Fred Kroeger has received numerous awards in his years in Durango, but surely one of the best for him came from his peers in the world of water development.
Kroeger has retired after 55 years on the board of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, and in the group's annual meeting Friday, he received a standing ovation from the 150 or so in attendance. Kroeger chaired the water district for 33 of those years.
Prepared statements of praise and thanks for his leadership on water, civic and business issues (Kroeger was mayor of Durango, served on the La Plata Electric board of directors and has been a lengthy supporter of Fort Lewis College) were received from Gov. Bill Ritter, senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, Congressman John Salazar and the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management.
Kroeger told the group how water had played a role in his family's history.
His grandfather had moved from Franktown, southeast of Denver, to Montezuma County in 1885 after hearing irrigated land would be available for farming, he said. Eleven years later, the water from the Dolores River still had not arrived, so he moved the family to the Animas Valley north of Durango.
Fred Kroeger was born in 1918. About 1948, an uncle in Redmesa southwest of Durango told him that part of the county was well-suited for irrigated agriculture and would benefit from having water, he said. Kroeger began to lobby the Southwestern Water Conservation District, and in the mid-'50s, was named to its board.
In 1964, Gov. John Love appointed him to the state Water Conservation Board, which is still the source of state funding for small and large water projects. (He would serve 21 years on that board.) With Kroeger's impetus, and the involvement of other locals, the Dolores and Animas-La Plata projects slowly moved up the board's priority list.
For the Animas-La Plata, construction finally began in 2002. For Kroeger's recognition last week, the timing is perfect. The project's reservoir will begin filling in a few weeks, and Kroeger said he expects to be there to see it.