If they are smart, members of the Durango Water Commission will take Fred Kroeger out to lunch once in a while. That is
because his roots in La Plata County are deep, and what he did not experience in local leadership roles after returning
from service in World War II, he learned from the older generation. Hearing his perspectives on Durango's growth and
the role water played will always be valuable to younger decision-makers.
Kroeger, who has helped shape water policy in Southwest Colorado for more than 60 years, resigned from the city's
commission this week. Kroeger is about to turn 92.
Kroeger, for example, knows the context of the discussions that took place about tapping the Florida River for about 9
cubic feet per second of especially clean water for the city and, much more recently, the long lead-up to the Animas-La
Plata Project where the city has a share.
Kroeger's extended family had land on the western side of the county, near the La Plata River. That was the incentive
to understand the benefits water there would bring. With other family interests in a feed store and grain elevator, and
a hardware and lumber store, on a daily basis, Kroeger appreciated the importance of agriculture and of having
sufficient water so that a community could grow. Those businesses were the critical underpinnings of many Western
What we take almost for granted has not always been there - or once was and is gone. Mining is almost always a boom or
bust economy, and silver discoveries in the La Plata Mountains and the processing mills in Durango were no different.
Fort Lewis College had only a slight impact on Durango's economy until the campus was moved from Hesperus to where it
is today in the mid-1950s, and enrollment climbed. The narrow-gauge railroad that would become so popular with tourists
ran only three days a week in its last years of ownership by the Denver & Rio Grande; its purchase by an avid
railroader immediately expanded its ridership.
During all those decades, ranching and farming were the constants in the economy while Durango's population and
economic diversity slowly but steadily grew. Kroeger lived much of that time.
Fred Kroeger has probably given thousands of hours to local and state water boards, and to shaping and advocating for
the Animas-La Plata Project. He may have stepped down from his final board, but his good judgment and counsel still