OPINION: No Way on 5A… Reject the ‘Dry Gulch’ Tax Increase

By Mike Church

The November ballot will include a proposed mill levy increase for the San Juan Water Conservancy District (Ballot Measure 5A.) This is yet another tone-deaf proposal by SJWCD — and a very bad idea for Pagosa Springs.

The tax increase will purportedly be used to increase our public debt for additional property purchases in the Dry Gulch valley. I urge Archuleta County voters to say “NO” to this tax increase.

Please note — although I am a member of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board of directors, I am writing as a private citizen with considerable knowledge about our water issues. This article does not represent any official position of the PAWSD board.

The Dry Gulch Reservoir project was unilaterally renamed “San Juan River Headwaters Project” in order to trick voters into investing more of tax dollars to this wasteful project.

While I was President of the PAWSD board, we entered into an agreement with the State of Colorado and SJWCD. “San Juan River Headwaters Project” is not a legal name for the project, on any agreement signed by SJWCD.  PAWSD owns about 90% of the project property and never approved the sham name of “San Juan River Headwaters.”

Some interesting points of the three-way agreement between PAWSD, SJWCD and the State of Colorado:

1. PAWSD can sell the Dry Gulch property at any time it chooses. So the public could very well be paying taxes to build a reservoir that has no site.

2. The intent of the agreement on Dry Gulch was to put it into a “time out” — with a planning period of 20 to 40 years — because there is no justifiable need for this project at this time. We simply don’t have any consistent growth to justify this reservoir now.

3. The three-party agreement also allows for land trades without spending additional taxpayer revenues during the 20-year planning period — so the mill levy increase is not needed.

4. The three-party agreement saved PAWSD customers many millions of dollars in interest payments, for loans that past SJWCD leaders saddled PAWSD customers with — unethically, in many people’s opinion.

Just to give a clear picture to the local voters, our existing PAWSD reservoirs can be operated so that we have six years of lake storage, even in drought situations. To do this, PAWSD would prioritize San Juan River flows using our new ultraviolet treatment process currently being budgeted to install next year at the San Juan Treatment Plant. Since 1935, the average San Juan river flow has always exceeded our needs; only once in the past 80 years did the river get low enough for a couple of months to hinder the flows of fresh river water.

pagosa springs colorado recreation san juan river springs resort

Enjoying the mountain-fed waters of the San Juan River in 2015, with the Springs Resort in the background.

PAWSD reservoirs are easy to top off yearly, due to our close proximity to the San Juan snow pack. Even when drought occurs, we can still top off our current reservoirs due to our first-in-line location next to the snow pack. We have never experienced a situation where no snow pack water was available — and arguments to the contrary are desperate and uninformed.

So why — when we have no need for the Dry Gulch Reservoir — does SJCWD want still more tax revenues? Ask yourself who will benefit from additional money invested into this unjustifiable boondoggle.  Perhaps SJWCD is already planning on hiring a General Manager… maybe with a nice big salary? There is no justification for any salary to manage 10% of a reservoir site that may be sold in the future and never built!

Please vote ‘No on 5A’ — the proposed San Juan Water Conservancy District mill levy increase. And spread the word to others to vote ‘No’ on this gross overreach.

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