Retiring district manager reflects on time with LTWD; shares thoughts on future water needs

By Katie Harris

The Surveyor

Whether we’re rinsing off in the shower, running the sprinklers, or enjoying a cool drink, access to clean water is something we laypeople not only expect, but take for granted on a daily basis.

For those who bring the water from the ground to our taps though, the process is anything but simple. Mike Cook, who will retire this month after 25 years with the Little Thompson Water District (LTWD), can attest to just how much work goes in to ensuring every Berthoud resident gets clean, quality water every single time.

Mike Cook stands outside of a Berthoud Habitat for Humanity build where he volunteers.

As district manager for the past three years, and district engineer for more than two decades before that, Cook has played a large role in LTWD’s efforts to keep up with the growing demand for water that comes along with an increasing population.

A third-generation Colorado native, Cook moved to Berthoud in 1988 with his wife and fellow engineer, Marilyn, to raise a family. When he came across the job opening at the water district, the Colorado School of Mines grad jumped on the opportunity to leave his consulting job and work for LTWD.

“It was a perfect time to make a change that would allow me to meet my two girls at the school bus every day at 3:30,” said Cook. He spent his early days with LTWD at the old district office on Welch Avenue, upgrading and improving the system to keep water in the pipes, and tackling development needs.

Upon being named district manager, Cook’s day-to-day responsibilities shifted to overseeing strategic planning and operations for the district. With nearly three times as many customers as 20 years prior, and three times as many employees, these were no small tasks, but having been with the district for so long, Cook had experience in helping his team turn lofty visions into reality.

“Building the Dry Creek Dam (2004-2007) was the gold nugget of our accomplishments,” he said. “We also merged with Arkins Water Association near Masonville (2000) as well as Town of Mead Water Service (2002), and acquired Windy Gap shares to diversify our water resources (ongoing for the past 12 years).”

Cook considers the acquisition of new water sources to be one of the greatest needs LTWD has faced over his time with the district, which currently serves three counties across seven towns.

“We’ve had to continuously diversify so that we’re not totally dependent on the Colorado River, which has a lot less water in it than it did when we based our plans on it, and which is shared with surrounding states,” said Cook. “We are largely accomplishing this through shares of Handy Ditch and Home Supply Ditch.”

While drought continues to present challenges in water supply, development pressures increasingly affect demand.

“Trying to coordinate with land-use planning is a big challenge,” Cook explained. “A lot of people want to do developments, mostly along the I-25 corridor. Developers have to bring their own water in order to develop, and that’s a bigger and bigger challenge. The district always walks the fine line of trying not to promote or inhibit development. We’re a utility; a service. Our job is to provide that service to those in our service area who need it.”

Inevitably, when supply decreases and demand increases, costs rise.

“The cost of water shares has driven the price of water taps up drastically — it just keeps going up, and I don’t know if there’s an end in sight,” said Cook. “We don’t set those prices; we just try to keep up with them.”

Cook said the district is focusing on a combination of coordinating land-use planning with water planning, diversifying resources, increasing storage, and making efforts in conservation to keep things running smoothly in the not-so-distant future.

As for Cook’s future, he and his wife Marilyn plan to stay in Berthoud, where they volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and Cook serves on the Berthoud Fire Protection Board of Directors. They look forward to spending time with their daughters, both of whom followed in their parents’ footsteps and currently work as engineers in Wyoming and Nevada.

Amber Coffman, who Cook hired to replace him as district engineer when he moved up to district manager three years ago, will again step up to the plate to take on the exciting, if challenging, job of district manager when Cook retires on May 28.

Coffman lives in the district and has worked for LTWD for more than a decade, assisting the district with planning before being hired on as an employee. Cook said she’s familiar with the work that needs to be done and more than up to the task.

“It’s a difficult thing to retire,” said Cook. “It’s hard to leave everything behind that I’ve worked on for so long, but it’s an exciting thing, too.”

Those wishing to bid Mike Cook farewell as he journeys into retirement are invited to a LTWD-hosted open house on May 28 from 2-5 p.m. at the district offices, 835 E. Hwy. 56, Berthoud.

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