Gerry was born in Niagara Falls, New York and raised in Steubenville, Ohio. He graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1973. He and his wife headed west in the summer of 1974, camping in a tent for several months and running out of money about the time they arrived in Colorado.
Gerry found work with the City of Boulder but was looking for a smaller town and a smaller organization. He was hired the manage the Evergreen Sanitation District (ESD) in 1977 when there were about 900 wastewater customers. Early on, ESD took on servicing of several other small sanitation districts (Kittredge, West Jeff, North Evergreen, Evergreen Central, Upper Bear Creek, Wah Keeney Park, Bergen Park, and then El Rancho).
“A lot happened about that time,” said Gerry. “Ross Grimes was president of the sanitation board when the US Corps of Engineers said the dam was unsafe and the City and County of Denver said, ‘We’ll tear it town’ with a cost of half a million dollars to repair. The US Corps engineers had a fear that, because the sides of the dam were not tied into bedrock, it might tilt on its axis, when the abutments were overtopped during a 500-year flood.
Public Service owned the water system in town and wanted to raise the base water rate to $20, inspiring leaders to combine water and sanitation services under the name of the Evergreen Metropolitan District (EMD) in 1979.
“We had to sell bonds that were funded through all the districts to guarantee revenue,” Gerry explained. Tom Ware, Bill Ackerman, Dick Tucker and Gordon Nelson were on the board at the time. They went to New York after forming the district, sold the bond issue ($7.5 million) and bought the water system. EMD entered into a contract to lease Evergreen Lake from the City and County of Denver, gaining the water behind the dam as an emergency supply during a drought year.
“The biggest cost was to fix the dam,” Gerry said, going on to say EMD was then required to provide the same level of recreational services as had been provided previously. “We entered into an agreement with Jeffco Open Space (JOS) to provide those services. JOS paid $400,000 to EMD for those privileges, and that money was used to repair the dam. In 1980, JOS subleased that contract to the Evergreen Park and Recreation District (EPRD). The 50-year lease will come up for renewal in 2030, at which time it can be extended for a 25-year period.
The dam, built in 1928, was not built for flood control, Gerry emphasized. Evergreen Lake was created as part of the Denver Mountain Parks Department plan, as a jewel in the crown of the Denver Mountain Parks for the residents of Denver. “It’s definitely not a flood control dam because it’s like a full bathtub,” Gerry says. “What water you put in, comes out.”
The concrete dam structure was reinforced with extensive cabling 20 feet into bedrock on either side and across the spillway. These cables were then post tensioned to 800,000 lbs, which provided the stabilization the US Corps of Engineers required. The spillway is 6 feet tall and stretches 196 feet from side to side.
The spillway – meant to regulate the flow of water – is designed to handle the 100-year flood, which is 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The last 100-year flood was in 1896, killing numerous people along Bear Creek, and carrying 9000 cfs in the form of a 30-foot wall of water down into the Town of Morrison. The average flow over the spillway is about 30 cfs. During the flooding of 2013, the number reached a record 1,300 cfs.
When Evergreen Lake filled in upon creation of the dam, it had a capacity of 669 acre-feet of water. By about 1980, enough silt had flowed into and settled at the bottom of the lake that the capacity was only about 400 acre feet. Different options were considered, and dredging was chosen as the solution.
“It took 5 years to permit. Mainly because a group of local residents thought dredging would be detrimental to the existing wetlands around the lake,” Gerry said. Dredging started in 1986 and continued for four years. In 1990, EMD re-established the wetlands, replanting wetland grasses and cattails, and leveled the property that would later become home to the log structure known as Evergreen Lake House.
EMD received some notoriety for creating a treatment system for the tailings during the dredging process, as the process developed was new in this country. It received front-cover exposure with an article in the International Dredge Review.
The District’s water system is very complicated for a small system mainly due to the fact that there’s a pump station at the bottom of every valley and a reservoir at the top of every mountain in Evergreen. Along with expansion of the water system, they’ve been rebuilding pipes and reservoirs, as well as the water plant system over the past 30 years.
“Regulations for wastewater have changed many times in the last 30 years as well. That’s caused the district to upgrade its facilities three times – and there’s another upgrade on the way,” Gerry points out. “We’ve had a capital project nonstop for 34 years until the past couple of years.”
Below-zero temps for weeks on end in the late 1970s caused water mains to freeze, necessitating digging up pipes, warming lines and laying the pipes deeper. In the 1990s, high water in Bear Creek allowed silt to wash back in Evergreen Lake. “And during the drought of 2000-01-02, we had to tell people not to use water for outside uses,” Gerry said while recapping some of the low points of his career. “During that time we were accused of killing the fish [downstream],” when Bear Creek stopped flowing because the District was retaining (and using) a 3-4 months’ supply of water behind the dam.
In the early 1990s there was a giardia scare, although not traced to the Evergreen water supply; but the recent inhabitation by beavers was thought by some to have been the cause. After beavers had downed all the trees near the lake by Lakepoint Center, EMD conducted live trapping and the relocation of the 5 or so beavers. “Since then the District installed a membrane plant in 2002 which removes particles down to .01 of a micron – the best technology available to this day,” Gerry says reassuringly. “The District water treatment plant has no more fear of giardia spores.”
The blizzard in March of 2003 that shut down Evergreen for a week, made EMD realize it could not get by with two portable generators to run all the pump stations. “We couldn’t get there [with the generators] because the streets were not plowed. We needed a generator at every water pump station and every sewage lift station in all the districts.” The districts now have18 generators big enough to run huge pumps, each costing between $60,000 - $150,000.
The flooding of September, 2013, caused a lot of silt and debris to settle in the lake, again reducing the storage capacity of the lake. “We now have 515 acre feet of storage.” Prolonged, smaller dredge projects are planned.
Flooding along Upper Bear Creek caused six sewer crossings to be washed away, draining Bear Creek into the sewage system. “This resulted in water shooting out of the manholes in downtown Evergreen that contained sewage,” Gerry said.
During the 2013 flooding, the amount of water at the spillway measured around 12 inches and the flow measured around 1300 cfs at the greatest flow and would be considered a 25-year flood.
In September of 1997 EMD employees moved into new administrative offices in their own building on Stagecoach Boulevard. Employees have grown from 4.5 to 28 in the 37 years Gerry has been at the helm.
As of 2014, EMD still manages four boards for the remaining special districts, billing for water and sanitation and passing along the wastewater receipts to the respective districts. There are currently 5,860 customers.
When insurance companies stopped insuring special districts and municipalities because of the amount of risk in the 1980s, the Special District Association put together a task force, to address the issue. The association implemented an insurance pool, keeping the rates “extremely low” since 1988. Gerry was on the steering committee that formed the district pool and served on the first board of directors of the pool. For many years he personally processed the claims in Colorado. In 2012 Gerry was named Special District Manager of the Year by the Association.
Gerry will retire from his position at EMD in early February of 2014 after 37 years as General Manager. Dave Lighthart a long time District employee, and past Operations Manager will take his place.