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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Requiem for a Water Rascal

Jim “Fat Boy” Van Dorn died on March 11, 2016. The news of the cancer that killed him was not widespread. I first heard of it from his colleagues at the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems on March 9. Jim’s wife Terry called me on March 10. That was the Jim Van Dorn way – a private person when it came to his own life, but a selfless champion for persons in need of just about anything from money to friendship. He was well known for good BBQ recipes, professional advice on anything water, and, of all things, his “bad” hair.

I first met Jim in 1993 when I was a consulting hydrogeologist and he was the wellfield supervisor for the City of Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities (BOPU). BOPU was in the process of rehabilitating 44 wells comprising the wellfield to supplement the extensive pipelines moving water from the Snowy Range over 100 miles to the west.

The complex geology and hydrology of the wellfield was not well known beyond reconnaissance-level studies by the US Geological Survey. A little known historical fact about the wellfield was that one of the pioneers of modern groundwater hydrology, C.V. Theis, tested his mathematical equations on the Cheyenne wellfield in the 1940s. He noted that nearly every one of his limiting assumptions associated with the use of his analytical technique were violated in the Ogallala Aquifer tapped by BOPU’s wellfields.  Theis’s assessment of the Ogallala Aquifer underlying the wellfields was that it was “mediocre”.

Conceptual models were the bread and butter of every consulting hydrogeologist hired by BOPU to help develop or rehabilitate the wellfield, but all of them had to return to the drawing board after a new well was drilled. During the course of the 1990s wellfield rehabilitation, replacement well locations in northwestern area became problematic as past consulting hydrogeologists had not developed a conceptual model of this part of the wellfield due to a lack of geologic and geophysical data.

Jim suggested “witching” a new location since we had nothing to lose. He broke out two bent welding rods and started his survey, making transects across the area, trying to replicate the readings and marking the areas of “positive” readings.  The pattern of “positive” readings aligned in a manner similar to the fracture patterns we had observed elsewhere in the wellfield.  The old well scheduled for replacement declined in production to less than 200 gallons per minute.  The contractor drilled a test hole at the “witched” location, with the geologic logs indicating the possibility of increased fracturing of the well-cemented sediments in the area.  Test pumping of the new well indicated over 600 gallons per minute, much to the chagrin of one of the wellsite geologists with a freshly minted Ph.D. from Colorado School of Mines!

Jim’s work as a professional communicator spanned the classroom to the courtroom. He was a skilled negotiator with an established track record ranging from acquiring access across private property to water sharing with long-established ranch families, as well as the wealthy newcomers who were gentrifying the southeastern Wyoming ranchlands. Jim was instrumental in preserving BOPU’s groundwater rights as the race to the pumps near the wellfields ramped up with subdivision development. While hydrologists watched water move through well screens or across their computer screens, Jim worked with both the lawyers and geologists in the melodramas found on the movie screen – fightin’ over water. Jim’s encyclopedic knowledge of the wellfield was key to fighting off the spaghetti western water wars of the late 1990s and early 2000 in western Laramie County.

Jim was a strong supporter of partnering with universities and training the next generation of water professionals.  As one of the first public water systems to comply with the Wyoming Wellhead Protection Program, Jim used the BOPU wellfield as an opportunity for social learning.  Jim developed the scope of work for BOPU to fund a graduate student in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wyoming to delineate the wellhead protection areas (WHPAs) for the BOPU wellfield.

One learns the difference between a friend and an acquaintance once you move. Jim always contacted me early to meet up at national groundwater conferences. One year he traveled to the end of the “Oregon Trail” to visit me while I was in graduate school; he even helped me teach a class on water systems during a summer session. He enjoyed driving his Lincoln Continental long distances. His love affair for travel served him well in his encore career.

Jim left BOPU in 2006 to join Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems (WARWS) as a circuit rider. He asked that I write a letter of recommendation to accompany his application, which was an easy task for me to complete. His unique knowledge of well-based public water systems was of great value to WARWS since the vast majority of rural water systems in Wyoming are dependent on wells. I recall Executive Director Mark Pepper commenting at a conference that my letter read like Jim could jump tall buildings in a single bound. He later learned that Jim could, and did so frequently, while servicing Wyoming rural water systems.

Jim loved working for WARWS. He valued the collegiality of all that worked with him, both at WARWS, and all of his “customers” located across Wyoming. He was famous for his controversial articles on water history in the state (sometimes co-written with me) and the “Ask Hank” columns with Hank Baski. His regular “Fat Boy’s Kitchen” columns and commentary on cooking high energy and mega-calorie recipes were must reads in each issue of The Wyoming Connection.

Returning to Jim’s “bad” hair days. Unlike me, Jim was famous for both having lots of hair and the audacity to wear it long as he did during his Harley Davidson days. Many folks just considered Jim’s hair as a symbol of his rebellious and independent nature. But a few of us knew the real reason – Jim regularly grew his hair long so it could be harvested and used for wigs for cancer patients.

Mark Twain once said, “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded”. Most folks will agree, Jim was an accomplished son, brother, husband, father, water dowser, water professional, and friend. He will be missed by all of the waitpersons and motel staff he regularly encountered on his tours as a circuit rider. Water systems across Wyoming are all in better shape than before Jim visited. He might have appeared to be irascible to some, as he did not suffer fools gladly who claimed “accomplishments” in the water business. But in the end, Jim was a valued colleague and friend to all. He made Wyoming a better place. He will be sorely missed.

1 comment:

  1. اليك خدمات منزلية متقدمة تساعدنا علي الارتقاء بشركة ركن البيت في مدينة الدمام من خلال اعمالها المتميزة التي تقدمها في مجال النظافة والقضاء علي الحشرات فخدماتنا متنوعة مثل شركة تنظيف بالدمام التي تكون متخصصة في اعمال النظافة العامة التي تتمثل في المنشأت الكبيرة والصغيرة بجميع انواع واليك خدمة متميزة ايضا وهي شركة تنظيف فلل بالدمام التي تكون لديها كل الامكانيات المثالية التي تساعدنا في تنفيذ خدمات نظافة الفلل المستعملة والمفروشة بواسطة فريق فني لديه كل الامكانيات التي تساعده في تقديم ذلك ولديك خدمة ايضا نظافة الشقق بواسطة شركة تنظيف شقق بالدمام وعمل التنظيف اللازم لها بواسطة فريق لديه اعمال التميز والتنفيذ في تقديم الخدمات المخصصة في اعمال النظافة واليك خدمة مثالية نقدمها في القضاء علي الحشرات الصغيرة بواسطة مبيدات طبيعة تساعدنا في ذلك فتعاملك مع شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام لديها امكانيات متميزة تساعدك علي ان تخلصك من الحشرات لان تجد كل ذلك الا من خلال ركن البيت التي لديها كل الامكانيات في البحث عن شركة رش مبيدات بالدمام التي تقوم بالرش بواسطة فني مختص معه الادوات اللازمة للقيام بذلك وعطائك الضمانات اللازمة علي ذلك واليك خدمة نقل اثاث منزلية تساعدك في الوصول الي مكانك الجديد بواسطة شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام التي لديها كل الامكانيات والسيارات التي تساعدك علي تحقيق ذلك