Fresh from his recent retirement as the State Water Engineer, we are extremely pleased that Dick Wolfe, PE has joined the Leonard Rice Engineers team as a Senior Consultant. Connect with Dick on LinkedIn, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Denver office at 303-455-9589.
In a recent interview, we asked Dick some important questions about the Colorado Water Resources Industry:
What is it like to transition from your work as State Engineer to consultant role? What are your favorite and least favorite parts? Well the transition was pretty smooth because I had worked as a consultant prior to my time as State Engineer. Knowing a lot of the people that work at LRE and being familiar with the type of work made it really easy to make that transition from one role to another. I think if I hadn’t worked in consulting before, it might have been harder, but fortunately my previous work made it pretty straightforward. Certainly, the favorite thing is just being able to work one day a week, which is a unique arrangement that we made. Leonard Rice has been very accommodating and it works for them and for me. I really love the work also. The thing that I dislike is kind of the same as at the State and that’s the commute. Not the length so much, but the attitude of some of the people that are commuting with you. Two of those new scooters whizzed past me this morning as I was walking from Union Station, and let me tell you, if I just happened to turn slightly, could have been BAM!
What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing Colorado in terms of water resources in the next 5 years? I’ve touched on this in some of my articles I’ve written for the State in the past. The decisions we make today factor into what happens years from now. The biggest challenge – certainly here in Colorado, and in the Western US and a lot of places in the world – is creating sustainable water supplies. Healthy forests, healthy watersheds are all important. You know, I point out to people that 60% of our groundwater is not renewable and is either gone or on its way to being gone. And 2/3 of our agricultural land relies on groundwater (85% of total) so we are going to have find ways to deal with that by creating those sustainable water supplies. Obviously this situation has been going on for the several decades will continue to be a challenge well more than 5 years out.
What can water users and providers do to tackle that challenge? Because water is such a source of conflict, we have got to develop an environment where people can collaborate and build relationships based on trust, whether between clients and consultants or consultants and the State. If we don’t build the framework to resolve these problems, things will continue to be polarized. We need to break down barriers, and be very conscientious that we need people to resolve these issues. There are computers everywhere and Artificial Intelligence (AI) everywhere but people created these systems, and we in turn need to create environments that support consensus building. All of the computers in the world can’t solve these problems, it takes people working together, and if they can’t, well worst-case scenario is they go to “war”. I like to collect quotes and if you asked me my favorite, I would say, “A man with water has many problems; a man without water has only one.” We have been blessed here in Colorado, even though we have been through droughts and bad times, we are way ahead of other states in terms of how we administer and manage water. I’ve always worked to be proactive, whereas many people tend to wait until something happens and then react to it.
Where do you see technology fitting in with this industry? I think technology plays a vital role with water. It’s really great to see LRE working with clients to help them manage the water data through models, which I think is really valuable. At the State we used telemetry to help us gather better data – you can’t manage what you don’t measure. We have the same number of water commissioners that we have had for 50+ years. Technology is the reason we have been able to maintain that staff. Technology is great in that it has been able to provide data and information more effectively. Weather forecasting is a great example – models now can help water users plan for the future by understanding weather trends. However, the data needs to be based on sound science and sometimes that doesn’t happen the way it’s supposed to, because data is old or inaccurate. This is a paradoxical downside to technology – it’s easy to get information really quickly and so you grab it and assume that the data behind it is solid and without error. It’s really up to the professional to use sound judgement regarding the quality of the data and to question whether the picture it draws is the right one. Another downside of technology is something that is being reflected in the current state of our political environment right now and that is communication. The same technology that allows information to be pushed out into the world rapidly, also creates impersonality. This breeds nastiness in how people talk to each other on social media because you can’t see the person behind the email or the text or the post, you can’t look at their face and see their expression. I tell people to get away from technology and sit down face to face, especially when talking about difficult issues because it adds so much depth to the communication. Technology is great but you need to balance it with good old fashioned human connections and trust people. It’s hard to build trust from just an email.
What was your first job and what did you do with your earnings? I grew up as a farm boy here in Colorado. We didn’t really get paid, the help was just sort of expected by our parents. My twin brother and I, as we got older and more capable, we also helped neighbor farmers and got paid for that. When we could drive, we got to fill our gas tanks with gas from the farm, so there was that too. The first time I remember working was when I was 7 or 8 years old, and when we finished our work, my parents bought each of us a little motorcycle that we could ride around on the farm. Even though they didn’t give us cash, we did get compensated and I certainly learned the value of hard work.
Thanks for answering these questions, Dick – it’s terrific to have you as part of the LRE team!
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