Paul Fanning recently retired after more than 20 years with Pueblo Water, the independent water utility.
Once an aspiring professional musician, he had hoped to get back into the musical side of his life, it didn’t quite work out that way. The water continues to have a strong hold on him, and he has answered the call.
The way he puts it, Fanning began his education at Southern Colorado State College, which is now Colorado State University-Pueblo, but he dropped out to become a rock and roll star.
Fanning plays guitar and plays bass, drums, mandolin, ukulele and keyboard.
âIt didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would,â he said. âA teacher from SCSC, a mentor, moved to the University of Wyoming, so I moved to Laramie and went to Wyoming for the theater. I didn’t complete this degree, I then headed to Cal State Fullerton. “
By this time he and his wife, Sylvia, had twin sons, “so we went back to Pueblo.”
He has been playing all the right notes in the aquatic arena for a long time.
The former spokesperson and administrator of the legislation is the recipient of this year’s George Warren Fuller Award for Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, presented by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Water Works Association.
Fanning is a long-time volunteer with the Clean Water Nonprofit and its former president.
Colorado Politics sat down with this hostile social media spokesperson to find out what’s next on his dance card now that he’s 9-to-5 free.
Colorado Politics: How did you get involved in water?
Paul Fanning: After moving back to Pueblo from California, I got a job at KOAA-TV, possibly as an assistant production manager. I followed my boss to Wichita, Kansas, thinking I would be there two or three years, but ended up there for 15 years. Started at KSNW-TV). The Wichita School District had three cable channels and no one knew how to make real TV. I was recruited to work for the school district to run their educational television stations. I ended up as the communications director for Wichita Public Schools, which was also kind of a meat grinder. The three network stations would send a camera and a reporter to school board meetings. People called it the “Monday night fights”, there was a lot of dysfunction and controversy. I have done some positive things, however, with media and community relations.
We felt the urge to come back to Pueblo for family reasons in 1999. After working a bit as a freelance, long enough to know that I am not the person who could work for himself, I answered a question. announcement for Pueblo Water Works for a newly created communications job. I was very lucky to land him because they didn’t know what they wanted or needed.
Pueblo’s revered water chief Alan Hamel had said Pueblo was drought tolerant. Then the drought of 2002 occurred. They were complacent, and then there were severe restrictions and water cops. There was all this fuss, and they needed someone to write press releases to get out of this problem. My experience told me it would take more than that. I didn’t know what would become of it.
CP: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the past 20 years?
Ventilation : The shift from so much conflict to the recognition that we are all in the same boat and listening to each other, be it the Basin Roundtables or the Colorado Water Congress.
Pueblo is a strange duck in the state. It is connected to all the other transmontane diversions (water conveyed by tunnels from the western slope to the eastern plains). We are isolated, being this far south. When they talk about climate and precipitation and say Front Range, they are not talking about Pueblo. We have much warmer temperatures and less precipitation and a much poorer community. Things that have been effective or widely adopted in the Front Range, like conservation, do not apply to Pueblo, which has fallen behind the state in implementing mandatory conservation measures. Pueblo also grew slower than the rest of the Front Range, and the 1970s Water Board saw that coming, so they put in place a strong set of water rights. Pueblo has not yet achieved these water rights.
CP: Where do you see the future of water in Pueblo?
Ventilation : Pueblo still has a strong water supply portfolio. They are protecting their risk in the Columbine Ditch (on the Eagle River) by buying stocks in the Bessemer Ditch (on the Arkansas). The water rights holders on Bessemer were selling at the time, not just voluntary but active sellers. This has improved the percentage of Pueblo’s water supply that comes directly from Arkansas. We still depend on cross-mountain diversions. The future doesn’t look as bleak for Pueblo as it does for other places, but at the same time, neither is the economic boom. Xcel is converting its plant in Comanche, which uses and pays for a lot of water into solar and wind and possibly even nuclear power. What they paid Water Works for this water is a subsidy, with a positive effect on what the people of Pueblo pay for the water. When that income disappears, it frees up water resources, but there is no free meal.
CP: Tell me about your rock’n’roll past?
Ventilation : I ended up in high school with some friends, and George decided we would do the push. It wouldn’t happen in Pueblo, so we headed to Denver. We wanted a name like The Who, so we chose The Mad (crazy, not angry). We played a lot of lousy gigs and we had an exploding kind of drummer.
We did a gig in Edwards with a drummer who we had known for several years and who had just graduated from the military. He got out of his car and pulled out a big gun and said, “None of these cowboys are going to laugh at me.” He was incredibly unstable because of his experiences in Vietnam. We were too terrified to fire him, but luckily he resigned.
One day, we were rehearsing in a house in Aurora, and someone knocked on the door, asking if we were looking for a drummer. He promised he was cleaning up his act, which translated to “I’m broke and can’t afford to buy drugs.” We went through several drummers this way. After a while, George resigned and returned to Pueblo.
Years later we all ended up in Pueblo, and George, me and a drummer put the band back together. The chef wrote about us. We played Riverwalk and George wanted to start over. I had just gotten the job at Pueblo Water and didn’t want to give it up, so I broke up the group. It was better for the universe!
CP: What happened to retirement?
Ventilation : [Music] was the retirement plan, but right before I retired I was on Capitol Hill and during a hiatus the Arkansas Basin Roundtable chair asked if I would be appointed governor. I spoke to Sylvia, she was on board. I was plunged back into the water.
Right after I retired, I was sitting in a cafe on Main Street in Pueblo, and came in a man from Colorado Springs who was on the Water Education Colorado board of directors. They needed someone from the Arkansas Basin on the board, so now I’m on the WECO board. The funny thing about these appointments: A few months after they started participating in the Ark Basin roundtable, their coordinator for public awareness and education resigned. I was asked to lead a working group on this. I had never written a grant before, but got a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to hire a new coordinator.
WECO’s board took a hard hit, cut $ 150,000 from the state, during COVID, and because of some personal stuff going on at [legislature], the language said that the cut was in perpetuity. We formed another task force with Chris Treese, who had just retired from Colorado River District, and Brian Werner, who had just retired from Northern Water, and we were back in business lobbying from [legislature] and negotiate with the CWCB to restore our funding, which we have been successful in doing.
It doesn’t look like a retreat at all. But when you get results like that, maybe it’s worth not spending as much time with my guitars as I expected.
CP: What’s the one thing people don’t know about you?
Ventilation : My first public performance was at 5 years old; my dad played piano for Buddy Johnson and the Colorado Rangers. I loved to sing when I was little. They rehearsed at our house and I sang with them. Buddy had a nightclub, Gayway Park, in Beulah where they played regularly. They decided to let me sing, so I was on stage when I was 5 with Buddy Johnson, singing “Won’t You Ride My Little Red Wagon”.
The story took a sad turn. A few weeks later, they decided to get me back. I was doing a serious song, “Melody of Love”, and a scholar grabs this little girl about my age and puts her on stage with us holding hands. I refused to sing. I was terrified. I could sing in front of hundreds of people but touching a 5 year old girl was the end of it. I could have been Donny Osmond!
Where did you grow up Native of Pueblo. Graduated from LycÃ©e Central.
Education? Bachelor of Theater Arts from Cal State Fullerton.
Kids? Three sons
Steak, sushi or salad? Sushi
Broncos, Avs, Rockies or Nuggets? Not really a pro sports fan. CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves to the end!
The most famous artist you have ever met? Backstage at Pueblo Memorial Hall for The Kinks, when “Lola” was a big hit. They were nice. And very short. I once attached a lavalier microphone for Jesse Jackson, when I was working in Wichita and he was running for president. It was terrifying with all the Secret Service.
The worst song to perform? Hawaiian wedding song
Favorites? “All Things Must Pass” by George Harrison or “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who.