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Pagosa Springs News Summaries
Friday, July 25, 2014
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Water Down the Drain, Part One
Bill Hudson | 4/25/12
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May 8, 2012 marks another important date in the life of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District; that’s the date PAWSD customers will be able to vote for three new members of the PAWSD board of directors.  The board has five members, and none of the three departing directors — Windsor Chacey, Steve Hartvigsen and Jan Clinkenbeard — are running for re-election. 

And because the three new members will form a majority on the five-member board, PAWSD customers might look forward to a new direction at PAWSD, depending upon whom they choose to elect on May 8.

Over the next few days, the Daily Post will be publishing the candidate's answers to several key questions concerning our water district.  The questions concern the controversial Dry Gulch Reservoir project; the district’s dramatic and ongoing loss of its treated water; the new Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between PAWSD and the Town sewer district; the relationship between PAWSD and its former water partner, the San Juan Water Conservancy District, and the unusually large debt obligations that PAWSD has placed on the shoulders of its ratepayers in recent years — over $6,000 per tap.

I hope to have responses from all six candidates — Glenn Walsh, Patrick O’Brien, Chris Pitcher, Ray Finney, Mike Church and Burt Adams — on five key questions.  I also hope their responses help encourage our Daily Post readers to show up at the PAWSD offices on Lyn Avenue on May 8, between 7am and 7pm, to cast their ballots.

Mail-in ballots are also available; call the PAWSD office at 970-731-2691 or email renee@pawsd.org

But first, some coffee...

I had a pleasant meeting with my friend Rod Proffitt at the River Pointe Coffee Café on Monday.  We had met to discuss our mutual interest in a possible County Home Rule Charter, and whether such a measure should — or could — be placed on the November 2012 ballot.  I’ve written a bit about Home Rule in a recent Daily Post article, and Rod has been meeting with some citizen activists lately, discussing similar ideas.

Following our chat about Home Rule, however, I mentioned a quote in the Pagosa Springs SUN, Thursday April 19.  Reporter Lindsey Bright had written a story about an April 17 San Juan Water Conservancy District board meeting, and Mr. Proffitt — who was recently appointed to the SJWCD — was quoted by Ms. Bright as saying that he thought the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir was “a real opportunity.”

As I said, I consider Mr. Proffitt to be a friend, and although I don’t require my friends to agree with me on every topic — or even, on any topic — I was quite shocked to hear a gentleman as intelligent and thoughtful as Rod Proffitt say that he sees Dry Gulch as “a real opportunity.”

At the League of Women Voters forum last week, five of the six candidates for the PAWSD board were asked about the Dry Gulch property — 660 acres of dry ranchland for which PAWSD and SJWCD paid about $10 million back in 2008.  (The man who had negotiated that sale, SJWCD chair Fred Schmidt, disappeared from Colorado shortly after the deal closed, and has not been seen since.)  All five of the candidates stated, on April 19, that Dry Gulch was an ill-conceived and potentially disastrous project, and that they would not vote to continue supporting that project with PAWSD tax or rate revenues.

PAWSD currently owns a 90 percent interest in the Dry Gulch property, and holds the water rights needed to fill a future reservoir on that site.  But it appears no one running for the three vacant seats on the PAWSD board feels the project has any merit.  The other two members of the PAWSD board, Roy Vega and Allan Bunch, voted last year to remove Dry Gulch from PAWSD’s 50-year capital improvement plan.

But on Tuesday, April 17, the San Juan Water Conservancy District board met, and discussed ways to get a reservoir built in Dry Gulch.

When we discussed Dry Gulch on Monday morning, I didn’t ask Mr. Proffitt if I could quote him in a future Daily Post article, but I’d like to summarize, in my own words, how I think SJWCD views the controversial Dry Gulch project — and why I think Dry Gulch is just another symptom of government insanity combined with corporate greed — two things that cause all kinds of nasty problems here in America.

Colorado and six other western states connected to the once mighty Colorado River signed the Colorado River Compact in 1922 — a governmental agreement among the seven states that allocates water rights to the Colorado River's water among those states. The agreement was signed at a meeting at Bishop's Lodge, near Santa Fe, New Mexico, by representatives of the seven states the Colorado River — and its tributaries — pass through on the way to Mexico.  A separate compact guarantees some water from the Colorado to Mexico, where the river (or rather, what’s left of it) dumps into the ocean in the Gulf of California.

One of the tributaries of the Colorado is the 383-mile-long San Juan River, the river that winds its way through the Town of Pagosa Springs and Archuelta County on its way to Navajo Lake, at the southwestern corner of the county.  Another of the tributaries is the 40-mile-long Piedra River, running through the western portion of Archuleta County.

As we all know, water flows downhill, and Colorado sits uphill from all of the other six states involved in the Compact.  Although we Coloradans could — technically speaking — use all of the water in the Colorado River and its tributaries before it even had a chance to flow into New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada or California.

Speaking purely technically, we Coloradans have the American Southwest by the balls.

According to the 1922 Compact, however, the state of Colorado is allowed to extract only about 3.9 million acre feet of water from the Colorado River per year.  That’s about 25 percent of the water we thought was available in the river basin in 1922 — about 16.4 million acre feet.  But recent estimates show that the recent river flows are averaging closer to 13 million acre feet.

Since 1922, California (at the end of the river) has been gobbling up most of the surplus water that Colorado and the other upstream states didn’t use.  But as the population of the Southwest has grown, that surplus is now increasingly being used upstream.

According to the Compact, if we were to have a continued drought situation, California, Nevada and Arizona could legally demand that Colorado cut its water use, so that the Lower Compact States could continue to get their “fair share.”

Obviously then, the solution is for Colorado to build as many storage reservoirs as possible.  Right?  And one of them should be located in Dry Gulch.  Right?  That’s what SJWCD will tell you.

Government insanity, folks.  And corporate greed.

Read Part Two...
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