BERTHOUD — No one knows the importance of water better than a farmer on Colorado’s arid eastern plains. So when Eric Wilkerson retired after 24 years as general manager of the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, it was an easy decision to promote someone who grew up on such a farm to fill the position.
Brad Wind, who was named general manager of Northern Water in April, is still involved in his parents’ farming operation near Brush, raising corn and winter wheat on nearly 1,000 irrigated acres.
“Growing up on that farm, I realized the value of water,” Wind said, “So after graduating from Brush High School” — home of perhaps Colorado’s best team name, the Beetdiggers — “I tended to veer toward water resource management.” Wind received bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering and agricultural engineering from Colorado State University, then earned master’s degrees in business administration from CSU and in agricultural engineering from the University of California at Davis.
“After going to school for way too long,” he said, “I landed at Northern Water and never looked back.”
He joined the utility in 1994 as an engineer, and served as assistant general manager of Northern Water’s administration and operations divisions before ascending to the top job at the organization that manages storage and transportation of water from the Western Slope to nearly 1 million customers in eight Front Range counties.
Wind is the sixth general manager in Northern Water’s 81-year history. Before Wilkinson, there was J.M. Dille, J.R. “Bob” Barkley, E.F. Phipps and Larry Simpson.
Wind knows there won’t be smooth sailing on Northern’s water.
“There will be plenty of challenges for folks to figure out where we’re going in this era of limited resources,” he said. “We find ourselves at a time of transitioning our systems to be able to provide water supplies to more municipalities on a 24/7 basis.”
Advancing the Windy Gap firming project is a big item on the agenda, he said, as is winning final U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval for the bitterly contentious Northern Integrated Supply Project, which has been on the drawing board for 15 years. NISP would provide approximately 40,000 acre-feet of water each year to more than a dozen cities and towns and four water districts. If approved, NISP’s two reservoirs would store a total of more than 215,000 acre-feet of water.
“Allowing for those projects would meet the gap in water supply that’s crystal clear to us as we look at the data” of growth along the northern Front Range, Wind said. However, he added cautions typical of the farmer he is.
“We need to have a thoughtful discussion around an entire region that’s sensitive to the needs of agriculture, and not promoting things that lead to buying farms and drying those farms up,” Wind said. “In that interim period, we’ll have great conversations about the limitation of water, questioning how much is taken off of irrigable lands.”