Harry Dunlop — a legend in the water world

By From page A1 | January 20, 2012



“I’ve been wet my whole life,” says Harry Dunlop with a twinkle in his eye.

Water works its magic quietly, carving out a path that leaves behind an indelible impression.

Harry Dunlop is like water. He comes on quietly but his lifetime of work in the water  business has permanently shaped life in El Dorado County.

The general manager of the El Dorado Irrigation District for 25 years, Dunlop was born on Jan. 19, 1920, on Cebu, which is an island province of the Philippines. Cebu is roughly the size of El Dorado County but with a population of a million people when Harry lived there.

Dunlop’s parents were missionaries who originally hailed from El Dorado County. His father was the assistant agriculture commissioner in the county before becoming a missionary. His mother was a member of the Forni family who have a long history of ranching in El Dorado County.

Dunlopand his six siblings — three brothers and three sisters — enjoyed life on Cebu. It is a paradise with dense tropical foliage, white sandy beaches, and waterfalls spilling into aquamarine pools. Houses on Cebu were built on bamboo posts with bamboo floors and siding. People kept their chickens and pigs underneath their homes.. At night people slept on mats which they rolled up and stored in the rafters during the day.

Dunlop completed high school in the Philippines and then returned to the United States in 1937 to attend Berkeley where he graduated with a degree in engineering and aeronautics. Three of the four boys in the family attended Berkeley. The other attended the University of Nevada.

A family of high achievers, one brother went on to become a professor of labor economics at Harvard and later became the secretary of labor under the Ford administration. Another brother became a teacher. A third brother worked as the executive officer of  the California Public Utilities Commission. Later he was the executive officer for the state Board of Equalization. Dunlop joked that whenever he needed to know what was going on at the state or federal level, there was always a brother he could consult.

After graduating from Berkeley he was commissioned into the Air Force and went to the South Pacific for a period. Later he was shipped back to the United States and discharged in 1949.

In between he married Evelyn Loretta Shinn. Keeping it in the family, his younger brother married Evelyn’s older sister, Thelma. He and Evelyn went on to have four children. The oldest son died of a brain tumor when he was only 27. One daughter went to the University of San Francisco and became a teacher. She then worked at Gold Country Retirement Center. Another son went to Sacramento State and then set up a flower business. His youngest daughter went into teaching and is now retired.

For a brief period Dunlop worked for L.N. Schwien Engineering Co. The company manufactures aircraft instruments. Harry worked in quality control. But he found the area too crowded, so he and Evelyn decided to take the family and move back to El Dorado County in the early 1950s.

Initially he helped his father on the ranch but because he needed to earn more money he got odd jobs doing dredging. He eventually landed a job at the Bureau of Reclamation. He worked in the office gathering survey crew information for construction at the Nimbus Dam and Sly Park.

In 1955 he was hired by the El Dorado Irrigation District  as the assistant manager. Then in August of that year the general manager died and Dunlop was named as his replacement.

“I had good people working there,” said Dunlop. “At the time we only had nine or 10 staff of permanent people and the district only covered 25,000 acres, mostly of fruit growers. Today the district has over 100 employees and the district covers 220 square miles encompassing a population of 110,000. It now has more than 42,000 metered water service connections.

The earliest irrigation system was a byproduct of mining when there were open ditches for transporting water. These were used for agricultural production and for cattle grazing as well.

“We started providing domestic water once the subdivisions went in,” said Dunlop. Keeping the ditches free of leaves and other debris took a lot of care.

In 1960 EID put in the first water treatment plant. The state Health Department stopped by and told him that he would go to jail if the didn’t chlorinate the water. “Don’t worry,” his bosses told him. “We’ll bail you out.”

District continued to grow in size. Pollock Pines joined. El Dorado Hills joined. It grew from 25,000 acres to over 100,000 acres while he was there.

Rancho Murieta

After working for EID for  25 years he retired. Then went to work in Rancho Murieta in Sacramento County and set up a community service district there. He worked there for seven-eight years as general manager.

After that he worked as a consultant in Grizzly Flat for seven to eight years for their community service district. Lately he’s been a volunteer for El Dorado Citizens for Water, attending all the meetings of the El Dorado County Water Agency and the El Dorado County Water and Power Authority.

He also devotes more time to his family. Has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“Best part of working in the water business is you’re trying to help people.”

Water has been and continues to be an undeniable force in shaping the economic, ecological and cultural face of our county. From the earliest days of habitation by American Indians to the discovery of gold in Coloma that sparked the California gold rush, from clusters of black oak and manzanita to pine forests in the Sierra Nevada range, from abundant vineyards and orchards to growing population centers — water is the essential link.

EID now operates a hydroelectric power project that includes dams, reservoirs and 22 miles of flumes, canals, siphons and tunnels and that was relicensed in 2006 for 40 years.

The district now owns Jenkinson Lake, named after Dunlop’s predecessor and manages several outdoor recreation sites, including Sly Park Recreation Area near Pollock Pines and a 48-unit campground at Silver Lake. It acquired Sly Park in 2003.

Dawn Hodson

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