Summit’s veteran water commissioner Scott Hummer moving on
Summit Daily News
Thinking about the Blue River basin and its myriad users, issues and concerns sometimes brings tears to Scott Hummer’s eyes.
The former Blue River Basin water commissioner was the first to take up the Blue River basin post more than 20 years ago, and on April 1, he starts a new position in Larimer and Weld counties.
Hummer also gets sentimental when he thinks of his participation with the Summit County Open Spaces and Trails program – and its protection of more than 13,500 acres in its nearly 15 years of existence. He’s particularly hopeful that the department is successful in securing ranch land in the Lower Blue River area.
“I hope (the accomplishments) leave the kind of legacy of why people come to this place,” he said of the organization he’ll likely miss most.
And they’ll miss him.
“His knowledge of the water and the people and the land in the Lower Blue has made him absolutely invaluable to our program over the years,” said Brian Lorch, director of Summit County Open Space and Trails Department.
It’s the land, the water, its culture and environment that get Hummer in the gut.
His passion is evident not only in the way he talks about the issues, said Lane Wyatt, co-director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality and Quantity group. It’s in where he spends his time – volunteering with water, taking vacations surrounding water, working with water.
“You can’t live here and not have knowledge and understanding of water, because it’s the water that allows us to be here and it allows this economy to function,” Hummer said. “It touches everything.”
Including connecting him with people, something Wyatt commends.
Wyatt said Hummer’s been able to bridge the gap between ranchers and environmentalists during his tenure, which doesn’t happen often. He said Hummer understands how personalities drive what happens in water. And Hummer himself is more than his gruff exterior – like when he cared for his ailing wife for years.
“He was an angel,” Wyatt said. “He did everything to make her life easier.”
“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the varied water users in the basin,” Hummer said. “It’s been my pleasure and privilege. I hope that the efforts that have been made will be followed and adhered to in the future.”
He’s devoted his life, since Sept. 1, 1990, to handling the day-to-day oversight of the district. He’s been largely a one-man show of administrating the water in the basin and its domestic, agricultural, municipal, recreational and industrial uses.
Hummer’s job has brought him into contact with “everyone who owns a water right,” he said, and he remembers being welcomed by some, disdained by others. The basin has approximately 2,600 adjudicated water rights and includes 1,300 individual structures – canals, ditches, reservoirs, wells, pipelines – that need attention, he said.
He’s worn many hats – engineer, accountant, politician, attorney, shoulder to cry on, someone to cuss at. In many ways, water commissioners are the on-the-ground experts other officials turn to for information.
Hummer’s jurisdiction covered an area that provides one-fifth of the water to Denver’s millions of users. The Upper Blue River provides one-tenth of Colorado Springs’ water. And among the state’s reservoirs, Dillon and Green Mountain are the fourth and eighth largest, respectively, and with great influence on the Front Range, Hummer said.
“To move in and initiate water administration in arguably the most complex and controversial basins in the state was a challenge to say the least,” he said.
And it’s not just irrigation. It’s diversions, it’s junior and senior water rights, it’s power plants, it’s dam safety, and more.
“The sheer variety of players in this basin demands oversight and knowledge that’s different than the other basins,” he said.
And his shoes will be empty until the Colorado Division of Water Resources finds a suitable replacement, which Hummer hopes is done quickly and with someone with experience. Given the complexity of the basin and its cross-Divide interests, the new guy doesn’t have two decades to learn the job. There are important demands to deal with and relations to upkeep – starting yesterday.
Hummer has seen a lot in his time as water commissioner, including a century of water action condensed to seven years – the high water years of 1995 and the drought of 2002. Both proved to be challenges to water administration.
And he never imagined he’d be knocking on doors to investigate whether residential wells were being used to illegally water lawns or fill hot tubs. But because there are more water rights on the books than there is water to meet them, it’s a job that’s become necessary.
Wyatt roasted Hummer, saying, “I heard you’re getting out of the hot tub business.” He referred to Hummer’s sense that he had “bigger fish to fry,” Wyatt said, than investigating how hot tubs are filled.
Under Hummer’s watch, there’s been a good record of dam safety. The drought of 2002 changed the way water was administered in summers. The Clinton Reservoir-Fraser River Water Agreement enables ski areas to make snow legally. And there’s an annual “State of the River” forum – set this year for for 6:30-8:30 p.m. May 3 at the Summit Community and Senior Center in Frisco – begun in Hummer’s early years at his post.
But above all else, Hummer considers the largest claim to fame the mere fact that there’s now water administration in the Blue River Basin, given the complexities of the area, and education surrounding those issues.
The legacy he hopes he leaves with Blue River Basin water users is that “the citizenry has become more informed and better educated as to the value and scarcity of this resource that will enable the recreational tourism economy that has developed continue to flourish,” he said.
Hummer will be working with the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company and Cache La Poudre Reservoir Company, managing a canal diversion and small reservoir system that extends into the plains. His job is to ensure the water gets to the farmers’ headgates as they order it.
“It’s the opportunity to do something different. It’s the opportunity to go back home so to speak and the challenge of working on the other side of the headgate is intriguing,” he said.
He remains available for questions regarding water administration in the basin. The Glenwood Springs Division of Water Resources office is also a source of information, at (970) 945-5665.
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