The Times they are a-Changin' for Cherokee Rural Water

September 2018 -

Cherokee’s general manager, Stan DeRoo, has spent his career making sure members have clean, safe, reliable water. Now, just ahead of his retirement late this year, he sees challenges ahead for the rural water industry.

What was Cherokee Rural Water like when you joined in 1975?

I was the first employee and general manager. I saw the first well drilled, the first piece of pipe laid, the first water tower go up and the first water treatment plant built. Today, we’ve got 1,860 members, two water treatment plants, six wells, five water towers and 860 miles of distribution.

Cherokee Rural Water was CoBank’s first rural water customer. When was that?

In 1988, we had the opportunity to purchase our loan back from the federal government. We did that through the Omaha Bank for Cooperatives, one of the forerunners of CoBank. In 1989, we were competing with a neighboring water system for a service area. It came down to who could get financing first. Through our new banking partner, we were able to secure the needed funds, and within six months we were building the new service area. The neighboring system’s government funding package was still almost two years out. Our refinancing move was one of the keys to making Cherokee Rural Water the success it is. CoBank has been tremendous.

What was your latest CoBank loan for?

In 2014, we did a sizable system storage and transmission line improvement. CoBank financed $2.4 million of the $2.6 million project. We built a new groundstorage reservoir and installed 24 miles of 10-inch and 12-inch pipe.

What big changes have you seen during your water career?

The 1970s were all about construction and timelines. The 1980s saw the terrible farm crisis, and we lost one out of every five members. In the 1990s, regulations took over with the renewal of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. In the 2000s, it was phenomenal technology advances. Now it’s swinging back to financing as the most important thing to making it all work.

Looking ahead, what’s the biggest challenge for the rural water industry?

Future help. The labor force in northwest Iowa is very tight. It’s a statewide problem. Our Department of Natural Resources says 50 percent of Iowa’s water operators will retire in the next three to five years. And young people aren’t showing a lot of interest in water. We’re constantly on the lookout for new employees. In one respect, Cherokee Rural Water members are fortunate: Paul Hyndman will take over when I retire. He’s been my go-to guy since the 1980s. He’s very capable of filling my shoes. I hope Cherokee Rural Water can look inside to find that go-to guy for Paul.

Any words for someone considering a future in rural water?

I have been blessed. I can’t imagine a job that would have been more rewarding during my work career. There will be challenges, so you’ve got to be up for them. The industry needs innovative thinking.

Cherokee Rural Water

Cherokee, Iowa

General Manager 
Stan DeRoo

Years with CoBank