Steamboat’s water resources manager accepts statewide position
Though Kelly Romero-Heaney worked as the Steamboat Springs water resources manager for only seven years, she set the department 20 to 30 years ahead with her work on water rights.
“We’re planning for growth, we’re planning for drought, we’re planning for climate change, and we’re planning for increased wildfire risk,” said Jon Snyder, Steamboat public works director who oversaw Romero-Heaney. “Her work launched us into the future.”
Romero-Heaney has accepted a position as assistant director for water policy for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Her last day with the city is Thursday.
“I want to be in a position to preserve the natural resources of Colorado for the next seven generations of my family,” said Romero-Heaney, who grew up on the Front Range and has generational ties to the state. “Our community is unique in that we all work together no matter our background or our interest.”
Before joining the city, Romero-Heaney worked in the private and government sector as a consultant, hydrologist, environmental specialist and wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service.
“Kelly has been a leader in water issues at her current position with the city of Steamboat and has over 20 years of experience in natural resource issues,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Kelly’s background and experience will help the department as we tackle important priorities.”
During her time in Steamboat, Romero-Heaney launched one of the first stream management plans after the adoption of the Colorado Water Plan and partnered with The Nature Conservancy to create the Yampa River Fund, a $4.5 million endowment for river restoration and agricultural improvements. She attributed much of that success to the city’s passion for its water and desire to take care of the Yampa River.
“It is pretty amazing to get to work on the Yampa River, because it’s uniquely wild, and it’s uniquely healthy,” Romero-Heaney said.
Steamboat City Manager Gary Suiter said replacing Romero-Heaney may be difficult because of the specialized nature of her position and finding someone with her expertise level may be difficult.
“Kelly will leave some huge shoes to fill,” Suiter said.
In addition to the challenges that come with finding a water expert, Suiter said potential employees sometimes have to turn down jobs due to Steamboat’s high cost of living and lack of affordable housing.
“Any time you’re doing recruitment in these resort areas, you have to be thinking about housing and make the applicant aware of it up front,” Suiter said. “We’re always thinking about housing.”
Suiter said the city will begin recruiting for the position by the end of the week and will advertise through trade journals and other sources targeting water experts. He expects the interviews to be both in-person and over Zoom the next few months, and he hopes to have the position filled by the fall. The salary ranges from $69,185 to $100,318, depending on experience.
“There are a lot of folks employed doing water issues in the West,” Suiter said. “I still expect it will be a difficult recruiting process.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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