000 trees per year. The city has already begun an aggressive Energy Management and Efficiency Program including use of 57 hybrid vehicles, a 100% alternative fuel fleet at DIA and the purchase of 420,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel. The program's agenda will position Denver as a national leader in providing practical solutions to ensure a prosperous community where people and nature thrive.

Special Recognition is given to FrontRange Earth Force, a Denver based organization that engages youth in solving real problems in their community, schools and the environment. Earth Force students at Cole Middle School were concerned about the amount of health problems found in their neighbors. Students found many of the problems could be traced to air pollution and that much of the air pollution around their school could be traced to diesel fuel being burned in the engines of their school busses. Students decided to promote the idea of using biodiesel, did research, and created brochures to educate community members about the health benefit of alternative fuels. They also partnered with Blue Sun Biodiesel to convince DPS to use safer fuels in area school busses. Additionally, other students have been involved with habitat restoration on the South Platte, built a filtration system to remove the Canadian Thistle in Highland Lake, and, after discovering that a storm drainage pipe sent untreated water directly into the nearby river, painted signs near the storm drains that said, "Dump no waste; drains to river," developed a business friendly plan for reducing water pollution, and informed local business owners of ways to reduce water contamination.


Whole Foods Market is the first major U.S. company to convert all its energy to green sources in its stores, facilities, bake houses, distribution centers and national headquarters. The purchase of wind credits is the largest in U.S. history (458,000 megawatt hours) and puts WFM in front of Johnson and Johnson (second) and DuPont (third) with regard to credits purchased. WFM chose Boulder based Renewable Choice Energy as its exclusive supplier of renewable energy credits. Conventional electricity generation is the largest industrial source of air pollution in the United States. The wind purchase by WFM is the equivalent of keeping more than 700 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the air and taking 60,000 cars off the highways. Quayle Hodek, CEO of Renewable Energy Choice, has said that the purchase by Whole Foods Market is an inspiration to everyone looking to demonstrate that wind power is ready for the mainstream. As a leader in the food industry, Whole Foods Market is hopeful that their action will encourage other food markets to follow suit.

Distinguished Service

David Schaller as served as the Sustainable Development Coordinator in the Denver Regional Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 1995. In addition to providing technical assistance to communities, businesses and governments within Region 8, he also presents nationally and in over 20 countries within Asia, Central America and Eastern Europe. In 2002, he was a member of the United States delegation to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development. Schaller currently produces a weekly electronic newsletter, received by over 800 people in 20 countries, which highlights advances and achievements in the field. He recently spent two weeks in New Orleans advising community members on creating and implementing planning guidelines for recovery from the aftermath of Katrina. He is on the National Governing Board of Engineers without Borders and the Board of Directors of EarthLinks-Colorado, a non-profit that engages inner city residents and the homeless in a mutually enhancing relationship with the natural world. At his recent wedding, the bride and groom decided to offset the carbon produced by the planes and cars used to get to the wedding. They used recycled gold and diamonds for their wedding rings, organic food and compostable dinnerware at the reception, and wrote their thank you notes on cards handcrafted by homeless people.

Lifetime Achievement

Ralph Curtis, a CU graduate, a varsity football player for four years and President of his Senior Class, served for 25 years as general manager for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is credited as a unifying force in the often fractious debate over water in the San Luis Valley. A member of the Colorado Water Congress for years, he chaired its State Affairs Committee. Additional service includes the Saguache Planning Commission, the Board of Directors of Mountain Valley Schools, 22 years as a member of the Center Soil Conservation District, 15 years with the Colorado Association of Soil Conservation Districts and membership on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Soil Conservation Districts. Currently he serves as the Vice President of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, serves on the San Luis Valley Wetlands Focus Group, is a member of the State Groundwater Commission, and is currently Chairman of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association's Water Steering Committee He has been the recipient of the Wayne Aspinall Water Leader of the Year in 2004 presented by the Colorado Water Congress, the San Luis Valley Cattlemen's Service Award in 1991, and was inducted into the CU Alumni "C" Club Living Legends in 2003. A commendation by Senator Wayne Allard was read into the Congressional Record in 2005. | Physical Address: 1380 Lawrence St., Ste. 500  Denver, CO  80204 | Mailing Address: University of Colorado Denver, SPA, Campus Box 142, P.O. Box 173364, Denver, CO 80217-3364 | ph: 303.315.2228 | fax: 303.315.2229 | SPA Website Feedback

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