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LAPLAWD, opponents debate rural water system
8/1/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
Arguments for and against a rural domestic water system were presented to Pine River Rotary Club members on July 23.
Dick Lunceford has led the citizens task force to bring district formation to a vote on Aug. 12. He is a candidate to
The 108th annual Fiesta parade
was a huge hit in Ignacio Saturday.
Marcella Quintana and Ruben Rodriguez with Marcella's
Gifts won the single horse category in the parade.
be on the district board of directors.
He said he got involved with trying to create a rural water system after he drilled five water wells at his land on County Road 308. He said he finally got a good well, but it has gone from 10 gallons per minute down to 3 gpm, and it's full of selenium.
"I have to treat it with reverse osmosis," he said.
The district is needed because water wells in many part of the county depend on traditional flood irrigation for re-charge. That’s being replaced by sprinklers, encouraged by government tax credits, he said.
"There will be a time when more and more people are hauling water," he said. "It's not efficient, economical, or environmentally friendly."
District opponent Caryl Schmid countered,"I see this water system as a further downward spiral with loss of agriculture. … The rural water system concept implies sprawl."
Lunceford argued a rural water system “can provide for growth planning and clustering,” which can keep homes off good ag land and preserve open space. "You can’t do that relying on wells that are only adequate at best."
Schmid said the Pine River Irrigation District water court filing to use Vallecito storage water outside the PRID irrigation area is unresolved, with around 14 objectors including herself, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Town of Bayfield, the U.S. Forest Service, and several ditch companies.
"There's no access to PRID water until that's decided," she said.
Proponents have a decree for 22 cubic feet per second of water from the Animas, Pine, Florida, and Piedra Rivers, Lunceford said. Animas/ La Plata Project water also is a possibility.
"We aren’t going to wait for this (water court filing) to get sorted out" for water from Vallecito, Lunceford said. "We'll go to the next available source."
Schmid speculated there would be a lot less opposition if A/LP water was in the service plan.
Lunceford said if the district is formed, the board will make the source decision based on the best information available. “We are lucky to have the specifics we do” in the service plan, he said.
“I think the plan has over-reached,” Schmid countered.
Critic Bob Volger said, “The future water need is there. It should go out from existing urban areas instead of going all over.”
The district service plan is based on a 5 mill property tax to build the system and repay bonds. Voters will have to approve that later if the district is formed.
Lunceford said that tax rate will cost the average property owner around $140 a year. A long list of landowners and around 14 gas production companies excluded themselves from the district.
BP did not seek exclusion. They represent around $780 million of the $940 million assessed valuation of non-excluded property within the district service area, Lunceford said.
The 5 mills is expected to bring in around $4 million per year.
Volger asked what would happen if BP sold out its interests.
Lunceford said BP is building a big new office building (near the airport), and they are here long-term. But he didn’t know what would happen if they sold out to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
Over the last 10 years, a significant number of gas wells and related facilities have been bought by the tribe and gone off the tax rolls. For several years the county and tribe had a mitigation fund to reimburse this loss for special districts with a lot of land inside reservation boundaries.
Volger criticized the lack of accounting for the cost of acquiring right-of-way easements for the rural water distribution system.
Lunceford said the system will have around 400 miles of distribution lines at build-out. He indicated the system would use county road rights-of-way whenever possible. "If we reach an impasse with a landowner, we could build in another direction,” he said. “We aren’t going to pay like gas companies pay. We are going to provide a public utility."
Volger said the district could use eminent domain.
“I don’t think we’ll ever use that,” Lunceford responded. He repeated the idea of going in a different direction if a landowner wants too much money.
As proposed, the system will use up to 2,000 acre feet of water a year at build-out. Lunceford called that amount “infinitesimal.”
The source of that water will be determined by the district board if voters approve district formation. Lunceford argued that just because that’s not yet determined isn’t a reason to vote against the district.
If it does end up coming from Vallecito, the cost for 2,000 AF will be around $425,000 per year, he said.
Schmid asked,"Why did you push so hard for an Aug. 12 election instead of compiling an accurate voter list and doing it in November?"
Lunceford said proponents wanted to avoid the large November ballot. He argued the county had many months to compile an accurate voter list.
More information from water district proponents was in last week's Times. A history of the water system effort will be in next week's paper.
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