Born and raised in the Spokane, Washington, Dr. Brian Murphy (he/his) now lives and works in Denver, Colorado, on Arapaho and Cheyenne lands.
Brian joined River Network in 2022 as the Healthy Rivers Program Director in the Colorado River Basin (CRB). As part of the CRB team, he provides technical assistance to coalitions, local governments, and other organizations across the CRB working in the river health and resilient communities spaces. Brian leads River Network’s integrated river management program that supports local leaders working to ensure their communities and rivers are healthy and resilient into the future. In this role, Brian works with local government staff, nonprofit partners, and community leaders, state and federal agency personnel, practitioners, and other technical experts to help communities protect and restore their river corridors. Partners look to him for help navigating technical hurdles, connecting people, and promoting solutions that balance community development and resource conservation goals. He also supports watershed and stream management planning across Colorado, emphasizing community-based river values, nature-based solutions, and land conservation policies.
Brian has worked in the water resources engineering and river science field for over 20 years and holds a PhD from Colorado State University. His PhD research focused on assessing urban stream processes and emerging management paradigms that integrate social-ecological values. He founded his own consulting practice, River Works, to focus on the “wicked problems” caused by natural and anthropogenic changes on river physical conditions. Brian has published multiple journal articles on urban river condition assessment and management. He also recently wrote a chapter for the upcoming book titled, Rewilding the Urban Frontier: River Conservation in the Anthropocene.
Brian is passionate about working on the ground with communities, providing technical assistance and capacity building. From his doctoral research to his consulting and nonprofit experience, Brian addresses the root causes of degraded river health. He is comfortable working at the complex intersection of watershed planning and community needs, and is known for his drive to understand technical issues deeply, skills in partnership building, and enthusiasm for sharing knowledge.
Outside of work, he is an active mountain enthusiast, exploring Colorado’s Front Range with his wife and three children.
Which River Network value most speaks to you?
Balance. Progressive disruption of urban areas along river corridors, and limited awareness of the inherent dangers of living on floodplains, requires a major shift in management actions to address these problems and bring about balance between human needs and ecological function.
What motivates you to go to work everyday?
I am a parent of three, so I firmly believe in passing on a legacy and an environment that is sustainable and even a little bit better (than what was given to me and my generation).
What called you to work in water?
Ever since I was young I have had a strong connection to the land and water. As I have grown into my professional career, that ethic has translated into me realizing that conserving, protecting, and restoring the natural environment is my passion and purpose for working in water.
What was the most inspiring aspect of your work over the past year?
Completing my PhD was a huge accomplishment. The world is complicated and being an expert in all parts is not possible. I found time to be an expert in what I love: studying rivers, which inspires me to advance the river ethic. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “far and away the best prize that life offers is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.”
How do you recharge outside of work?
By skiing, cycling, hiking, reading (fiction and non-fiction), all of which I do with my wife and kids.