OPINION: Paper Water vs Wet Water, Part One
The San Juan Water Conservancy District (“the District”) was formed in 1987 with the mission to conserve, develop, utilize, and plan storage for current and future water needs. The voters of the District voted to fund this effort with a 1 mill property tax. The District has never had a staff, and for years never even had an office. It did participate in several projects to further its mission, including a management plan for Stolsteimer Creek, and a mitigation plan for the Rio Blanco. It also kept conditional water rights transferred to it alive through due diligence showing progress toward making those rights absolute.
The District is holding lots of paper water, but little wet water.
The District was frugal to the point of being only marginally effective, which led to a series of reductions in the mill levy under TABOR over the years. Now, the current mill levy is set at 0.316 of one mill — about one third what it was previously. The difference is that the District has become pro-active in carrying out its mission and has responsibility for a large water storage project that requires time, attention and revenue on a daily basis.
Over the last three (3) years, the District has operated at a deficit as it expended funds to finalize a new three-way agreement between and among Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District (”PAWSD”), the Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) and the District (“the Agreement”). This year the District’s budget flipped from funding efforts to finalize the Agreement to addressing its responsibility to move a water storage project forward under the terms of the Agreement.
These efforts are even more expensive.
The budget this year included expenditures toward an application with the U.S. Forest Service for a federal land exchange, expenditures toward the acquisition of private pasture land, expenditures toward acquisition of an alternative access into the reservoir site, and expenditures in support of the District’s mission other than the reservoir project. All of these expenditures were outlined in the District’s application to CWCB for a loan to cover the costs. The total needed, which was approved, was $2 Million. The debt service on this loan is about $110,000.00 annually.
On July 6, 2017, the Pagosa Springs SUN published a news article and an editorial on the change of name the District had been working on since January of this year. The project name of “Dry Gulch” was associated with something that cost $400 Million, paid for by local taxpayers, held 35,000 acre-feet of water, built for a single purpose, and required a hundred years of growth to justify. This was not the project the District was working on, which is an 11,000 acre-foot water reservoir that costs less than $100 Million, paid from multiple sources for multiple purposes and justified as part of the very court action that disapproved the speculative nature of the former project.
At the special meeting of the District, following the SUN publication, I took personal responsibility for any missteps taken to approve a new name. I tried my best to put the issue in perspective – changing the name of reservoir, that had not been voted on previously, was not a case of misfeasance or malfeasance; it was not an issue that could not be rectified, and it was certainly not something that subjected the District to either civil or criminal action. It was, at best, a technical infraction of a statutory standard. The board of directors then voted to change the name of the project from “Dry Gulch” to “San Juan River Headwaters Project,” and the issue was resolved.
The editorial, written by Terri Lynn Oldham House, did not end there. I made a point of advising the District’s board of directors that the allegations contained in the last paragraph of the editorial were false and misrepresented the bylaws of the District. Randi Pierce, a writer for the SUN was in attendance so I expected a retraction or some official statement setting the record straight on this issue, but that did not happen. Therefore, I will set it straight, here.
The SUN’s editorial makes a reckless statement that the District may not have been acting in accordance with its bylaws at the meeting of June 12, 2017 since there are six (6) members of the board. Neither the SUN editor nor any staff contacted the District to ask just what the bylaws say. The editorial cited a provision of the bylaws stating there could be no less than seven (7) members to conduct business. The effective provision of the bylaws is on the District’s website, which makes it every easy to research. The operative provision reads:
“Section 6 of the organizational Court Decree was further amended by Order of the Archuleta County District Court on May 6, 2014, providing that the Board shall consist of no less than five nor more than nine Directors.”
I want it clearly understood that the board of directors for the District strives to do its best to carry out the District’s mission in accordance with its own bylaws and the laws of this State.