Pagosa Springs News:
|The Reservoir That Refuses to Die, Part Four|
|Bill Hudson | 7/24/12|
|Back to the News Summaries|
|Read Part One|
Maybe it was just coincidence, but maybe it was intended as a message?
The lobby of this “retirement living” apartment in Seattle —“Brighton Court”, owned by the Fairwinds Corporation, where my father is recovering from a recent surgery — is the only place where residents and their visitors can get free access to the Internet, so I rise early each morning and set up a little “work station” on one of the small, round tables. And begin posting stories to the Daily Post.
The first story I posted this morning, in the Opinions Section, came via email from Paonia, Colorado-based High Country News, a group of free-thinking journalists who focus on environmental and social issues in the arid West — that huge, largely desolate section of America that stretches from the eastern plains of Colorado to the shores of the chilly Pacific Ocean. This particular news story arrived with the headline, “Mega-drought, the New Normal” and was written by a HCN contributor named Ari LaVaux. Mr. LaVaux typically contributes articles focused on “food” — a subject that, here in America, is more often epitomized by the Food Channel and by the myriad of “recipe websites” that have sprung up like weeds in the fertile fields of Cyperspace.
In his new article, writer LaVaux poses several momentous questions, and they hardly seem “merely coincidental” to our water supply discussions here in Pagosa.
If the West is really getting hotter and drier — as some environmental scientists are telling us — how will that affect America’s food supply? How will our farmers survive the change? Will we ever know if the changes in our climate really resulted from an overproduction of CO2 gases? And what do we do — as a society — about the impending shortage of water?
In the past two years, the voting customers of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District have, at two district elections, chosen five “fiscal conservatives” to sit on the five-person PAWSD board of directors. One of the key decisions made — and repeatedly reinforced — by the current board was a unanimous rejection of a somewhat fabulous, and potentially very expensive, reservoir project planned for a dry valley known as Dry Gulch. That project had been (just as unanimously) supported by previous PAWSD boards during the preceding decade, and had been planned in cooperation with the San Juan Water Conservancy District.
Unlike the PAWSD board, which is chosen by the customers and residents of the PAWSD district, the SJWCD is directed by an “appointed” board. The voters of Archuleta County have never been allowed to elect the members of that district’s board. In case any of our Daily Post readers are confused about why a little town like Pagosa Springs needs two “water districts” — one with an elected board chosen by its customers, and one with a board appointed without voter participation — well, join the club.
The difference between the two “water districts” goes much deeper than just how their boards are selected, of course. PAWSD is a multi-million-dollar operation with a staff of dozens, and it provides treated drinking water and sewer services to most of the people in Pagosa Springs.
SJWCD has no staff, an annual budget of about $100,000, and it provides... well... we’re not exactly sure what it provides. Or why it exists.
Well, not entirely true. SJWCD did help organize and fund an impressive river restoration project along the Blanco River, in the southeastern portion of Archuleta County.
But we also know that the appointed members of the SJWCD have been continuing to promote a reservoir in Dry Gulch, even while the five elected members of the PAWSD board have openly rejected Dry Gulch as a viable project — or as appropriate to Pagosa’s community water needs.
And we know that both boards claim partial ownership of the Dry Gulch property.
What does this mean for the future of Pagosa’s water supply? What if Mr. LaVaux has a valid concern, and the West is really headed for a period of “mega-drought”? How can we integrate a “fiscally conservative” political philosophy with the threat of global warming and the potential for upcoming “water shortages”?
I emailed the five PAWSD board members a couple of days ago, asking if each would provide a brief statement about the ownership of the Dry Gulch property, the relationship between PAWSD and SJWCD, and the BoCC-approved 2012 Community Development Action Plan (CDAP). A discussion of the CDAP is scheduled for today’s 3pm PAWSD work session at 100 Lyn Avenue.
Only one of the elected PAWSD board members, Mike Church, was willing to provide me with a quote to share with our Daily Post readers — although the other board members assured me that I was most certainly invited to attend today’s board discussion. (Unfortunately, I’m in Seattle.)
Board member Mike Church summarized the current political situation this way:
“My understanding is that the Dry Gulch property is for the most part deeded to both PAWSD and SJWCD. SJWCD never paid any significant money towards the property except for the most part a grant from the state. The IGA with SJWCD defines ownership based how much money each organization has spent on the property; that puts [the Dry Gulch ownership] at roughly 10% SJWCD and 90% PAWSD.
“The property was deeded and the IGA was approved by SJWCD and PAWSD back when [PAWSD had] a completely different group of director. [At that time] a majority of the PAWSD board also sat on the SJWCD board — a huge ethical conflict of interest, in my opinion. Many decisions were made by those past board members that today and into the future will cost the customers millions of dollars in debt to be repaid.
“Although the current ownership of Dry Gulch is 10% SJWCD and 90% PAWSD, it used to be 50/50 — but when [certain] PAWSD past board members who were also on the SJWCD board felt they were losing control of the PAWSD board, they voted to increase PAWSD debt on Dry Gulch from 50% to 90%.
“To this day, some of those previous board members are still trying to build a reservoir through the SJWCD — a reservoir that could potentially create over $300 million in costs to the taxpayers.
“The current PAWSD board has made it clear no directors or PAWSD staff may be affiliated with SJWCD.
“For me, a complete disassociation of PAWSD from SJWCD — as much as possible — is my goal.”
Read Part Five...
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