Jan 312012
Authors: Jason Pohl

All too often it seems even the best ideas get caught up in red tape and never take off.

But the folks at Flywater, a local water-management and conservation group, are wading through the murky mess of unnecessary bureaucracy in search of an easier option in support of clean-water energy.

Tucked away in a basement office in Old Town, Brad Florentin and his team of about 10 have made radical improvements to more than just river ecosystems throughout the state’s watershed — they’ve cut through unnecessary red tape and streamlined a process to bring hydro-electric power to those who need it in a timely and efficient way.

“I think the interesting thing for where we are with our company is we want to help balance,” Florentin said. “How do we identify energy? How do we allow people to utilize water? We strive a lot to make that balance.”

Florentin and co-founder Corey Engen started Flywater in 2006 as a river restoration group focused on identifying problems within the watershed. Since then, it has grown into one of the leading consulting groups of its kind, helping people to receive federal approval for use of hydro-electric power by using already existing infrastructure.

He explained that his group acts as a middle-man between a client who wants to install a hydro-power structure on existing dams and farmers or community leaders hoping to utilize their water rights in a responsible way.

By dealing with both sides and navigating through the government oversight as necessary, the final approval process has been cut to about 60 days per project — down from around three years traditionally.

“It’s a huge, huge deal,” Florentin said. “It’s opened the door for a lot of projects.”

Flywater has helped create an understanding among state leaders that if infrastructure is already present and damages will be virtually nonexistent, the projects should not be subject to the scrupulous inspections given to large-scale new projects.

“I believe in balance as far as utilizing our resources,” Florentin said while stressing a need for responsible use of the environment as a top priority.

“You’re able to utilize what impacts are already there,” he added. “If you can develop energy out of that, then why not?”

By doing this, his group has completed, or is working on, about seven of the 15 projects slated to take place in the U.S., marking a key step forward in terms of renewable energy.

The use of the hydro-electric power is something that researchers, including Neil Grigg, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, recognize as a needed step forward.

“In special cases, you can get some energy where you might not get it elsewhere, like in a rural area,” Grigg said. “It can be a good balance. Hydro is the No. 1 source of renewable energy by a long shot.”

About more than just electricity

In addition to serving as a middle-man in helping individuals utilize their sustainable energy, Flywater places an emphasis on their roots in river work.

The group works in three additional areas including aquatic restoration, conservation and water resources. Whether it is ensuring communities around the state their fair share of water for people and crops or committing to responsible use of the river for fishing and ecosystems, they pride themselves on working in the field as much as possible.

The staff-size increases during the summer months with the addition of an internship program.

Parker Scherman graduated from CSU in December with his degree in environmental geology and watershed management, but he said the bulk of what he has learned has come through the real-world experiences of interning and employment with Flywater.

I just kind of got my feet wet with everything that I learned at school,” Scherman said. “I learned a lot I’ll definitely be able to use. That was the biggest thing.”

The workload involves both field and office work and builds on skills learned from the design and building process.

“My biggest draw is how we are just helping out,” Scherman said. “We’re benefiting a lot of areas. We’re benefiting the whole ecosystem.”

It’s that benefit that keeps folks at Flywater working to help strike balance in the natural world as the demands of energy use and debates continue to soar. Florentin stressed the importance of not limiting options, and he said too often the debate centers on extremes rather than the middle-ground where the better answers are.

“The technology (of water as power) isn’t new,” Florentin said, explaining how it has been used for centuries for grain milling and essential needs for society. “It’s a reconnection of the community to their past and their energy source.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com

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