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Jim Isgar, 2013 President's Award Winner

Honor Jim Isgar by attending CFWE's President's Award Reception.

By Justice Greg Hobbs

Jim_Isgar_webLooking at Jim Isgar, a bit grizzled from recent chemotherapy treatments to battle cancer, I see a generous man who stands as tall as Mt. Hesperus. Due north of Isgar’s family farm and ranch, Mt. Hesperus in southwestern Colorado’s La Plata Mountains is one of four mountains considered sacred to the Navajo. Isgar irrigates off the La Plata River outside of Breen, southwest of Durango. Like his father, Art, he has served on the H.H. Ditch Company board of directors, including 25 years as its president.

Under the 1922 La Plata River Compact between Colorado and New Mexico, the scanty flow of this stream, a tributary to the San Juan, is divided between the two states based on the flow at Hesperus, a town 23 miles north of the state line. When the flow falls below 100 cubic feet per second, the water is divided equally, but when the river drops too low, it can take the entire flow at Hesperus for New Mexico’s share to reach the state line. It’s an aggravating arrangement for both man and the environment. Now the Long Hollow Reservoir is being built, with help from Colorado Water and Power Authority funds, to stabilize flows for both states.

Also in preparation is a rural-domestic pipeline to deliver water from the Ridges Basin Reservoir of the Animas-La Plata Project to the “dry side” of western La Plata County for drinking water and sanitation use. Listen to Isgar talk about the “dry side” and you’ll hear a family story of disappointed expectations. From the 1940s on, the people living on this water-scarce mesa worked hard for construction of the Animas-La Plata Project. “We have good soil but not enough water,” Isgar says in his characteristic matter-of-fact manner.

Authorized by Congress in 1968 as a participating feature of the Colorado River Storage Project Act, the Animas-La Plata Project (A-LP) contemplated many uses, including delivery of irrigation water from the Animas River to the Hesperus area. “I was 16 years old when the A-LP was authorized,” Isgar observes, “and spent much of my life helping to get it built.”

Isgar knows first-hand what tough negotiation is about. He was a member of the La Plata Water Conservancy District’s board of directors during the 1980s and 90s, including a stint as its president. In 1986, the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes agreed with the state of Colorado to settle their 1868 federal reserved water rights in return for the A-LP. Environmental concerns, lawsuits, and escalating project costs resulted in the non-Indian irrigation uses being stripped from the project.

Despite his great disappointment, Isgar urged continued support for the tribes in their effort to build the project. He became a member of the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District board in 1994, after his father left that board. Isgar recalls that his friend Sam Maynes, counsel to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, “started calling me ‘Jimmy Boy’ when we went to lobby Congress on behalf of the project.”

The Democrat in Jim Isgar came alive at a young age when he traveled with his father to Washington, D.C., in 1962 and met President John F. Kennedy at the White House.  He attended rural elementary schools in Hesperus, followed by junior high and high school in Durango while his mother, Anne, ran a family-owned motel there. Graduating in 1969 and setting off for the University of Colorado to study engineering, he soon returned to the farm and ranch to help as his father was recovering from his own bout with cancer. He completed his bachelor’s degree in accounting at Fort Lewis in 1973, became a Certified Public Accountant, studied taxation at Colorado State University for four quarters, and worked for an accounting firm in Longmont.  He had been accepted to law school at the University of Denver in 1976, but his parents said "they would sell the farm if I didn’t come back and take it over,” he recalls.

After returning home and marrying Chris Roberts, who he had met at CSU, he became the father of four children, Sarah, Matt, Andy and Kate. Through participation in many local and statewide organizations, he earned recognition as a steady and trusted voice and decision-maker. Recognizing his abilities, Governor Roy Romer appointed him in 1988 to the State Board of Agriculture, the governing board for Fort Lewis College, the University of Southern Colorado and Colorado State University.

When state Senator Jim Dyer resigned to become a member of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in 2001, Isgar was appointed in his place by the vacancy committee, stood for election, and served in the Colorado General Assembly as a senator until July 2009.  President Obama then appointed him to be state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

Senator Isgar co-sponsored with Representative Diane Hoppe the 2002 legislation establishing the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. As the chair of the Senate Agricultural Committee, he became a member of CFWE’s first board of directors, stepped off the board from January 2003 to January 2005 when Senator Lew Entz chaired the committee, and resumed as a board member from 2005 to 2009 when he again chaired the Senate committee. Isgar was instrumental in persuading legislators to attend the summer CFWE tours of Colorado’s river basins. “The drought really heighted their interest in getting good water knowledge,” he says.

During the first decade of the 21st century, a period of significant innovation in water legislation, Isgar sponsored, co-sponsored, or worked on virtually every successful water bill.  These included the 2003 agricultural water rights leasing statute for instream flows during drought periods, as well as the 2001 recreational in-channel diversion statute permitting water rights for kayak courses. He credits the 2005 Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act, particularly its roundtable process, with accomplishing “better understanding of complicated legal and technical matters in all the river basins.”

With the USDA, Isgar helped make hundreds of millions of dollars of loans and grants of vital importance to farmers, ranchers, rural communities and homeowners in need of housing assistance. After resigning from his position on December 15, 2012, he’s happily back home on the family farm and ranch with three of his children and his second wife, Brenda. He’s fighting the cancer and looking forward to the time when he can continue assisting his neighbors in getting some water for the “dry side.”

Diane Hoppe and Lewis Entz, 2012 President's Award Winners

By Justice Greg Hobbs

Diane Hoppe

diane hoppeA third generation Sterling girl whose physician father delivered her, Diane Hoppe knows dry and the value of wet.  She and her former husband, Mike, were dry land farmers in Northeastern Colorado from 1975 to 1985.  “We had a cattle and wheat operation.  We prayed for rain a lot.”  They have two sons.  After their divorce in 1985, Hoppe moved back into Sterling and got her start in public life by “being the ears” for Congressman Hank Brown in his Northeastern Colorado district.  Brown, who forged the creation of the Cache la Poudre Wild and Scenic River Act in 1986, then became a Senator, bringing Hoppe along.  “Hank never had a bad thing to say about an individual.  He knew how to have a difference of opinion without thinking those who don’t agree with you are bad people.”

Thrust into the controversy over designation of new wilderness areas, Hoppe learned from Brown “how to keep a calm demeanor and take notes.”  Together Senators Brown and Wirth, of opposite parties, brought home a wilderness act protecting water and environmental interests.  “Hank believed Colorado’s Instream Flow Program could help resolve wilderness issues.  But, federal agencies didn’t trust the state to enforce the instream flow water rights once the Colorado Water Conservation Board got them.”

By careful boundary drawing, combined with legislative language disclaiming any intent to create a federal reserved water right, at least for those new wilderness additions, the Colorado Congressional Delegation obtained enactment of the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act.  Two years later, emphasizing that the CWCB appropriates instream flow water rights in the name of the people, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the state has a “fiduciary duty” to enforce them.

Hoppe served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1999 to 2006, succeeding fellow Republican Don Ament, whose political campaigns she had managed over the years.  In 2003, when the drought was at its worst and junior surface and tributary ground water rights in the South Platte Basin were being curtailed in favor of the most senior rights, she obtained the enactment of a provision allowing the State Engineer to approve substitute supply plans and temporary changes of water rights.  This provision allowed junior rights to receive water if they provided sufficient replacement water to the seniors and filed for a plan of augmentation in the water court.

Recently appointed to the CWCB by Governor John Hickenlooper,  Hoppe joins another of her revered public office mentors, former Speaker of the Colorado House Russ George, as a member of that important Board.  “I am going to do a lot of listening as a new member of the CWCB.   I am learning from the Western Slope members about their concerns.  I hope we can help to keep Ag whole.  Cities and farms are part of the economic engine and I know that agricultural return flows in the South Platte Basin contribute water to wildlife wetlands. I’m interested in helping new Water Leaders.  Involving legislators in the River Basin Tours, if legislative funding allows, is also very important.”

Lewis Entz

lew entzLew Entz has also been a member of the CWCB, though briefly, from 1999 to 2001, serving as its Chair in 2000.  Born to a San Luis Valley farming family, as a kid he minded the “three Ps” – pigs, peas and potatoes.  “The pigs ate the field peas.  Those peas were a great green manure for the potatoes as well.”

Entz has minded the Ps and Qs of a distinguished public service career, specializing in water for the Valley and for Colorado.  First elected as an Alamosa County Commissioner in 1969 extending to 1982, eight of those fourteen years as the Commission’s chairperson, he was elected and re-elected to the Colorado House of Representatives for sixteen years, from 1983 to 1998.  A member of the CWCB the next two years, he returned to the Colorado General Assembly as a Senator from 2001 to 2006, succeeding fellow Republican Gigi Dennis when she went from the legislature to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As a farmer and a legislator, Entz appeared in a twinkling here, there and everywhere from his home in Hooper.  “I was at my legislative desk for roll call in the morning and back to the farm the same afternoon.  It helped that my son Mike was managing the farm.”  A licensed pilot, he made the landing strip at Center his winged horse corral.  Along with partnering with his wife, Lora, in raising three daughters and a son, he has devoted particular attention to transportation, all things agricultural, and Veterans Health.  He was a Marine from 1951-53 during the Korean War.

As a legislator Entz carried nearly seventy water bills.  “The most important was the Subdistrict Bill, 222, in 2004,” Entz said.  In 1998, he obtained passage of the Rio Grande Decision Support System.  “It was quite a fight.  Front Range cities kept eyeing the Valley’s water.  We needed to know what we had for legs to stand on.”  Housed in the State Engineer’s Office, RGDSS has become a tool for understanding, monitoring and helping to manage the complicated hydrology of the Rio Grande River Basin, including the confined and unconfined tributary aquifers of the Closed Basin area north of the river, in connection with the Rio Grande River Compact among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

A decade of drought at the outset of the 21st Century severely reducing mountain recharge runoff, combined with a considerable expansion of sprinkler irrigation since the 1970s in the Closed Basin, pitched unconfined aquifer storage water into a million acre-foot deficit.  “We had to do something.  So I sponsored the Subdistrict legislation so we could tax ourselves to cut back on our groundwater use and rebuild the groundwater.  We’d seen what happened on the South Platte with state-enforced well curtailments during the drought.”  Subdistrict No. 1 is a local public entity of the larger Rio Grande Water Conservation District the General Assembly established in 1967.  In December of 2011, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld Subdistrict No. 1’s groundwater management plan designed to replace injurious depletions to senior Rio Grande surface water rights annually, as well as fallow 40,000 acres of land over the upcoming years in order to achieve sustainable aquifer pumping levels.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District member profile


Why does the Rio Grande Water Conservation District support Water Education Colorado?

The RGWCD supports the Water Education Colorado because it is a first class organization that reports factual, concise and accurate information in its publications on water.  It also provides many other venues to relate that information and other educational activities to the general public.

Why is water resources education important?

Water education is important because so few people know about how water is used in this state nor where their water supplies come from or how they are administered.  It is so important to have the general public informed about water so we can collectively know how to protect it and have the support we need from the public to insure our system is preserved.

What does the RGWCD do?

The RGWCD’s mission is to develop, enhance and protect the waters of the Rio Grande Basin.  The District is heavily involved in Groundwater management, Compact compliance, lobbying for good legislation and involved in litigation to insure vested water rights are protected.  The District is also the local sponsor for a large water salvage project with the US Bureau of Reclamation to help Colorado meet its Compact obligations to downstream states.

Contact info

Rio Grande Water Conservation District
10900 East Hwy 160
Alamosa, CO  81101


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