EDITORIAL: The Zombie Reservoir Rears its Ugly Head, Part Three

Read Part One

For some reason, zombie movies and zombie TV shows have become surprisingly popular over the past few years. As we wait anxiously for the promised economic recovery, and for America to become great again, we’ve developed a fascination with undead people who want nothing more than to devour us, and who are almost impossible to kill because… well, how do you kill something that’s already dead?

We received a ‘Letter to the Editor’ from Mike Church in yesterday’s email, and we’re sharing this morning in the Daily Post. Mr. Church recently stepped down as the chair of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board of directors; He’s still serving on the board, but has handed the reigns over to fellow board member Jim Smith.

Mike Church is just one of the several ‘fiscally conservative’ board members elected to the PAWSD board following the community uproar over the purchase of 660 acres of ranchland in Dry Gulch, as a proposed future water reservoir site. That $10 million purchase in 2008 was done without any voter approvals, and was accompanied by a sizable increase in PAWSD fees, also instituted without customer approval. The added fees were supposed to pay for the Dry Gulch debt, and — someday — for a $357 million reservoir.

Mr. Church was instrumental — along with other fiscally conservative new board members — in putting a stop to PAWSD investments in the Dry Gulch project, and reigning in PAWSD fees to some degree. He also worked closely with San Juan Water Conservancy District president Rod Proffitt to re-negotiate the $9 million PAWSD loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The re-negotiated terms will allow PAWSD to focus energy and financial resources on reducing its unacceptable loss of treated water.

If you read Mr. Church’s letter, it’s pretty obvious that he’s not happy about the vote, last Monday night, by the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) board, to ask Archuleta County voters for a tax increase — to fund additional property acquisitions in the Dry Gulch valley.

To quote from his letter:

I am against the property tax increase, proposed by SJWCD on June 12, because there is, in my educated opinion, zero benefit for local residents to build Dry Gulch until the local population reaches 100,000 people. This mill levy increase on the ballot is “Dead on Arrival” for any Archuleta County voter who is informed.

Our main goal in publishing the Pagosa Daily Post is to keep the residents and voters of Archuleta County informed, and to question the actions of our elected and appointed leaders. As we see in his letter, Mr. Church suggests that the Dry Gulch project was not necessary to the economic health of Archuleta County when it was proposed and begun, and that it will not be necessary until the population of the community reaches 100,000.

To put that number into perspective — 100,000 — that means eight (8) communities the size of our existing community, tucked into the landscape of Archuleta County. Can anyone imagine what kind of economic development effort would be needed to make that happen?

Mr. Church also suggests that Rod Proffitt and the SJWCD board should find an end user outside of Archuleta County to pay for any additonal property acquisitions — some community or entity that actually needs to store water in an 11,000-acre-foot reservoir, and can afford to construct the pipelines to deliver that water somewhere.

So we have to ask the question. Will the SJWCD board explain to us why they think another water reservoir in Archuleta County is a good idea?

During the height of the Dry Gulch uproar, between 2008 and 2012, some strange facts were uncovered — facts that had been hidden from the voters by the PAWSD administration and the SJWCD board.

An independent citizen committee was formed, to research the need for additional water storage, and found that the water demand used to justify the Dry Gulch purchase had been inaccurately presented to the public, that the population growth projections used to justify Dry Gulch were inflated, that PAWSD had ignored any benefits that would accrue from water conservation efforts, and that PAWSD was understating the amount of reservoir storage they already possessed.

The committee findings were, essentially, that Dry Gulch was an unjustifiable boondoggle.

Stevens Reservoir, just north of the airport, is one of several water reservoirs serving the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District.

What has changed since 2010? If Dry Gulch was a boondoggle then, what has changed to make it a good idea in 2017?

That is something that we will never learn, I fear. I do not expect the SJWCD board to explain to the public why Dry Gulch is now a good project, when it was such a bad project in 2010. I do not expect the SJWCD to explain who, exactly, needs an 11,000-acre-foot reservoir, when PAWSD already has twice as much reservoir storage as it needed during the 2002 drought, the most serious drought experienced by Archuleta County in decades.

These are questions teh SJWCD board will expect us to ignore — while they ask us to hand over even more of our taxes, to pursue a project that no one can justify.

Back in 2010, Daily Post writer Glenn Walsh commented on the ability of government bureaucrats to ignore the big questions, and provide no answers to the taxpayers who are footing the bill for yet another multi-million-dollar project. He titled that article, “Say Anything, Say Nothing.

At the end of the article, he suggested that we — the taxpayers — have the ability to say something meaningful, when we participate at the polls. November is coming; the tax increases will be on the ballot, for your consideration.

Have you been given all the facts?

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.