ESSAY: Data… and the American Dream, Part Two

Read Part One

She turned her tender eyes to me
As deep as any ocean, as sweet as any harmony
Mm, but she blinded me with science
She blinded me with science
And failed me in biology, yeh yeh

— ‘She Blinded Me with Science,’ hit song from 1982 by Thomas Dolby

I’m looking forward to lunch today. The Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation will be serving up sandwiches to about 30 invited ‘stakeholders’ — including Yours Truly — along with a presentation by data expert Neil Aldridge. Mr. Aldridge will be discussing “The Growing Impact of Big Data Analytics on Travel and Tourism.”

I expect to be impressed. Or at least, confused.

From the invitation:

Please join us on Tuesday, June 27th at 11am… for a presentation sponsored by the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation.

Lunch from Peak Deli will be provided and you will have the opportunity to hear a presentation by Neil Aldridge of Equifax Data Driven Marketing. Neil and his firm have had extensive successful experience in providing the detailed and insightful data of who the new wave of tourists are, how they spend, and how to effectively reach them.

The C.D.C. believes the gathering and analysis of data regarding tourism and related spending is critical to assisting local business and community stakeholders with future tourism, business, and community planning.

Should be an enlightening experience. I had not previously heard about the “new wave of tourists,” and thus have absolutely no idea how they spend.

I do have some familiarity, however, with the “old wave of government officials and special interest groups” and their spending habits. Thankfully, that familiarity has not required access to “Big Data Analytics” — only my attendance at maybe 120 government and community meetings each year for the past 12 years.

We ended Part One of this article series with some so-called data, shared with our Daily Post readers by Rod Proffitt, president of the San Juan Water Conservancy District, in his recent op-ed article, “Why ‘Dry Gulch’ is Now ‘San Juan Headwaters’”.  It bears repeating, since it lays out the basis for wanting to increase our property taxes to help expedite a future 11,000-acre-foot water reservoir.

To wit:

The current population of Archuleta County is approximately 12,000 and the Colorado State Demographer has projected the county population at 2050 to be 27,500. Extrapolating the demographers growth rate for year 2045 to 2050 (1.6%) through 2070, and the population may grow to 37,400. Assuming a 10% water usage reduction for conservation, and the estimated water demand associated with a population of 37,400 is 6,800 AF/year. PAWSD currently has facilities estimated to provide up to 2,500 to 3,000 AF/year in a drought year. Therefore a gap of 4,300 AF/year could be seen by 2070. A water supply gap, though initially much smaller, could appear as soon as 2025.

A lot of numbers… yes, indeed. But only one accurate piece of data.

“The current population of Archuleta County is approximately 12,000…”

That’s a generally accepted number, based upon the official U.S. Census done in 2010. And that has been our approximate population since 2006. The population of Archuleta County has not increased or decreased significantly for the past eleven (11) years. Residents come and go; the number ‘coming’ has been closely matched by the number ‘leaving.’

But that was not the prediction made by the Colorado State Demographer, back in 2006. Not at all. Back then, the demographic story was that our population was going to grow substantially by 2017.

Nor was it the story we were told, back in 2006, by the San Juan Water Conservancy District, when they were cooperating with the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District to extract million of dollars in taxpayer fees and taxes to fund a 35,000-acre-foot reservoir in a parched valley called ‘Dry Gulch.’ According to the San Juan Water Conservancy District projections published in 2007 — and used to support the purchase of the Dry Gulch property — our county population in 2017 was going to be about 21,760 full-time residents.

But then we have the actual data: the 2017 population of Archuleta County is approximately 12,000. Same as it was in 2006.

If you do a Google search for the term, “blind someone with science,” you find this definition:

To overwhelm someone with details in order to influence or mislead them.

While “science” might be a useful tool for misleading the public, another useful tool is “data.” Throw enough numbers at us — overwhelm us with projections and analyses — and our minds turn to mush.  We can then be more easily manipulated.

Take, for example:

Extrapolating the demographers growth rate for year 2045 to 2050 (1.6%) through 2070, and the population may grow to 37,400. Assuming a 10% water usage reduction for conservation, and the estimated water demand associated with a population of 37,400 is 6,800 AF/year.

Where these numbers come from, I have no idea.  Back in 2010, the 20-member Water Supply Community Work Group (WSCWG) published a comprehensive study of our community’s water needs.  They found that the current water demand was about 1,200 acre-feet, to serve a full-time population of 12,000 people.

They also discovered that PAWSD was losing 40 percent of its treated water somewhere between its treatment plants and its customers’ water taps. The WSCWG report calculated that, if PAWSD could reduce their water loss from 40 percent down to 15 percent — still high for a municipal water system — the water district would be able to serve the projected population in 2025 with the same amount of raw water they needed in 2010.

The current demand from 12,000 local residents is about 1,200 acre-feet, so the demand from a population of 37,400 residents, assuming a 10% increase in water conservation, should be around 3,400 acre-feet per year.

Not “6,800 AF/year…” as proposed by SJWCD.

PAWSD currently has over 4,000 acre-feet of existing reservoir storage capacity.  If we didn’t get a drop of rain for an entire year — if not a single drop of water made its way down the San Juan River — we already have enough water storage to serve the 37,400 residents that Mr. Proffitt is wishfully projecting for the year 2070 — 53 years from now.

That’s 25,000 more people than we now have living in our community.  What economic miracle could draw 25,000 more people to Archuleta County?  A second Walmart?  A wild proliferation of second-hand stores?  50 more marijuana dispensaries?

Read Part Three…

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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.