GILBY, N.D. — John Hancock doesn’t take water for granted.
The 82-year-old Gilby farmer recalls all too vividly the 25 years he spent hauling water from Inkster to his farm northwest of Gilby, which is 27 miles from Grand Forks. It was a 10-mile round trip that he or his wife made at least twice monthly, spring, winter, summer and fall, with their single-axle 1952 Studebaker farm truck loaded with a 1,500 gallon-capacity tank.
When the Agassiz Water Users District was formed in 1972 to pipe water from the Inkster, N.D., aquifer to farms like his, Hancock was delighted to become a part of it. Not only did Hancock hook up his farm to the water system, he became a voice for rural water, spending the next 47 years advocating for systems like Agassiz Water Users.
Hancock served on the Agassiz Water Users District Board of Directors for 43 years and, for many years, on the North Dakota Rural Water Systems Association's executive board. Hancock has been a supporter of many state water programs and for projects and initiatives providing safe drinking water for communities and rural areas, said Joe LaFave, North Dakota Rural Water Systems Association's treasurer.
Hancock is well-known for his work with rural water issues, LaFave said.
“I can’t think of anybody in the state of North Dakota who doesn’t know John,” he said. “He’s one of the best.”
Hancock, now president of the North Dakota Rural Water Systems Association's executive board, recently was commissioned by the North Dakota Water Users Association as a Commodore in the North Dakota Mythical Navy.
The award was presented to Hancock during the annual Joint North Dakota Water Convention and Irrigation Workshop held this month in Bismarck. Former North Dakota Gov. William Guy founded the award to honor leaders who have proven a commitment to protect, develop and manage North Dakota’s water resources, according to the North Dakota Water Users Association.
For Hancock, advocating for rural water systems is a way to give back to his community.
Before his farm was hooked to Agassiz Water Users, he and his family conserved their water use, taking short showers and even tracking how many times they flushed the toilet. Another inconvenience was dumping the tankload of water on the truck into the cistern, especially on cold winter days.
“That was a miserable job,” Hancock said.
He calls hooking up his farm to Agassiz Water Users a “godsend.”
“I compare it with the first time we got electricity here,” Hancock said. ”It was a luxury. It was something that changed our lives for the better.”
During the first year after Agassiz Water Users formed, the system pumped water directly out of the aquifer and piped it to customers’ homes. The next year, a treatment plant was built which follows Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for safe drinking water, said Hancock, who expanded his knowledge of water safety issues by attending annual board-sponsored workshops and is a supporter of issues relating to water quality.
“John is very promotional of that,” LaFave said.
Forty-five years after rural water came to his farm, Hancock still smiles when he talks about the positive changes it made to his family farm..
“It was something that changed our lives for the better. I’m a firm believer in the rural water program,” he said.