Jim Dunlap was county commissioner, member of various water agencies

  • A celebration of Dunlap’s life will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 11 at the McGee Park Convention Center.
  • Dunlap served three terms on the San Juan County Commission.
  • He was also a founding and current member of the San Juan Water Commission.

FARMINGTON — Family and friends are mourning the recent passing of Jim Dunlap, former San Juan County commissioner, rancher and farmer, considered perhaps the region’s foremost authority on water.

Dunlap, an 89-year-old New Mexico native, died May 10 in Farmington after experiencing complications from a fall he suffered on April 24, according to his widow, Chris Dunlap.

A celebration of his life will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 11 at the McGee Park Convention Center, 41 County Road 5568 between Farmington and Bloomfield.

Dunlap served three terms on the County Commission, according to his obituary, but he was best known for his work with various agencies and organizations that addressed water issues throughout San Juan County and the Four Corners area.

“It’s a huge loss,” said Aaron Chavez, executive director of the San Juan Water Commission, who had known Dunlap for more than 20 years, considered him a mentor and relied heavily on his leadership.

Chavez said Dunlap, who was a founding member of the San Juan Water Commission and remained in that capacity until his death, had extensive institutional knowledge of the history of water systems in the south. -west and was always able to offer helpful information or insight if there was a problem. or problems have occurred.

“He was always able to point to a time or place where something similar happened and give great advice,” Chavez said. “…He was at the base of the water commission.

Chris Dunlap said her late husband was often encouraged by people around him to write a book about his experiences as a member of this organization, as well as his time with the Lower Valley Water Users Cooperative Association in Kirtland, New Mexico Rural Water Association. and the National Rural Water Association, of which he was president from 1996 to 1998.

Jim Dunlap

The amount of knowledge he had accumulated over the years about how these agencies operated was invaluable, she said, and she now fears that much of that mastery of history had been lost.

But Jim Dunlap always downplayed her importance and contributions to the community, she said.

“I was bragging about him, and he was like, ‘Oh, no, you don’t need to brag about that,'” she recalled.

Chris Dunlap said her husband’s volunteerism defined him in many ways and that it was only on rare occasions that he was paid for the work he did on behalf of his community.

“I always called him a professional volunteer,” she said. “I think he just felt like when you live in a community you have to improve it, strive to make your community a better place to live.”

Jim Dunlap presses the button to begin a water release from Nighthorse Lake March 15, 2021, in Durango, Colorado.

Jim Dunlap was already deeply involved in his community when he and Chris met in July 1993. She said he struck her as “such a gentleman” and she recalled that he was the first man who had told her never lifted his hat. Their courtship was short-lived and they married in November that year, beginning a 29-year marriage that saw them travel across the region and country to attend water conferences and address the affairs of the various water agencies to which he belonged.

“Most people wouldn’t think it was fun, but it was interesting to me,” Chris said.

Chavez recalled how later in life Jim Dunlap was relegated to getting around these lectures in a motorized cart due to his lack of mobility. But that didn’t stop him from making the rounds, Chavez said.

“He always had all the members around him,” Chavez said with a laugh. “You would see him speeding through the halls, going 100 miles an hour, then slamming on his brakes.”

Chavez said he was fresh out of college when he had to make his first presentation to the San Juan Water Commission 20 years ago. The experience was new to him, he said, and his nervousness was evident to everyone in the room.

Chavez pulled off the presentation, but afterwards, he said, Dunlap couldn’t resist telling him about his anxiety.

The late Jim Dunlap was described by his wife Chris Dunlap as "a professional volunteer."

“What I learned from that was that if he didn’t tease you, he didn’t like you,” Chavez said.

As an elected official or servant of the community, Dunlap was a straight shooter, Chavez said, the kind of representative of the people who didn’t play politics or mince words about what he thought.

“He always had ideas and thought outside the box,” Chavez said. “If he didn’t like something, he let you know. He didn’t coat it. I really appreciated that about him because you knew where he was at.”

Chris Dunlap said the endeavor her late husband always expressed the greatest satisfaction to be a part of was the development of the Animas-La Plata Project, a water impoundment project for San Juan County in New Mexico and La Plata and Montezuma counties in Colorado which led to the formation of Nighthorse Lake. It took years for the plan to be finalized and approved, and Chris Dunlap said there was no shortage of controversy around him as this process unfolded.

Even so, Jim Dunlap couldn’t have been prouder when it was completed, she said. As his obituary notes, when the process of filling Nighthorse Lake with water began on June 29, 2011, he was in charge.

“It was a huge achievement, even though it was cut back several times,” said Chris Dunlap. “…It was incredibly important.

Her late husband’s dedication to such causes was unparalleled, she said, adding that the whole region had lost a great champion at a time when water issues were greater than ever.

“He loved the rural water in New Mexico,” she said. “He was passionate about it.”

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.

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