Paul Rechard and hydrology
February 17, 2014 — by: Bridget Schabron: Contributing History Columnist, Laramie Boomerang
Paul Rechard seemed to be born for water, of any form. Born in 1927, he’s the son of a math professor who would go on to be the dean of arts and sciences. Paul and his older brother Ottis went through high school at the University of Wyoming prep school.
Paul’s dad was an excellent fisherman and taught Paul. Paul also started skiing. He would ski at Happy Jack and the old Summit, off Highway 30, where the Summit Tavern was used as a warming house. Later he would ski west of Laramie off Barber Lake Road when it was still the highway over the Snowy Range. They used a rope tow to get up the mountain. Paul won the state junior race, he also taught beginner skiers.
World War II started when he was in high school. In 1943, Ottis, a senior in college at the time, joined the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Paul wanted to join up, too. He took courses on a fast track, hoping to get into the war. He started in the Civil Engineering program at the University of Wyoming, at the suggestion of H.T. Person, head of the Civil and Architectural Engineering Department. By spring 1945, Paul was old enough to volunteer for the U.S. Navy as a radar operator. In November 1945, he went to boot camp, then to the Great Lakes Training Center in Chicago. The cold there gave him rheumatic fever and he was hospitalized at the center for a couple of months. Then he was sent to the Naval Hospital in Dublin, Ga., where he was hospitalized for another four months before being given an honorable discharge.
Paul went back to UW as a junior in civil engineering with an emphasis in water resources. At that time he came back, R.D. Goodrich was dean of the college – a man with experience in water resources. H.T. Person was helping the state engineer negotiate on interstate stream compacts, but there were no courses in hydrology. Still, Paul was mentored in hydrology, primarily by Goodrich. He worked during the summers, first for the state engineer and then for the Bureau of Reclamation.
He was a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity and asked a fraternity friend to help him meet a girl. One evening in 1946, he met Mary Lou Roper, from Casper. They had just 15 minutes in the University Union to become acquainted before curfew. He had several dates with her while working for the BuRec. Upon getting his bachelor’s degree in 1948, Paul took advantage of the G.I. Bill to get a master’s in Civil Engineering.
After Paul and Mary Lou graduated, they married and moved to Casper, where Paul worked for BuRec. He transferred to the Billings office and was trained in hydrology. He and Mary Lou moved to Cody, where he worked as assistant hydrologist.
When government cutbacks came, Paul was given two options: either he could take a reduced salary or move to North Dakota. However, Paul had a connection back in Billings who had since moved to California and offered him a position there. The day the moving van was at the door, there was a meeting of the Wyoming Natural Resource Board at which H.T. Person recommended Paul for a job with the state of Wyoming, as director of water resources. Paul and Mary Lou moved to Cheyenne. As part of his duties, Paul must have seen every corner of the state and met many people, particularly ranchers involved in water.
As part of his job, Paul befriended Milward Simpson, who had just been elected governor. Paul later accepted a job for the Upper Colorado River Commission, where he was the principal hydraulic engineer. He started in 1958 and finished in 1963. That job took him to Washington D.C., where he lobbied for legislation that paved the way for the Upper River Basin development in Colorado.
Meanwhile, Congress passed a law to establish a water resources research program at every land grant university.
UW’s program was called WRRI, or the Water Resources Research Institute. H.T. Person still had influence at the college, and Mike McGaw was dean of engineering. They recommended Paul for the position of director of WRRI. So Paul moved and his family moved back to Wyoming in the fall of 1964.
Around 1976, coal companies were developing mines in Gillette. UW allowed its employees to consult one day a week, which Paul enjoyed. Meanwhile, another fellow named Doyl Fritz was working for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. In 1980, the two friends decided to form a consulting company called Western Water Consultants.
Doyl worked at an office in Sheridan, Paul in Laramie, and there was another office in Casper. Deciding to branch out, they changed the company’s name to WWC Engineering.
In 2001, Paul, then 74, retired from his presidential position at WWC, and Doyl took over the controls. Mary Lou was suffering from health problems, and she died in 2007.