Harlan Erker was a farm boy from the eastern plains of Colorado. After coming to the realization that he did not want to work on a tractor his whole life, he attended the Colorado School of Mines on a scholarship. After rising quickly through the ranks at the State Engineers’ Office due to his charisma and impeccable ability to testify in Water Court, he left the State Engineer’s Office and started his own company with Ted Zorich in 1975. Zorich-Erker Engineering was in business for six years where Harlan met Bob and Steve.
Bob Tafelski grew up in northern Wisconsin. Bob joined the Peace Corps and was part of an initial group of volunteers to serve in the Dominican Republic helping people obtain access to clean water. Bob moved to Colorado in the 70’s, and in 1978 started working for Harlan, quickly becoming his right-hand man.
Steve Palmer grew up Denver and received his geology degree from Colorado State University. Harlan hired Steve as a young, up-and-coming geologist.
In early 1981, Harlan and Ted had decided to go their separate ways. Harlan met with Bob and Steve to discuss starting a new company. After agreeing to join him and after much deliberation, they named their company HRS Water Consultants and opened their doors on April 1, 1981. Harlan also brought with him hydrogeologist Eric Harmon, who would later become a partner. Harlan built HRS on the idea that if they were doing the best work, clients would come to him. Harlan always put clients first and was quick to pick up the phone when they called. He was on the search for bigger, more complicated projects knowing that HRS could complete these projects and serve clients well. Harlan had grand visions for HRS and “he was not one to let speed limits and storms stand in his way” (Eric Harmon).
Steve, finding he was more passionate about the law side of the business, left to attend law school, leaving the company in 1984. He has had a successful career at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Natural Resources Department. Due to Steve’s persistent personality and impeccable technical background, he excelled in the legal world.
In early 1985, Harlan was struck with tragedy when he lost his wife in a car accident that also left one of his children badly injured. In June of that same year, HRS and the greater water community was struck with tragedy as Harlan and three others died when their plane crashed into Windy Peak on their way to a meeting in Alamosa. In the wake of this tragedy, many thought HRS would close up shop but we did not. Harlan would have wanted us to continue to do the best work, so we did with Bob as the heart and soul of the company.
Bob led HRS until his retirement in 2008. He mentored the next generation of HRS Principals and employees, instilling in them the excellence and determination to make HRS Water Consultants successful for years to come. The founders of HRS Water Consultants may not work here anymore, but their stories inspire us to keep up their legacy.