Remembering Steve Fearn

Steve Fearn, Silverton resident and former board member of Water Education Colorado (formerly the Colorado Foundation for Water Education), the Colorado Water Congress, and Southwestern Water Conservation District passed away in late April. Steve Fearn was kind, dedicated, and gently guided Water Education Colorado with his wisdom. He will be missed.

Chris Treese, WEco board member, Colorado Water Congress board member, and external affairs manager at the Colorado River District, remembers Steve Fearn in the post below.

image031 (1)Steve Fearn was that rare, quiet, competent guy whom everyone listened to when he spoke. Those of us lucky enough to serve with Steve – and in my case on two different boards – were sometimes blessed to also hear him talk about his life.

Steve was an explorer, living and working around the world. He was a miner and an environmentalist in the truest sense of the word. He cared deeply about the environment, working tirelessly to improve water quality and Coloradans’ knowledge about Colorado’s precious water resources.

Steve was a man who cared about water, cared deeply about water. Serving with him on the boards of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education (now Water Education Colorado) and the Colorado Water Congress, I valued his consistent voice of calm reason and seasoned perspective. Steve also served for 22 years on the Southwestern Water Conservation District board as the sole representative for San Juan County. All who benefitted from his counsel and guidance already miss him.

image034Never one to complain, regardless of the meeting location Steve was always the one who drove the farthest and complained the least. I recall a relatively recent meeting of our two boards where Steve dutifully showed up but was suffering from one of those episodes of recurrent malaria that plagued and ultimately took him. He was clearly suffering and before we were half-way into the meeting, even his ability to croak out a whisper had gone silent, but not a word of complaint or self-pity. Nor did he choose to leave the meeting early, though everyone would have understood.

Steve had a rich personal background and broad breadth of personal expertise, but he consistently sought out others’ opinions and not just those likely to agree with him. In the early 1990s, seeking common ground on the often intractable and always divisive issue of abandoned mines, EPA and the water quality concerns of the headwaters, Steve formed the Animas Rivers Stakeholders Group. His formative efforts with that group, as with all of the initiatives he dedicated himself to, were collaborative. More than listening to others, he actively sought out different opinions and perspectives and always searched for a common understanding.  

Anyone who chooses not only to live in Silverton but remain there year-round for more than 40 years of brutal winters, isolating snow storms and snow slides, and enduring its endless cycle of boom and bust is made of the finest mettle. Steve never had to mine that metal, it was always a part of him.

I want to be Steve Fearn when I grow up.

Steve will be sorely missed but fondly remembered by all who had the pleasure of knowing and working with him.

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Steve was honored as a Southwestern Water Conservation District emeritus director last year. Their board passed the following resolution:


Southwestern Water Conservation District

In Appreciation of Steve Fearn

Whereas, the Southwestern Water Conservation District (District) was established pursuant to C.R.S. 37-47-101 to protect, conserve and develop water resources of the Dolores and San Juan River Basins across nine counties; and

Whereas, Steve Fearn grew up in Boulder and has lived on the Western Slope since 1970. He represented San Juan County on the District board for 22 years, with 10 of those years as vice-president. During his tenure on the board, Steve was a key player in many important efforts, including the construction of Lake Nighthorse and successful settlement of the Animas-La Plata Project water rights; and

Whereas, Steve is a founding member of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which has seen many successes in improving water quality by remediating abandoned mine sites in southwestern Colorado; he is also a critical collaborator in the ten-year River Protection Workgroup process, whose mission is to negotiate at a grassroots level an appropriate balance between stream protections and development; Steve has also represented San Juan County on the Southwest Basin Roundtable; and

WhereaS, statewide, Steve has served as president and longtime board member of the Colorado Water Congress and a board member of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education; from Silverton and often with the farthest to travel, Steve has rarely missed a meeting of either organization, a demonstration of his stalwart commitment to water; and

Whereas, Steve’s willingness to drive Coal Bank and Molas Passes in almost any weather conditions for a water meeting is a laudable if not incredible sacrifice; and

Whereas, Steve’s breadth of experience, his tact and level-headedness, and ability to objectively critique issues have been invaluable assets to the District;

Now Therefore Be It Resolved that the Board of Directors of the Southwestern Water Conservation District expresses its deepest gratitude and appreciation for Steve Fearn’s legacy of protecting southwestern Colorado water user needs with statesmanship and dedication to our communities, and look forward to his continued involvement as a Director Emeritus.

Dated this 6th day of April 2017

Read more about Steve Fearn here.

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