Commentary: Farewell to the waterkeeper

Blue River water commissioner Scott Hummer takes reading at an irrigation ditch in the Lower Blue, near Heeney.

Blue River water commissioner Scott Hummer heads for the Front Range; farewell bash set for 5 p.m. at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — When I first moved to Summit County and started reporting on environmental issues, I quickly learned that water is at the heart of so much of what we think about and talk about on a daily basis. I had a little bit of background knowledge, thanks to a previous stint with the Mono Lake Committee, but I had a lot to learn.

I know a bit more now, and much of it I learned from Blue River water commissioner Scott Hummer, who from day one was incredibly patient, considerate, professional and transparent in explaining what’s going on with our most precious resource.

Hummer has been nothing less than a fountain of water knowledge, and I feel lucky that I was able to fill a thimble-full from that rich source. He’s helped me immeasurably in explaining some of the complexities of water issues to readers, and he’s never been afraid to tell it like it is, whether its about heavy metal pollution in the Snake River, changes in runoff from beetle-killed lodgepole or the consistent message that we need to be better stewards of this critical resource.

Scott Hummer at a water gauge on Tenmile Creek.

Sometimes, the information irks the powers-that-be, for example when resorts draw so much water for snowmaking that stream flows drop perilously close to — or sometimes even below — levels set to protect the environment.

While other officials, both on the state and local level, have been willing to turn a blind eye, with the rationale that snowmaking is so important economically that it outweighs everything else, Hummer has always balanced the administration of water rights with the fundamental precept that water, at its essence, is part of the public commons, and that water rights have to be exercised responsibly.

In other words (and I hope I’m not putting inappropriate words in his mouth), there’s the letter of the law, which he always adhered to; then there’s an ethical and moral dimension to the way we use water. I’ve always believed that Hummer weighed those factors, which is a huge deal in the button-down world of water law.

Without being judgmental, and always respecting adjudicated water rights, Hummer felt that the public should know what’s going on with the resource, setting a stellar example that many other public servants could learn from.

After all the interviews during all those years, I guess the take-home message is that we shouldn’t ever, ever take our water for granted and that we need to keep asking tough questions about whether our current path is sustainable.

Now, after more than 20 years of administering water rights in one of the state’s most critical watersheds, Hummer is moving on to take a position with an irrigation consortium in the northern Front Range. Tonight is your chance to say farewell to the waterkeeper, with a celebration starting at 5 p.m. at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco.

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