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Paul Rechard – Trailblazer of Wyoming Hydrology

Paul Rechard – Trailblazer of Wyoming Hydrology

Paul Rechard has always loved water.

“Water is so important,” Paul says. “I think it’s the basis for a lot of development in Wyoming. I always saw it as an important asset to the state.”Paul Rechard

Growing up, he worked on ranches in Encampment valley. He was fascinated by irrigation, and so when he came to college, he wanted to pursue agricultural engineering. At that time, however, there was no such program at UW, and so he took civil engineering instead. 

H. T. Person was his mentor.  H. T. was a charismatic professor who served as the head of the civil engineering department, dean of the engineering college, and then president of UW. H. T. was also a good friend of Paul’s dad O. H., who was a math professor and dean of Arts and Sciences. H. T. helped Paul throughout his career, and Paul returned the favor.

“He liked me—for some reason—and took me under his wing,” says Paul self-deprecatingly.

Another problem—there was no hydrology program nor any textbooks on hydrology, but H. T. suggested that he study water within the engineering college, taking independent studies for his water studies under Dean R. D. Goodrich. 

But where he really learned hydrology was in his first job with the Bureau of Reclamation in Billings and then in Cody as a water resource engineer and assistant district hydrologist. He helped oversee the Missouri River system, and it took him a day to make a full year’s calculations by hand. 

“Today, you can do it in five seconds (with a computer),” Paul said. “But it was great training for me. I had to learn the operations of the reservoir. I really knew what was going on.”

And then, with the recommendation of H. T., Paul got a job as director of water resources for the Wyoming Natural Resources Board, where he traveled the state working on water development projects. He was also Interstate Streams Commissioner for Wyoming. In this position, he lobbied for projects such as the Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge dams.

Milward Simpson was a new governor at that time, and they became friends. Two other Wyoming legislators were also on the commission, and so they worked together to promote and manage Wyoming water.

Next, Paul moved to the Upper Colorado River Commission to serve as principal hydraulic engineer for eight years. He lived in Salt Lake City and spent a lot of time skiing. 

At this time, the government began establishing water resources research institutes at a land-grant college in every state, and naturally UW was chosen for Wyoming. H. T. was retiring, but he recommended that Paul be hired to direct the institute. The position also included a professorship, and so Paul became director of the Water Resources Research Institute and professor of civil engineering. He taught hydrology.

The institute contributed to hydrology research across the globe. One innovation was the introduction of the Wyoming shield, which kept the precipitation in gauges from blowing out—a necessary protection against the Wyoming wind. They also leveraged grants for larger research projects, proposed to national organizations to do water research in Wyoming, and performed research on the amount of water needed for consumptive use of irrigated areas.

Then he and one of his students, Doyl Fritz, started a consulting business—Western Water Consultants (now WWC Engineering).  For many years, they did much of the mine hydrology work in Wyoming. Paul retired in 2001.

“I’ve been so lucky,” Paul says.

He has also passed that luck along.

Paul and his brother established the O. H. Rechard Memorial scholarship that supports a senior in the math department. This fund honors Paul’s father O. H., who was a professor of math.

Paul and his family established an endowment in honor of his beloved wife Mary Lou, who passed away in 2007—the Mary Lou Rechard Memorial Alumni Scholarship. The fund supports students for four years if they keep their grades up, and applicants must be children of alums.

He also established the Mary Lou and Paul Rechard Endowed Fellowship in Civil Engineering for Water Resources, which supports graduate students.

“I try to select programs I think are worthwhile,” says Paul. “Then I realized … I ought to do something for the College of Engineering—I’d give a fellowship for graduate students in civil engineering in water resources.”

He didn’t stop there.  Paul’s latest gift supports the new Engineering Complex, a facility that takes the concepts of innovation and collaboration and translates them into physical spaces and work practices, part of Wyoming’s Tier-1 Engineering Initiative.

Even more amazing, since 1969, Paul has given smaller gifts to almost 50 funds total—everything from the Cowboy Joe Club and engineering to scholarships and the symphony.

“I think the university’s a good place,” says Paul. “I do love the University of Wyoming. I think they do a pretty good job with the gifts to the university.”

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