Alan Hamel, left, April Montgomery, center, and Travis Smith, right. The three long-serving directors on the Colorado Water Conservation Board are stepping down as their current term ends. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

DENVER – Three members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board were given a warm send-off by their fellow board members Tuesday as their latest three-year terms on the board came to an end.

Alan Hamel, representing the Arkansas River basin, Travis Smith, representing the Rio Grande River basin, and April Montgomery, representing the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan river basins, are all leaving the board of the state agency charged with planning to meet Colorado’s water needs.

Dating back to 1937, the CWCB board has 15 members, ten of whom are voting members. Eight of the members represent one of the state’s major river basins and the ninth member represents the city and county of Denver.

The tenth voting board member is the director of the state’s department of natural resources, and ex-officio non-voting board members include representatives from the Dept. of Agriculture, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the attorney general’s office, and the state engineer.

Russ George of Rifle represents the Colorado River basin on the CWCB board and is the current board chair. His term expires in 2019.

The three-year terms of the board’s appointed members are staggered. The members are appointed by the governor and must be approved by the state Senate after approval by the Senate’s agricultural committee. No more than five of the nine members appointed by the governor can be from the same political party and they each must live in the river basin that they represent on the board.

There are no formal term limits on the CWCB board, but Gov. Hickenlooper has imposed an informal two-term limit on the current board.

Citizens interested in serving on the CWCB board must submit applications to the governor’s office and there have been numerous applications already submitted for each of the three open seats, according to CWCB Director James Eklund.

It’s possible that new board members won’t be appointed by the board’s March meeting, so the three board members who stepped down Tuesday may be asked to come back for one more meeting, as their terms officially last until a replacement is sworn in.

Pueblo Reservoir, near Pueblo, a key component of water management in the Arkansas River basin.
Pueblo Reservoir, near Pueblo, a key component of water management in the Arkansas River basin. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Alan Hamel

Hamel was appointed to the CWCB board in 2011 and re-appointed in 2014. A self-acknowledged “water buffalo,” he’s been working in Colorado’s water sector for 57 years, including having served 30 years as executive director of the Board of Water Works of Pueblo. Hamel’s name is also on Pueblo Water’s headquarters building in downtown Pueblo.

“You’re like Yoda,” CWCB Director James Eklund told Hamel Tuesday, reflecting on his young family’s current obsession with Star Wars. “You put everything in the right context.”

The reference didn’t go unnoticed by one CWCB staff member, who quickly developed a graphic with Hamel’s face on Yoda’s body to share with the board in the next section of Tuesday’s meeting.

Jim Yahn, who represents the South Platte River basin on the CWCB board, told Hamel, “You have so much knowledge and so much wisdom.”

Patrica Wells, who represents Denver on the board, and is the general counsel for Denver Water, said Hamel’s “signature self-deprecating sense of humor” was a key part of what made him a good board member.

Hamel, who is unfailingly polite and welcoming to newcomers to the water world, said, “It has truly been an honor to serve on this board. The state is fortunate to have this board.”

The members of the CWCB board do get to know each other quite well while serving on the board, especially as the board meets in different parts of the state every other month, so there is often lots of travel and new shared experiences for the board members.

The current board members also spent an intense several years working together to develop and publish the Colorado Water Plan in December 2015 after the governor called for the CWCB to write the plan in 2013.

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River basin.
The headwaters of the Rio Grande River basin. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Travis Smith

Smith, of the Rio Grande basin, has served on the CWCB since 2005 and served as board chair in 2007 and 2008. Professionally, he is the superintendent of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, a rancher, and a self-described “ag guy.”

He said he’s learned over the years to listen to his fellow board members.

“We like to think this is the water business, but it’s the people business,” Smith said.

During the formation of the Colorado Water Plan, Smith often said he wanted the plan to read more like a novel and less like a report, and was known for reminding his fellow board members that “words matter.”

Wells, of Denver, said that Smith was the “epitome of a CWCB board member” because while he was an expert on his own basin’s water issues, he also brought a statewide perspective to the board.

Smith noted that he had been appointed to the CWCB board by three different governors, served on the board with five different directors of the Dept. of Natural Resources, and served under three different directors of the CWCB.

“It has been a great ride,” Smith said, observing that he sees “a new era of cooperation” in Colorado water.

A view of the Dolores River below Slickrock.
A view of the Dolores River below Slickrock. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

April Montgomery

Montgomery, representing the southwest corner of the state on the CWCB since 2009, often brought more of an environmental perspective to the board than other members. A resident of Norwood, she works professionally as the vice president of the Telluride Foundation and sat on the Southwestern Water Conservancy District board for 12 years.

“I call you all friends now,” Montgomery told her fellow board members. “And I appreciate how much we listen to each other.”

Montgomery was praised by Wells for “working tirelessly” on CWCB issues and for taking an “enormous amount of care.” John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River basin on the board, said he valued the “fresh and valuable” perspective she brought to the table, and Eklund noted the “skill and diplomacy” Montgomery deployed in dealing with the complicated issues in her corner of the state.

As a parting gesture, Montgomery gave the CWCB board members and CWCB staffers a gift of a small jar of honey from bees that she keeps.

Ty Wattenberg, a rancher representing the North Platte River basin on the board, told Montgomery her gift of honey was her way of hoping he’d “sweeten up.”

The CWCB board was scheduled to wrap up their January meeting by mid-afternoon on Tuesday. Their next meeting is on March 22 and 23 in Greeley.

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...