Bruce Whitehead, executive director for the Southwestern Water Conservation District, has announced he will retire after more than a decade at the district.
Whitehead could not be reached for comment Friday. In an automatic out-of-the-office email message, Whitehead said his retirement will be effective April 1.
“I’ll continue to stay current on Colorado water issues and will likely see many of you in the not too distant future,” he wrote in his email reply. “I will always deeply value the friendships made during my 11½ years with the district, my time in the state Senate and my 25 years with the Colorado Division of Water Resources.”
The Southwestern Water Conservation District was created by the state of Colorado in 1941 to conserve and develop water resources in nine counties: Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan, San Miguel, and parts of Hinsdale, Mineral and Montrose.
Bob Wolff, president of the water district board and representing La Plata County, said Whitehead’s institutional knowledge and experience are going to be hard to replace.
Whitehead worked with the Colorado Division of Water Resources for 25 years, and also served as a division engineer for the San Juan and Dolores rivers. He’s on numerous state boards that deal with water issues in Colorado and the West.
Wolff said the board will meet next week to have a discussion about the future of the district, as well as re-examine its mission statement. It plans to finalize a job description for a new director and widely publish the position. It could take four to six months to hire someone, he said.
The new director faces a number of challenges, namely drought and climate change, when managing water in Southwest Colorado, Wolff said.
“The good news is we’re going to get a little breathing room,” he said, referencing the strong snowpack this year. “But in the big scheme of things, we’re going to plan for continued drought.”
Jenny Russell, a board member who represents San Miguel County, said it’s important for the board to take this opportunity to re-examine the district’s priorities.
“It’s a good time to say, ‘What are we looking for now going into the future with our challenges?’” Russell said. “My main goal, personally, is to find someone who represents the broad range of water interests, not be narrowly focused on just a few.”
The district will hold its regular board meeting April 4 to discuss these matters. On April 5, it plans to continue the conversation in a conference at the DoubleTree Hotel.