Joe Zimmerman, a steward of Steamboat Springs’ stellar water system, retires after 39-year career
April 8, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Joe Zimmerman is leaving behind quite a legacy.
For nearly four decades, this city’s water superintendent has been a key part of why residents here in Steamboat Springs always have access to some of the cleanest, clearest drinking water in the state.
Sure, it all starts as pristine snowmelt on Buffalo Pass.
But there’s a lot of work and routine maintenance that happens before that water makes it into local taps.
Zimmerman is one of the guys who help make sure that water stays pristine when it reaches its destination.
He’s the guy who often gets called when something breaks.
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And on one occasion in 1999, he was the only guy on staff who was able to climb into a very, very small crawl space below an old house on Missouri Avenue to replace a water meter.
But for all the things he has done, Zimmerman’s bragging rights come from the water and the system he has helped keep running all these years.
"I have to say it gives you a feeling of pride to know that for 39 years, we’ve never had a failing test in our drinking water. We’ve never contaminated the system, and we’ve never contaminated the environment," Zimmerman said Tuesday.
Zimmerman is retiring this month after 39 years with the city.
It’s a move that will allow him to spend more time with the family at his ranch in Yampa.
At the city, Zimmerman is a sort of Mr. Fix It.
He’s a numbers guy.
He’s a customer service guy.
He’s also a guy who is so good at spotting inaccuracies that his co-workers double and triple check their spreadsheets before emailing them to him.
"There’s going to be a big vacuum in institutional knowledge after he’s gone," wastewater treatment plant superintendent Gilbert Anderson said. "The city has done well with him. It’s quite a legacy."
As the utilities superintendent, Zimmerman helps oversee a water system that currently serves 3,200 customers.
Those customers used in excess of 415 million gallons of water last year.
"I might be prejudiced toward my line of work, but water and wastewater departments are responsible for the health and welfare of the community and the environment," Zimmerman said. "That’s our primary concern. We don’t send anybody contaminated water. We make sure all the wastewater goes where it’s supposed to go when it’s ready to go there. To me, what we do is the most critical function of a city."
More recently, Zimmerman helped to oversee the installation of new smart water meters that have made the city’s operations more efficient.
The new technology also allows the utilities department to detect potential leaks and respond faster.
Zimmerman said his life always has been "wrapped around water" because his dad was a well driller in Colorado.
Before he took the job at the city, Zimmerman was in charge of the irrigation on a ranch in California that raised thoroughbred horses and oranges.
He then served two years in the military and worked to become a surveyor before a high school buddy helped him get a job here at the city.
Jeff Peterson, an operations manager at Mount Werner Water, said Zimmerman’s customer service mentality extends beyond water service.
When Peterson couldn’t get a horse to climb into his trailer in Craig, Zimmerman and his family arrived with a larger trailer the horse instantly got into.
“It was so nice they came out and shared like that,” Peterson said.
The city will celebrate Zimmerman’s long career from 3 to 6 p.m. April 17 at a party at the Veterans of Foreign Wars lounge in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Longtime city utility engineer Jon Snyder then will replace Zimmerman.
"If you like helping people, it’s a good job to be in," Zimmerman said. "If you like protecting the environment, it’s a good job to be in. I’ve been surrounded by good people. It’s been an enjoyable 39 years."