Elvis Iacovetto, of Phippsburg, has retired after 24 years as water commissioner for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Essentially a water referee, overseeing who got how much water and when along the Yampa River and its tributaries, Iacovetto’s jurisdiction included much of South Routt County and part of Steamboat Springs.

Photo by John F. Russell

Elvis Iacovetto, of Phippsburg, has retired after 24 years as water commissioner for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Essentially a water referee, overseeing who got how much water and when along the Yampa River and its tributaries, Iacovetto’s jurisdiction included much of South Routt County and part of Steamboat Springs.

Phippsburg native Elvis Iacovetto retires from water job

Iacovetto departs from position after 24 years of service

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Elvis Iacovetto studies the flow of the Bear River below Yamcolo Reservoir on a June morning in 2006. After 24 years as a “ditch-rider,” Iacovetto retired May 1 as water commissioner for much of South Routt County and part of Steamboat Springs.

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Call division engineer Erin Light at 970-879-0272, water commissioner Andy Schaffner at 970-638-4470, or visit the Colorado Division of Water Resources site at http://water.stat...

— After 24 years of early mornings along South Routt County reservoirs, creeks and ditches, Elvis Iacovetto might be sleeping in a little bit more.

Iacovetto, a Phippsburg native, has retired from his longtime role as water commissioner for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. For more than two decades he regulated water use and flows along the upstream portion of District 58, which includes the Yampa River’s headwaters in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area — where the Yampa is known as the Bear River — through much of South Routt County and down the river to Steamboat Springs, as far as Fish Creek.

Iacovetto started most of his mornings, except during the winter, with 7 a.m. meetings at Yamcolo Reservoir. He’d help check water flows and set the spillway accordingly, to send flows downstream for ranchers and municipalities along Routt County’s primary waterway. He said he tracked about 300 diversion records in his jurisdiction.

About 95 percent of those were agricultural, meaning Iacovetto oversaw irrigation ditches, creeks and head gates on ranches.

“I don’t think I ever had a disagreement with Elvis. Anytime I needed to do something with my ditches, I’d call him,” said Joe Zimmerman, who has ranched hay and cattle south of Yampa for about four years. “I always thought he did a good job.”

Iacovetto also worked with municipal water facilities for the towns of Phippsburg and Yampa and the city of Steamboat Springs.

His last day on the job was April 30.

“It was just time to go,” Iacovetto said Thursday. “The kids are raised and gone — it was just a good time to retire.”

Division engineer Erin Light wrote in an email that Iacovetto “was passionate about his job” and served the public well. He worked under three state engineers and four division engineers during his 24 years.

Iacovetto’s replacement is local water commissioner Andrea, or Andy, Schaffner, whose jurisdiction essentially was the rest of the Yampa’s local stretch and its tributaries along the river downstream of Fish Creek, in Steamboat Springs and to the north and west. She also handled the Oak Creek area.

Schaffner is serving as commissioner for both districts until her replacement is hired, at which time she’ll move solely to Iacovetto’s district. Schaffner lives between Yampa and Toponas and is a 35-year South Routt resident.

She said working primarily closer to home has gone well so far. She took over for Iacovetto on May 1.

“It’s been wonderful. I’m just trying to find the structures at this point. I don’t know where everything is. But I know a lot of the people,” Schaffner said. “I’m looking forward greatly to being in South Routt, and the only thing bad about the job is that I have to follow Elvis — he would make anyone look bad that followed him because he did such a wonderful job.”

Refereeing

Regulating water flows can be touchy, especially during dry periods in summer when ranches are thirsty.

“It’s a tough job, and it can be very volatile when people think they deserve more water than they’re entitled to,” Zimmerman said. “I honestly never heard of any problems down in (South Routt) with those types of scenarios.”

Iacovetto’s mother, 86-year-old Louise Iacovetto, of Phippsburg, said duties on the family ranch factored into her son’s decision.

“The job meant everything to him and he was very dedicated to the job, but he also is managing the ranch … and he just felt like he wasn’t doing a good job doing that, and he just got overwhelmed with too much to do,” she said.

Elvis Iacovetto said he plans to focus on the family ranch, meaning he might not get to sleep in much, after all.

“I’m just proud of the dedication he had to the job and the fairness in his character,” Louise added.

That fairness has played out in Northwest Colorado athletic contests. Iacovetto has refereed football and basketball games in the region for decades.

He said he hopes to continue that work, using mediation skills he honed on South Routt ranches when water issues arose.

“If you can get the guys over the fence to solve the problem, that’s better than going to court,” he said.

Iacovetto said he loved that the water commissioner job paid him to be outdoors every day, working with knowledgeable ranchers during so many summers.

There certainly aren’t water shortage issues at the moment, he noted.

“It’s (like) the middle of April. We’re a month behind,” Iacovetto said Thursday, citing heavy snowpack in the high country. “At least Andy will have a good summer — there won’t be any water battles right away.”

To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com

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