On December 13, 2023, a broad consortium of partners co-convened a side event at the 2023 Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) annual conference in Las Vegas, Nevada to launch the North American Section of the Women in Water Diplomacy Network. The initial aim of the North American Network is to establish a regional Network across the Americas anchored in the Colorado River and Indigenous leadership in alignment with the Network’s ‘Path Forward for Women, Water, Peace and Security’ Global Strategy and objectives. The milestone event was attended by approximately 150 water policy experts and decision makers from a broad spectrum of stakeholder communities across the Colorado Basin including strong representation from Indigenous communities as well as Mexican representatives.
The event program began with sharing of meaningful traditional songs and bird dance about the Colorado River from Rosa Long, Vice-Chairwoman at The Cocopah Indian Tribe and Alonso Pesado, Cocopah Bird Singer and former Chairman. The Cocopah nation, also known as the River People, live in both Arizona and Mexico on both sides of the Colorado River in an area known locally as Pozas Arivisu.
Dr. Sharon B. Megdal, Director of the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona followed with an enthusiastic welcome and reflection on the unique landmark launch event. Dr. Megdal shared her experiences of interacting and engaging with the Women in Water Diplomacy Network and her motivation – shared by many in the room – to establish such a Network in North America. Dr. Megdal thanked the extensive group of donors that enabled the launch event to take place and encouraged participants to consider how their organizations can contribute to the development and sustainability of the Network beyond the launch event.
Elizabeth A. Koch, Environmental Law Institute and Process Support Lead for the Women in Water Diplomacy Network then provided a brief introduction to water diplomacy, emphasizing the many different entry points to water diplomacy and breadth of actors needed as part of decision-making processes to foster sustainable solutions. According to Elizabeth, the primary motivation for the development of the Network is on strong evidence that despite the importance of inclusive processes and the disproportionate impact of water and climate insecurity, women water decision makers are extremely under-represented globally – and at various scales in North America as well. Elizabeth shared some milestones from the Women in Water Diplomacy Network’s inception and development in the Nile Basin, the launch of the Global Strategy ‘A Path Forward for Women, Water, Peace and Security’ and expansion of the Network into Central Asia-Afghanistan, Southern African basins and now the Americas as well as some of the Network’s publications and resources of interest to stakeholders looking to learn more about the Network. Elizabeth closed her short presentation by encouraging North American women water experts to consider joining the Women in Water Diplomacy Network’s Second Global Network Forum taking place in Vienna March 4-8, 2024.
The event featured several high-level speakers who shared their reflections and their motivation for supporting the establishment of the North American Women in Water Diplomacy Network. Commissioner Maria-Elena Giner of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IWBC) spoke first, sending greetings from her Mexican counterpart Commissioner Adriana Resendez who was unable to join due to urgent needs in the basin. Commissioner Giner recognized the many women water decisionmakers who had succeeded in breaking through a male dominated sector to enable more women to take up decision making roles today. She recognized the role of reception attendee Jayne Harkins, the first woman Commissioner of the IBWC, noting the unique significance tof the fact that IBWC was for the first time being led by two women Commissioners.
Commissioner Giner shared the IBWC’s experience of participating with the Women in Water Diplomacy Network at the UN Water Conference and expressed support in nurturing the development of the unique network.
Lorelei Cloud, Vice Chair of the Southern Ute Tribal Council and Co-chair of the Indigenous Women’s Leadership Network, followed sharing passionate remarks and reflections of the value of partnering across the basin to highlight women’s voices, knowledge, and experience in water governance. Lorelei emphasized the importance of elevating Indigenous women’s water knowledge and shared experience from her recent participation at the 2023 World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden where she spoke alongside other Indigenous women water leaders. Lorelei shared the Indigenous Women’s Leadership Network’s commitment to support the development of the North American Women in Water Diplomacy Network, highlighting the role the global Network can serve the IWLN in enabling global experience exchange.
Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton of the United States Bureau of Reclamation shared her enthusiasm for the launch of the North American Women in Water Diplomacy Network reflecting on the past support from the Department of Interior and Bureau of Reclamation for the Network. She then shared a personal reflection on her role as the second Senate-confirmed Commissioner of the Bureau, emphasizing the importance of modeling leadership for young professionals and girls.
Canadian Commissioner Merrell-Ann Phare of the International Joint Commission spoke to the assembled participants via a pre-recorded video message, sharing her congratulations on the launch event and the support of the International Joint Commission in advancing the establishment of the North American Women in Water Diplomacy Network. Commissioner Phare reflected on her experience of interacting and learning with Network members from around the world at the Network’s first Global Network Forum in 2022 and the value of the Network’s shared objectives. Commissioner Phare further shared reflections on the role that the Network had in supporting broad engagement of women water decision makers at the UN Water Conference including leading Indigenous water experts. The full recording of Commissioner Phare’s remarks are available here.
Jennifer Pitt, the Colorado River Program Director at the National Audubon Society then provided an opportunity for event participants to share some quick reflections as part of the session’s ‘open mic’ section. Many participants were eager to share their support for the Network, including amongst others Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Tribes, Rebecca (Becky) Mitchell of Colorado, Gabriela Caloca Michel of Pronatura Noroeste, Mexico, and Leslie Meyers, Chief Water Executive of the Salt River Project.
Dr. Megdal closed the event echoing the overwhelming support for the launch event, calling for partners to invest financial resources in the further development of the Network, and highlighting the Elizabeth’s role as coordinator of the growing global Network. She further shared final remarks on behalf of Chairwoman Amelia Flores, who was unable to join the launch at the last moment, highlighting the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) support for the North American Women in Water Diplomacy Network.
In addition to the formal program, the event enabled much needed informal networking among women water leaders from across the Colorado Basin, encouraged reflection on the unique value of engagements specifically targeting women water leaders and provided opportunity for young women water professionals to interact with more senior women water leaders. During the informal aspects of the program, a photo loop playing in the background showcased statements of support for the Women in Water Diplomacy Network from contributing partners and sponsors.