Water District History
A petition for organization was filed with the Routt County District Court on 21 December 1965 under the Water Conservancy Act of the State of Colorado. The newly formed district was organized March 1966 with boundaries encompassing Routt and Moffat County. Properties within the District will benefit by the accomplishment of conserving, developing and stabilizing supplies of water for domestic irrigation, power, manufacturing and other beneficial uses.
Three directors for each Division of said district were proposed. The following were selected by the judge to serve on the Board of Directors. Loy Ardrey, Eve Chesney, John R Fetcher, Jim Funk, Charles Gregory, Kelly Klumber, Sumner Hockett, Bob Lyons, Wes Signs, and Elvis Starbuck.
John R Fetcher 1912-2009
John Fetcher – a rancher, bee-keeper, tennis player, ski-lift builder, creator of dams & reservoirs, was born in Winnetka, Illinois January 1, 1912 and graduated from high school there. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and business from Harvard University in 1935 and was on the university squash team.
His first job was with Babcock and Wilcox who was contracted to build the penstocks for the Hoover Dam. This was his first experience in dam building.
Fetcher also worked as an engineer in Europe building stainless-steel railway cars in the 1930’s. He returned to the U.S. and decided he wanted his own ranch. John and his wife, Clarissa, looked at land in the West and chose the Yampa Valley in 1949 because of skiing potential.
In the upper end of the Yampa River, the water flow drops to a trickle by July (after the snowmelt is gone). By then the stream is so low ranchers cannot divert irrigation water into their ditches. It was apparent that storage of snow melt water was the only solution for agriculture. As a rancher, John grasped the need and spearheaded the construction of several reservoirs. John Fetcher developed Steamboat Lake on his own land in 1967.
During the mid 70’s, President Jimmy Carter was vetoing reservoir projects in the Midwest. John met with President Carter and was quoted as saying “Mr. Carter, it is hard to conserve water if you don’t have it”.
It was about this time that the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District was formed. A water district would provide an entity to borrow money, to deal with State & Federal Agencies and to build projects. The Yamcolo Dam and reservoir was built in 1980 with only 7 permits and approvals. Since its construction, ranchers have not been short of water and they will never be. Every year, including wet years, the reservoir is drawn down to provide a full demand for irrigation.
Later came another project, the Stagecoach Reservoir in 1988. Stagecoach Reservoir helps to satisfy a larger agricultural demand and provided reservoir water for the growing towns and industries in the Valley. With John’s background as an electrical engineer “I wanted to see wheels turn” so he added the hydroelectric plant which produces renewable energy.
Some of John’s accomplishments are: President and Co-Founder of the Steamboat Ski Area from 1962 to 1971; founding Director of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District serving from 1965 to 1976 and then later as District Manager from 1965 to 1997; Fetcher was also one of the founders of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District; a member of the Water Quality Control Commission 1973-1981; the Colorado WaterConservation Board 1973-1981; and the Colorado Water Resources Development Authority 1990 -?.
US Representative John Salazar of Colorado calls John “a true icon of Colorado”. He praised Fetcher saying “he was a caretaker of our precious lands” and knew more than most people “that water truly is the lifeblood of the West”. Although John never claimed the title, he was an ecosystem engineer. He changed the landscape of Northwest Colorado in profound ways.
John usually ended his public speeches with one or more of his famous precepts’ which are:
- Get up before breakfast
- Do it now
- Have a good and lasting marriage
- Drive fast ONLY when you have to
- Be nice to people
- Share a laugh with those you meet
- Make time for exercise that’s fun
- If you THINK you are indispensable, don’t retire
- Keep it short
More photos with John: