Gary Bostrom, a man who spent more than 30 years in an ultimately successful effort to assure the long-term water supply of Colorado Springs, died Tuesday of an apparent heart attack while cycling on the Santa Fe Trail in north Colorado Springs. Bostrom, 60, had retired from Colorado Springs Utilities as water services director in 2015. He is survived by his wife Sara and four children.
A Colorado Springs native, Bostrom first became interested in water when, climbing Pikes Peak in 1978, he drank out of a mountain stream and was rewarded with a severe bacterial infection.
The next year he applied for a job at Colorado Springs Utilities. He got the job, and stayed there for a third of a century. We’re lucky that he did — absent Bostrom’s tenacity, wisdom and empathy, it’s doubtful that Colorado Springs would have succeeded in building the Southern Delivery System.
When Bostrom joined CSU as a junior employee, senior water managers and city elected officials believed that acquiring new water sources was a simple process. You acquired rights to Western Slope water, you built reservoirs, diversion structures pump stations and pipelines, and transported the water to Colorado Springs. The tough, no nonsense men who conceived and created such projects were called “water buffalos” — and they were used to getting what they wanted.
But when a coalition of environmentalists, ranchers, ski area owners and Eagle County residents came together to block CSU’s Homestake II project from taking water from the Holy Cross Wilderness Area in the 1980s, it became clear that another approach and other alternatives would have to be found.
It was a lengthy process, one that Bostrom was engaged in from its inception.
I came to know Gary when I joined city council in 1991. In those days, Mayor Bob Isaac was firmly in control of CSU water policy (or so it seemed from the perspective of a junior city councillor!), and the city still believed it could build Homestake II. We even appealed the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to support the Eagle County Commissioners denial of a construction permit for the project to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Senior managers told us what to do, while Gary took the time to explain things. He became a go-to guy for us and for those who succeeded us.
In 1996, CSU began to lay the groundwork for the Southern Delivery System, which would take water from Pueblo Reservoir and pump it uphill to Colorado Springs and other municipal users.
CSU’s water managers believed that such a project would be the easiest to permit and build.
“It was just a pipeline,” Gary told me in a 2014 interview. “What could go wrong?”
A lot, as it turned out. Facing fierce opposition from Bob Rawlings and the Pueblo Chieftain as well as distrust and suspicion from much of the Pueblo community, Colorado Springs toyed with the “tough guy” approach. That exacerbated the dispute, and for a couple of years it looked as if the Pueblo County Commissioners would do what their Eagle County counterparts had done before; deny a project construction permit and leave Colorado Springs high and dry.
The alternative: build trust, negotiate in good faith and build a solution that would benefit both cities. That SDS was finally completed in 2016 was a remarkable achievement, and Gary Bostrom deserves much of the credit.
Gary never lied, blustered, deceived or misled. He was open, helpful and sure of his facts. He didn’t demonize those who disagreed with him, wasn’t afraid to change his position if the facts supported change and built an enviable reputation as a decent, thoughtful and honorable guy. SDS didn’t get built because we bullied Pueblo and made them toe the line, but because we took Bostrom’s path of conciliation, cooperation and the search for mutual benefit.
Gary once said that his goal in life was “To wake on the morning they turned on the switch for Southern Delivery System, and retire in the afternoon.” He missed it by a year, retiring in 2015.
Being Gary, he didn’t really retire. He served as vice president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board, and was a member of the parks and recreation advisory board
Gary was both the last of the old breed, and the first of the new. Like 1980s Utility Director Jim Philips, he was a Colorado Springs native who spent his entire working life with CSU. But he was a thoroughly modern guy, as sensitive to the nuances of professional relationships as he was knowledgeable about the arcana of water law and policy.
In our city’s long history, a handful of men and women have had disproportionate impacts upon our city’s health, welfare and prosperity. Gary Bostrom was one.
I will miss him.