Steamboat’s new water resources manager excited to take on challenging, crucial role
Julie Baxter, a senior planner with the city of Steamboat Springs, has accepted a new position just across the way from the planning department.
Baxter has been tapped as the new water resources manager following Kelly Romero-Heaney’s departure from the role.
“I wanted to get back into the water world, into water resources, planning for climate change, drought and wildfires and those types of issues,” Baxter said. “Those are the things that I’m more passionate about.”
Before joining the city as a senior planner, Baxter worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency based in Denver, managing six states in the Rocky Mountain region.
While in that position, Baxter worked on long-range planning to help communities reduce their risk of wildfires, earthquakes and other disasters in the region. After the 2013 floods that devastated Colorado’s Front Range, leaving nine dead and $4 billion in damages, Baxter worked closely with state and municipal governments in long-term flood recovery.
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“Climate change and those impacts with drought and wildfires are really pushing us into more uncharted territory in the water resources management,” Baxter said, who noted the city has been doing long-range planning for those issues over the past few years.
The main job of the city’s water resources manager is to manage the city’s water rights portfolio and protect the city’s stretch of the Yampa River, which fuels several aspects of Routt County’s economy, including, tourism, recreation and agriculture.
“This role is about just proactive planning in advance of demand,” Baxter said.
While climate change has caused the Yampa Valley to see worsening droughts, wildfires and climbing temperatures, all of which have severe impacts on water, Baxter said her position will also focus on Steamboat’s growing population, which also affects water.
“The Yampa River is the lifeblood of the community and runs right through the heart of it,” she said.
Steamboat Public Works Director Jon Snyder, who oversees the city’s water resources department, said Baxter will be inheriting a long list of difficult topics to conquer, particularly with wildfires plaguing much of the West.
Romero-Heaney, the former water resources manager and assistant director for water policy for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the position is important because it works with representatives from both the government and private sector, and needs to balance the needs and interests of varying groups.
“Our community is unique in that we all work together no matter our background or our interest,” Romero-Heaney said. “It’s common with someone with an agricultural background to team up with someone with a recreation interest or an environmental interest.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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