MR. WILLIAMSON: This is Dayle Williamson, and I'm interviewing Ron Fleecs. It's the 10th day of April, 2013.
Ron, it was 44 years ago April the 1st that the NRD law was passed. And so, why don't you start out and give us a little of your background and how you became involved with the natural resources districts?
MR. FLEECS: Thanks, Dayle. I became an official employee of the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Commission in December, of 1963, and that is when I started working for the commission as a watershed specialist. I came to the commission from Chappell, Nebraska, where I was district conservationist with the Soil Conservation Service. I worked for them for about four years. I was at Oshkosh for three years and Chappell for one year after I graduated from college in 1959. My friend Duane Chamberlain stopped one day when I was at Chappell and says, “How about coming to work for the commission as a watershed Specialist?” And I said, “Just -- What's a watershed?” So, he had to explain to me a little bit about what a watershed was, which is kind of interesting. So, that's where we first got acquainted and ended up coming to Lincoln working for the commission in 1963 as a watershed specialist. During those nine years, I worked there until the districts were organized in 1972. And during that period of time when I was on the commission, we had some interesting times going back and forth talking with Warren Fairchild when he came up with this idea about reorganization of the special purpose districts and what we would have to do and what was going to be involved. And I always remember some of our meetings that we were -- had at the office. And we were at that time up on the sixth floor, if I recall, at the State Capitol Building. I always recall Warren talking about the natural resource district law and what we were going to do. Every once in a while Fairchild would call us in there, and he had some brainstorm about something, you know, about the law and what we thought about it and what we should do. And those were very interesting times, especially when we had to go around and talk to some of the special purpose districts about what we were trying to do. I went to work for the Lower Big Blue, Natural Resources District, in July right after the law became effective in July of 1972. I never really told my wife this, but I went to work there not knowing for sure whether or not there was really going to be an NRD, because there was a lawsuit going on --
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah.
MR. FLEECS: About the constitutionality of the NRD law, which, I guess, it came out later that year that everything was okay. So, I stayed. We'd already moved to Beatrice when that happened. And I'm glad it turned out the way it was. So, that's kind of a little bit of my background.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Thanks, Ron. And it always reminds you of other background, you know. And I remember when you came to our group. And I started with the old soil and water conservation commission about the same way. I was the third employee in 1958, and I came there without any assurance there would be state funding. The districts gathered up enough money to pay a meager salary. You know, probably our salaries were $400 a month back then, and that was probably a good salary. And so, I started out that was too. So, we're really pleased you started with the natural resources districts early. And -- Well, just when they got started. And a number of our employees did the same thing from the state office. And they were natural ones to help start the natural resources districts because of all the experience.
What year do you think we started talking about natural resources districts? You came in 1963, and I'm guessing, maybe, in '65 we started talking about them, but I'm not sure.
MR. FLEECS: It could have been about that time. I was thinking it had to be somewhat before, around that time because, I think, wasn't the LB1357 introduced, in '67 or '69?
MR. WILLIAMSON: '69.
MR. FLEECS: '69. It had to be sometime in the mid sixties because we had a lot of meetings across the state and that went on for probably a good two years. Talking to some of our conservation districts and watershed districts as to what the philosophy was about trying to organize into one special-purpose district, or natural resources district, and combining all of the special purpose districts. At that time there close to 85 special-purpose districts, or was it more than that?
MR. WILLIAMSON: Probably about 154 all together.
MR. FLEECS: Yeah.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, adding the 87 soil and water districts.
MR. FLEECS: Yes, 87. We had had at least 35 or 40 watershed conservancy districts at that time, too.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Right. And you helped organize a lot of those.
MR. FLEECS: It was interesting.
MR. WILLIAMSON: We're going to talk a little bit about the state association of soil and water conservation districts, and you had a gentleman from Holmesville down in your area by the name of Chet Ellis, a very slow-talking gentleman. Can you say anything about Chet? Was he a supporter of the NRDs?
MR. FLEECS: Yes, very much so. He was supporting it 110 percent. Chet was a supervisor on the Gage County Soil and Water Conservation District Board. He had been on the board for a number of years. And I think another reason he was a big supporter of it, was he lived in an area of the Mission Creek Watershed Conservancy District, which had had some problems with some of the local landowners down there after the conservancy district was organized. They tried to dissolve it because they didn't like the idea of what was going on between some of the people that was on the watershed district board and landowners on where the structures were going to be. We also had a part of the Mission Creek Watershed in Kansas and part in Nebraska. We were getting some opposition from those people in Kansas, also.
I think Chet saw the problems that he had living in that area about the watershed districts, even though they were doing a great job, they were sometimes too local to the problems. Sometimes some of the landowners would say, “Well, yeah, you don't have a dam on your land. You're putting it on somebody else.” And I think Chet saw that natural resources districts would take a broader view of all the special purposes that the watershed districts would do along with soil and water conservation districts could accomplish without having so much local involvement. Not so much the public part of it, but at least take it away from maybe some of the criticisms that we got from some of the local people involved with those areas.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah, that's good. You had some other people down there that were very involved with watersheds. I remember a gentleman by the name of Al Leseur and also, Ben Enez in the Cub Creek Water. Ben -- gosh, I've lost his name right now. Anyhow, that's beside the point. You had 11 watersheds around Beatrice. Can you remember any of those having big objections to the NRD idea?
MR. FLEECS: No. Not really. Because most of them had watersheds down there, like Plum Creek was one of them that Al Leseur was with.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes.
MR. FLEECS: He was a watershed director. But Plum Creek had a very small tax base. They had gotten an FHA loan to help with the land rights. They were at a point that, once that project got completed with the "O" and "M" that they were going to be involved with and the repayment of their Farmer's Home Administration loan, they would not be able to generate enough revenue, from their two mil tax levy that they had authority, to really keep everything in good shape, but pay the loan, do the "O" and "M", and some other things involved. That's one reason that Al Leseur was a big supporter.
There was a Herman Backenberg on the Plum Creek from Pawnee City. He was on the board. Herman owned a lot of land in Plum Creek, also, he loaned a lot of money to landowners that were involved with farming. He was a strong supporter of NRDs because he had enough vision to look at that, we don't do something with this, we're not going to be able to support ourselves. And so he was another strong supporter of it. And the same way with the Big Indian Project. Big Indian was one of the largest watershed projects in Nebraska at that time, 33 structures. And they had a one of the largest Farmer's Home Administration loans for watershed development in the country. They had a public recreation area that they were trying to develop, the Big Indian Recreation Area. And they did the same thing. They looked at those problems they were going to have in financing a public recreation area, financing a big FHA loan which took almost 1 mil, one-half of their mil levy just to pay the principle and interest for the next 40 years to FHA even though the interest rate on those loans was, like, 2¾ percent, very low. And so that board was a very strong supporter. Cub Creek was another one. They had an FHA loan, and they could see the advantage of it. They were looking at recreation also, they had a lot of opposition in that watershed and in fact, residents tried to dissolve it back in the '60s. They had an election of the taxpayers in that watershed and, luckily, it didn't get dissolved. One of the people representing the landowners ended up being attorney for them? And I think he ended up being a district judge down in that area, if I remember right.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Right. I remember that too.
MR. FLEECS: And so, that was kind of interesting situation there.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah.
MR. FLEECS: So, we had people down there that were really foresighted enough to say, boy, if we don't do something to consolidate all of these watersheds and Gage County was called the watershed capital of Nebraska, because we had watersheds involved with Gage County. They had one of the first pilot PL564 watershed projects in Nebraska, which Warren Fairchild was involved with.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah, in Gage County he worked for soil conservation service.
MR. FLEECS: Yeah, as a soil scientist.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Little Indian Watershed.
MR. FLEECS: Their soil conservation person.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah.
MR. FLEECS: And so, this is why that area -- the soil and water conservation district supervisors, they were all really supportive of it just because they had the vision to see, if we don't do something, we're going to be in deep trouble down the road in trying just to stay afloat.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah. As a sidelight, the Little Indian, I was the assistant county agent in Gage County down when Ezra Taft Benson came to visit Little Indian. He was Secretary of Agriculture.
MR. FLEECS: Uh-huh.
MR. WILLIAMSON: And my boss down there, the county agent, was Robin Spence. And he sold the Secretary a couple of purebred Angus bulls. And he had a long time getting, a hard time getting paid for those bulls. So, we're probably getting far afield here on the history thing, but I think it's interesting. Talking about Little Indian, did you know one of the leaders there by the name of Art Cacek? Art was Ron Cacek's father. Ron's been a long-time NRD manager. When he came back from Vietnam, he got with the NRD.
MR. FLEECS: Yeah. Art was a car dealer. He was (also) a Big Indian watershed director and lived in Odell.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah, Big Indian watershed.
MR. FLEECS: He was car dealer and sold cars in Odell.
MR. WILLIAMSON: That right?
MR. FLEECS: Yeah. He was on the Big Indian watershed conservancy district board.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes. And he was always very positive.
MR. FLEECS: Very positive.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah, great guy.
MR. FLEECS: Ron Cacek had a good upbringing about the need for NRD's --
MR. WILLIAMSON: You bet.
MR. FLEECS: (Learned) importance of watershed through his dad.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah. He was always so great to deal with. And I'm glad you brought up Herman Bachenberg. I was thinking about him. Herman was really a quiet guy. We would sit there and look at different sites where dams might be. And then, Herman would speak up and say, “Oh, there won't be any problem there, 'cause I own that farm.”
MR. FLEECS: Yes. Owned it or he had mortgages on many of the lands involved, which helped get the easements signed by those landowners.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes.
MR. FLEECS: Herman said, “I'll convince him that it was a good thing.”
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah. And for posterity, you know, we could talk a little about the dress code. And, you know, maybe I'm really getting far afield, but -- and farmers did this at that time. When Herman went to a nice meeting, he would have one of his old Sunday suit coats on and a new pair of overalls, and that was the dress code.
MR. FLEECS: Yes.
MR. WILLIAMSON: And so, that was the dress code in the '50s and '60s when we were working with these guys.
MR. FLEECS: He had his good, clean, new bib overalls on, you know.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Bib overalls.
MR. FLEECS: With a checkbook.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes.
MR. FLEECS: It was up in the top pocket.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes.
MR. FLEECS: Another big supporter in that area there that a lot of people might know would have been Dwight Dell.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Dwight Dell. Dwight spoke fast.
MR. FLEECS: Yes.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Chet Ellis spoke slow(ly).
MR. FLEECS: Very slow.
MR. WILLIAMSON: I remember Dwight Dell getting all confused talking and he'd say, “The mudshed watershed.”
MR. FLEECS: Yes.
MR. WILLIAMSON: He was in Mud Creek.
MR. FLEECS: Mud Creek watershed.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes.
MR. FLEECS: And they ended up supporting the first PL566 watershed public recreation area. I believe it was the first in the country under the PL566 law.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes.
MR. FLEECS: Which is now called Rockford Lake, and is managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes.
MR. FLEECS: The Soil Conservation Service back in the late '50s or early '60s got into multi-purpose business programs and got the law changed that they could fund up to a certain amount of money by 50 percent the size of the pool by at least 50 percent. And so, the Mud Creek directors took that upon themselves and put it on a tributary east of Beatrice. You'd had some old history back in that time, too. They heard of neighbors where that project was built that had feuds and fought one another. There were groups that didn't like each other.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes.
MR. FLEECS: They had an interesting situation.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Kind of Hatfield and McCoys type of feud.
MR. FLEECS: Yes. They had a situation like that down there in --
MR. WILLIAMSON: I forgot where the McCoys were.
MR. FLEECS: Located on Mud Creek.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes.
MR. FLEECS: -- As there was a couple of families in that tribe that didn't like each other.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah.
MR. FLEECS: And -- but they got that land acquired by fee title and it ended up being turned over to the Game and Parks Commission as one of the first public use areas in the State of Nebraska developed by a
watershed conservancy district.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Right. Well, that's really interesting. You knew that these people were really supportive. So, how did you happen to select this particular NRD to go to, or did they select you to be their manager? You went to a good one.
MR. FLEECS: Well, I think it was basically because of the work and responsibilities I had with the commission and with those watersheds in Gage County. I was involved with the small watershed flood control fund that provided funds to watersheds to acquire land, easements and rights of ways. And a lot of that easements and rights of ways was being obtained through the small watershed fund, for which I was responsible for and meeting with those directors. We made monies available, to Mud Creek to acquire fee title for what became the Rockford Lake area, a public use area, we gave them the money from that fund, and then it was reimbursed back to the fund once it became a public use area of the Game Commission. I guess, working with these directors and them having confidence in me when the NRD became available to them, that they wanted to know if I ever thought about coming down and being their manager. And as far as I knew, I was the only one they interviewed. I said, yes, I would be interested. It's close to where I'm coming from. I'd be happy to be the manager, and that's how I got hired.
MR. WILLIAMSON: You never told your wife you might not get paid?
MR. FLEECS: Yes.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Oh, my gosh, that's good. Ron, let's kind of switch to the state level. What do you recall about the state senators that worked with us to get the NRDs going, by any name or by what they did?
MR. FLEECS: Oh, I think the main senator was in the Upper Big Blue. What was his name?
MR. WILLIAMSON: Maurice Kremer.
MR. FLEECS: Yes, Maurice Kremer. We had some meetings with him in the office because he was a big promoter of 1357. And I would remember that, things would change on the bill back in the 1969 and whenever it did Maurice would come up to our office. And then we would all have a meeting. He would call some of us in and talk to him about different issues. And one other thing, it got pretty critical because we had some pretty organized opposition to the bill at that point in time. There was a group called Nebraskans for Soil and Water. I've got a brochure. It says the Nebraska, Nebraskans for Nebraska Soil and Water.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes, that's right.
MR. FLEECS: That was the name of the organization. And one of the things they were always bringing up is that we were going to take away local control, and it's going to cost more to do this because the mill levy, at that time we were talking was two cents as the maximum mill levy that the NRDs would have. And that was basically the same maximum levy that the watershed conservancy districts, was the two mill. And they were opposed to it. And Maurice would come to your office and ask about this. He says, “These guys were claiming that this is going to happen and this and that.” And I did a study on that at this time when this bill was being introduced. This study was what watershed conservancy districts were paying. Because a lot of them, especially down in the area where we had a lot of watersheds, were up to their two mills already. And I did enough study on all of their budgets for '69 and '70. In almost all cases when they included everybody within that NRD as to what their valuation would be, because you could start including towns, Beatrice in that case, would be involved with some of these watersheds and a lot of those two mill levies would come down too, in one case, in the Upper Big Nemaha, it would go from two mills to about seven-tenths of a mill. The NRD would get started, because of the consolidation, and the work that they had in their budget for 1970, '72, their mill levy would have went up to about 1.2 to 1.3 mills. So, in almost all cases that we looked at, instead of talking more than two mills, it would be less, probably in a lot of cases, less than a mill. Some of the conservation districts and, also, when you added the conservancy districts' mill levy and funds from the old county flood control act levy, which some of the districts soil and water conservation districts were getting monies from that county flood control act. So, if you added those two mills, plus what they were getting from the county, taxpayers were being assessed more than two mills. The NRD law was going to bring that mill levy down. We kind of sold Senator Kremer that this wasn't going to be one of those things that was going to cost the taxpayers more money. It would probably end up giving them a break.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes. And Ron's mentioned the county flood control act. Soil and water conservation districts could get money from the county flood control act, but it was at the mercy of the county board of commissioners or supervisors, however the county was set up. And they would have to have the district representatives go to the county budget hearing each year and ask for some money.
MR. FLEECS: Yes.
MR. WILLIAMSON: So, they kind of felt like they had to beg.
How did the soil and water conservation districts get their money, Ron? You could elaborate on that a little bit.
MR. FLEECS: Oh, a lot of them got their funds from their equipment they owned, like, tree planters in some cases. Some of the districts had heavy equipment that they used to build terraces, waterways, and do that kind of work. But most of them were in the tree-planting business, and they got quite a bit of their revenues from planting trees and providing some other services where they were able to charge for. Their budgets were pretty small. Most of their money they were getting from the county and some from the state commission was matching some of that money. And that was going primarily to provide a clerk at the soil and water conservation district offices to allow the technician to do technical work. The clerical help to the soil and water conservation districts, as the SWCD supervisors did not receive per diem. They got some expenses paid. Some of their districts would have bake sales and some of those types of fund raising programs. Some of them owned their buildings, and they would rent them out to USDA for space for the Soil Conservation Service because they had SCS people there. So, there were all kinds of ways that districts earned money. But it was a real struggle every year for a lot of them to just get money to operate on.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, and that brings up a good thing. Ron, as a former Soil Conservation Service employee and their coming to work for the state and then, finally, the NRD, can you recall anything about the Soil Conservation Service? Were they really pushing hard to get the NRDs going? Or, how did that all work out?
MR. FLEECS: Well, that, again, goes back to the area that I was involved with. In Gage County, for instance, we had a district conservationist that had some pretty good vision there, and he had been down in Gage County quite a few years working with those conservancy districts and what they were involved with and what they were doing. And they were very supportive of what was happening here, because they could see that, with the NRDs, this was really going to be an asset to their operation and the PL566 law. The Soil Conservation Service was primarily involved with getting a lot of the multi-purpose programs put together for land treatment through some of the tax monies, watershed development, a whole variety of things.But then, you went into other areas. And you may not have gotten the support from some of the people because I think they felt they were going to lose control of what they thought they had at that point in time as pretty much acting as the watershed managers and the soil and water conservation district managers in those counties. And they, I think they kind of said, boy, if we get an NRD, we're not going to be able to do that and we won't have any say of what the watersheds or the soil and water conservation districts will be involved with. I think, in some cases, they really didn't talk it up very much even though there was a great need in some of those areas and not so much in other areas. So, it was an interesting time because I worked with one individual with these, and he ended up being an NRD's first assistant manager down in the Nemaha NRD, a very capable person as far as an SCS person, very good. But he wasn't sure of what was going to happen to the responsibilities of SCS and what they would have in those projects.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah. Well, that's good. Ron, you were with our state agency when we had to do the NRD boundaries. I remember one of our staff people who worked a lot on those boundaries was Dick Kennedy, but we all worked with him. Can you say something about the boundary formation of NRDs?
MR. FLEECS: Well, I think the boundaries idea was to have the NRDs on hydrologic units. Especially in Southeast Nebraska where we really had some defined watershed boundaries in the Big Blue River Basin and the Nemaha Basins and the Little Blue Basins. And all of these had really defined hydrologic boundaries, and there was no reason not to have those NRDs based on those boundaries. Then, you had to look at where those boundaries were and how they were associated with county lines, and if there was a way to keep it close to county lines, so it would help when you're talking about taxation, talking about elections, everything, it's much easier to administer and everything if some of it was a little better to do it on a county basis. But, with a lot of the watersheds down in that area that pretty much follow the hydrologic boundaries, even though it may have affected two counties, like the Nemaha. Upper Big Nemaha had part of their district in Lancaster County. It went into that county. And they had part of Gage County at least four or five different counties pretty much was all on hydrologic line. But it just seemed like the thing to do. So, it was easy to do. But when you went out west, that was a different story. You just had to look at the situations out there. You're looking at groundwater more as causing flood problems and some of those issues versus what we were looking at, was mostly land treatment, flood control, not so much the groundwater issues. But there's a lot of difference throughout the state when you'd look at rainfall at 30 inches versus 12 inches.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, you mentioned taxation. And then, all at once, the county assessors got involved. Can you say anything about county assessors, how that all worked out?
MR. FLEECS: Oh, I think it was a matter, again, of changing some way upon which they did things, and it doesn't. I was on the county board for four years. If this section was in one NRD and another one was in another NRD in their county, it's just a matter of putting that value of that section in this NRD and the other one in the other NRD. It may have created some paperwork for them initially to get everything straight, but I think the biggest problem was, it was a change of what they were used to. But, again, some of those watersheds crossed county lines at that time.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Sure.
MR. FLEECS: Cub Creek was in Gage and in Jefferson County. Big Indian was in Gage and Jefferson. And so, they were somewhat familiar with working with different valuations for different watersheds. And so, this just expanded it more. In fact, in some cases, it made it a lot easier because everything was covered by one levy.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Sure. Well, we've really focused on the importance of the watershed program and bringing in the natural resources districts. There are a number of other things that were brought in. Can you -- And you've already commented on we were beginning to see the importance of groundwater. But some of the other things that were put under the so-called big umbrella of natural resource districts as they were formed.
MR. FLEECS: Well, one of them in our area, it wasn't so much in our area as it was to the east, was rural water districts. We had some areas that did have a shortage of rural water, but had quality problems though. In Pawnee County, some of those areas had good water supply but had a lot of iron and sulfur in it and it wasn't fit to drink because of the minerals that were in the water. We were fortunate, at least in our NRD, to have good groundwater. We did organize a rural water district, and it was because of the Homestead National Monument. Basically, they were under an order because of high nitrates that they had to get a different water supply or treat their water, which is very expensive. They contacted us and wanted to know if they could get a rural water project to bring water from Beatrice out to Homestead and follow Highway 4 and then, also, incorporate a lot of the rural homes along the way from Beatrice to the Homestead. We ended up doing that. We had a little bit of a problem doing that in taking the water from Beatrice to an area outside of Beatrice because of a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Beatrice was getting its groundwater Northwest of Beatrice in an area where a railroad was located. They put the wells on the railroad right of way and there was a lawsuit between landowners and the City of Beatrice on whether or not that was legal and whether they could do that. And it ended up that they could, but there was a little statement in suit that said they had to get permission from a state agency, the Department of Natural Resources, before they could transfer water to an area outside of Beatrice, they had to get approval from the state. We had to get that approval from the state in order to provide groundwater to a rural water district and to the Homestead and 41 homeowners along the way. It was a good thing. The same way with the ones in the Nemaha, this had some good rural water projects. But that was one part of the NRD law that that was very important in providing areas that would now be under the responsibilities of the NRDs. Even though the old ones continued to exist, at least people knew that we were around if they had a prime water problem.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Sure. Boy, Daniel Freeman would never, never envisioned that.
MR. FLEECS: No. He never would have.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, that's really a good history. And talking about the rural water districts, the federal Farmer's Home Administration were highly involved with the rural water districts. Would you have any comments about that?
MR. FLEECS: You know, they were very helpful for us with our rural water project in providing us grant money. We didn't worry about getting a loan like some of the smaller rural water districts had to do because of their finances. And we were able to get a good enough grant. The Homestead Monument picked up a pretty good share of that project because we were providing that water to them. So, we had that advantage of having them subsidize almost half of the cost of that project because of the requirement of that pipeline we would need to provide them with the quality of water that they needed.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, those listening to this tape, you'll notice the clock on the wall has reminded us that we've been going here for about an hour. So, and it's really a pleasure. Ron has kept a lot of history of natural resources district. And as we go through this oral history, we're going to be reading a lot of this -- a lot of these things and certainly getting some additional things on tape.
Ron, do you have anything else you'd like to do in wrap up. It's been a great pleasure in interviewing you and remembering some of these things that happened many years ago as -- And so, anything that you'd like to just give, overall, on wrap-up here?
MR. FLEECS: Well, I guess I'd go back to when I became associated with the commission back in 1963 with my friend Duane Chamberlain. And that kind of started getting my career going with multi-purpose experience, I guess a lot of people start at the local level and they go to the state level and then to the federal level. I did the opposite. I went from the federal level, soil conservation service; to the state level; and ended up on the local level. And, I guess, knowing all things, I really enjoyed the local level, because I was a part of an organization, in this case the Lower Big Blue Natural Resource District, that were doing things that were going to be there way past my lifetime and was going to be projects that was going to benefit a whole area for a long time. And I always appreciated the times that we would meet with the Kansas people on the Blue River Compact. They were -- always seemed to want to rub us a little bit about not giving them enough water and all this and that.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Or too much atrazine.
MR. FLEECS: Yes, or too much atrazine after the 1993 flood.
MR. WILLIAMSON: That was a big flood.
MR. FLEECS: They just about lost their Tuttle Creek Reservoir.
MR. WILLIAMSON: (Indiscernible.)
MR. FLEECS: And so, they were bringing up some stuff about sediment. We had 230-some structures in our NRD. Flood control structures and grade stabilization. Not only did we stop sediments from getting down to that reservoir, we also stopped flood water. So, at one meeting we had later that summer, they were complaining about sediments. And I said, “I'll tell you guys something. The next time we have a flood like we just got through about six months ago, if you want us to release all this water”, and I forget how many thousands of acre feet we had in the flood storage -- I said, “We're just going to open all those little tubes and we'll just send it all down to you. And then, we'll see if you guys can control and store it.” You know, I never really heard much from them since then. The same was true with sediments and how much sediments we were storing that wasn't getting into Tuttle Creek and reducing their capacity. But it's projects like that, I think, that really made me proud that I was associated with an organization that was going to do something for recreation, for rural water, for groundwater. We had some water quality studies. Land treatment, we probably had more land treatment installed down there than you could find any place, a big showplace of it. And so, it all helped me. You got involved with the community. I was there from '72 to when I left two years ago. I was on the city council for eight years, the board of public works for six years, and then ended up being on the county board for four years at which time I got involved with renovating the Gage County Courthouse that was built in 1892 and needed a lot of work done. So, I guess, being involved in a local community and being a part of the community is another big asset as far as a job. So, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. So then, I moved to Lincoln and semi-retired. Now, I'm on the Lancaster County Extension Board.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Yeah, that's great, Ron. Well, that's really a great statement. Moving from the federal to the state down to the local and doing so many great, great things. Somehow, and we'll go back, way back to '62 or '63, somehow Warren Fairchild sort of knew you. Warren handpicked people that he thought would do a good job for our agency and he sent Duane Chamberlain why he said, “Duane, you can go out and talk to that guy by the name of Fleecs, because he'd make a good staff member.” So, that's how you got started at the state level.
MR. FLEECS: Well, I just wanted to know how he knew me.
MR. WILLIAMSON: I don't know how Warren knew you. But he would see a lot of people and, maybe, some of the people out there. But that was good. It was really good. You took a chance, 'cause our salaries were pretty low there and you had a good future in the federal government. But you started to work for state government and you had a good future in state government. And then, boy, you went to Beatrice in 1972 not making -- not sure that the NRDs would stick, but there you were.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, I'm sure your wife will listen to this tape now at the end of it, and she'll discover that you went down there not sure that you would have a job in the future. But, somehow, it all worked out.
MR. FLEECS: Yes, it did.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Ron, thank you so much for a great interview. It's probably a different interview than most of them will be because of you and I lived through a lot of the same things. And that was good.
MR. FLEECS: Well, it's my pleasure that I could sit down here and visit with you 'cause a lot of the stuff we talked about is great memories. And if we don't think about them and get them down in black and white now or get them on tape, one of these years we probably won't be able to remember what we did --
MR. WILLIAMSON: That's right. That's for sure. Well, thank you so much. We're winding up the interview here today at about eleven --
MR. FLEECS: Thank you.
MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you very much.