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Water, wastewater operator Burns is Glenwood Springs’ liquid asset

Greg Masse
Staff Writer

Of all the things in Buddy Burns’ life, he is most proud of two: his kids and his work.

The soft-spoken Burns, 48, is the superintendent of water and wastewater utilities for Glenwood Springs.

And while he’s gratified with the high quality of water that comes out of local faucets, as well as the clean effluent that is put back into the Roaring Fork River, Burns said he’s especially pleased with how his two sons, Robert, 23, and Josh, 20, grew up.

“They’re good kids,” he said.

But it hasn’t always been easy.

Back about 14 years ago, Burns and his former wife, Cindy, were shocked to find out that their youngest son, Josh, had developed a rare form of cancer.

“When he was 6, they found a growth on his spine,” Burns said.

He needed surgery to remove the growth, followed by a year of chemotherapy, but Josh was able to kick cancer. He still bears some injuries from the disease, and has to use crutches to walk.

“He’s doing really well. He’s a tough kid,” Burns said proudly. “He and his brother, too … I wish I was half as strong as Josh.”

He said the boys’ mom, Cindy, also went through the whole ordeal.

“She’s a really strong lady, too. She went through that whole year with him,” he said. “You won’t find a better lady anywhere. She’s just a good person. To this day we still talk. You won’t ever see me say a bad word about her.”

Robert followed in his father’s footsteps and is now working at the Rifle Water Department. Josh attends the University of Northern Colorado.

Water works

Burns actually landed his first full-time job in the water business because of another worker’s bad landing.

“When I got out of the service, a guy in Rifle fell off a tank, so my old boss asked me if I needed a job,” he said.

Burns called the man his “old” boss because he used to work for the Rifle Water Department while he was in high school.

In 1977, after working for a year in Rifle, Burns hired on at the Glenwood Springs Water Department.

“They said they’d give me a 10-cent-an-hour raise if I came to Glenwood Springs. So I said `It’s a deal.'”

Rifle’s loss was Glenwood Springs’ gain.

Burns began working for Glenwood Springs’ water department as an operator at the wastewater treatment plant. Within five years, he was managing the whole department.

“Things just happened to fall right,” he said.

Burns’ proudest accomplishment at work, he said, is ongoing – keeping the city’s drinking water at the highest possible quality and discharging clean wastewater into the Roaring Fork River.

Water quality standards are tough to meet, but Burns said the 15 quality people he manages in the Glenwood Springs Water Department make his job easier.

“All the people who work for me, they take pride in water quality and effluent. The city’s a good outfit to work for,” he said.

And his boss, public works director Robin Millyard, he said, “is a good person to work for.”

He might be biased, but Burns said the water in Glenwood Springs is so good, he bottles it and takes it home for use as drinking water.

And he says that while he loves providing high-quality H2O for city residents, his favorite part of the job is wastewater purification.

“Just to see the kids fish and swim in clean rivers, it’s sort of nice to know you’re helping out a little bit,” he said.

Outdoor activities

Burns apparently was born in the right place. Most of his favorite things in life are outdoor activities, such as camping, hunting, fishing, four-wheeling and woodcutting. So what better place to be than western Colorado?

Burns said he’s lived in Colorado his whole life – save for the three years spent in Hawaii courtesy of the military – but he only recently began to really explore his home state.

“I’m just trying to see more of Colorado,” he said. “The first time I even went to Crystal City was only two or three years ago.”

He has been climbing some of the state’s Fourteeners, the peaks that top 14,000 feet. So far, he’s climbed La Plata, Elbert, and two weeks ago, Mount Princeton in the Collegiate Range.

Burns said he likes to go hunting with his son Robert, but lately Robert has been doing most of the harvesting.

“I think he’s gotten something every year since he was 12,” Burns said of Robert.

But Buddy hasn’t quite been so lucky.

“He joked that if you don’t get anything for 12 hunting licenses, the 13th should be free,” Burns said. “I just go for the camping and stuff. I don’t care if I never shoot anything ever again, it doesn’t matter.”

After hunting season, when the high mountain lakes are frozen, Burns heads up to go ice fishing at such beautiful destinations as Sylvan, Deep and Meadow lakes.

“At Sylvan, they’ll rent the cabins up there. I do that at least once a winter,” he said.

Burns also said he likes to cut firewood. It is not only enjoyable, but it cuts way down on those expensive electric heating bills in winter.

And to add to those activities, he likes to go four-wheeling in the warmer months and ride his snow machine in winter.

His sister lives in Wilmington, Ill., so he also tries visit her and nearby Chicago as much as he can, to “see how the other half of the world lives.”

“She and her husband came out to visit last month. She loves the Vapor Caves. She can’t believe that I live out here and don’t go to them at least once a week,” he said.


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