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We are Water: Connecting Communities Through Stories and Conversations

Authors: Brigitta Rongstad Strong, Annamarie Schaecher, Anne Gold, Ethan Knight

Water is both critical and scarce across the desert southwest and a topic that touches on the lives of everyone in the communities. We are Water brings a traveling exhibition and interactive educational programs to libraries in rural, Indigenous, Latinx, and rural communities in the Southwestern United States. Hosted in public and Tribal libraries, the exhibition creates a place for communities to share their connections to water and explore multiple ways of knowing water. Using the exhibit display as the community hook, partner libraries engage visitors in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and  Math) activities and events that are designed to inspire dialogue and community learning around water topics and connect with community partners to bring engaging learning experiences to the communities. 


[Photo 1: A young boy plays with the We are Water connect four game. Credit. Daniela Pennycook/CIRES] 

[Photo 2: Community members discuss the We are Water ‘Be a Water Manager’ scenario-based activity.  Credit: Daniela Pennycook/CIRES] 

Water Stories  

Community voices and stories are the foundations for the We are Water program. To honor multiple ways of knowing and to elevate community knowledge about water, our team works with community members at each host site location to record local water stories. From Third Mesa in Arizona to the San  Luis Valley in Colorado, these stories highlight the diverse perspectives and experiences of people living in the Southwestern U.S. and enable visitors to learn about water from people in their community and region. Stories range from memories about water to reflections about water’s cultural connections. 


Quotes from two water stories illustrate the character of these community stories from people with different backgrounds and cultural experiences, but they each touch on the importance and care for water. 

“Just because water comes in abundance from the faucet doesn’t mean it’s abundant.” — Trisha  (Chochiti, Ohkay Owhingeh, Kewa, NM) 

“I had to teach myself how to irrigate 760 acres, and that’s when I began to love the land and love the  water like never before.” — Reyes (San Luis Valley, CO) 


Stories are integrated throughout the We are Water exhibit and programs. For example, visitors can listen to the community stories through the exhibit “story wall” or in the online gallery and they can gather and share community stories about water through the Be a Water Historian kit. Storytelling activities, such as scenario-based games, artwork, and observational science, enable visitors to further share their perspectives, experiences and knowledge, and tell their own stories about water in their communities.

[Photo 3: A visitor listens to a water story at the We are Water exhibit in Bayfield, CO. Credit: Pine River  Library] 

Living Room Conversation guide: Water and Life 

The ‘Water and Life’ conversation guide is the newest addition to the exhibit extension activities. The conversation guide provides a structured way for community members to come together to share,  listen, and learn from each other all centered around water in their community. These community conversations provide a unique opportunity to share reflections about water as a vital topic to the shared environment and community health but is rarely discussed. This new We are Water conversation guide is centered around questions that encourage reflections about people’s relationship with water – for example, what is a memory about water or what are your hopes and concerns about water in the community? The guide also includes a prompt for participants to think about what might be missing in the community conversations about water. The thoughtful scaffolding of the guide provides a  conversation template and guides groups to a communal reflection on what water means in their community. A guide for the facilitator is included.  

[Photo 4: Water and Life conversation guide] 

The conversation guide was developed in collaboration with our partners at the Colorado State Library,  Western Water Assessment, and Living Room Conversation staff, and is publicly available on the LRC  website in both English and Spanish. The We Are Water host site librarians attended a training about how to conduct a living room conversation, and three sites will be using the new Water and Life conversation guide later this year. As host libraries and the public will use the program to facilitate community conversations about water, individuals will hopefully develop common interests, awareness  and appreciation for the different viewpoints and will work together toward a water future they want for their communities.  

From the Living Room Conversation staff: 

Each one of us has a profound relationship with water. This conversation guide prompts us to explore the impacts water has on our life, those around us, and our quality of being. This Earth Day, we invite you to try out the Water and Life conversation guide and “dive deeper” into discussing this remarkable source of life we all share.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jeanie Yaroch

    I work for a conservation organization and plan to use the Conversation Guide with our volunteers and members of the public. Thank you.

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