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Rural Water District has long history
8/8/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
The proposed rural water system in the southeast part of the county has a long history. The following relevant items were pulled from Times archives..
1988 - At the annual meeting, Bob Witt was first elected to the PRID board.
1989 - Phil Lane was elected to the PRID board, replacing his father.
1990 - Steve Pargin was elected to the PRID board with no opposition.
1991 - Bob Witt was re-elected by acclamation.
1992 -Phil Lane was re-elected by acclamation.
1993 - Attorney Dirk Nelson reported PRID was filing for rights to fill the reservoir twice each year. It was done in the past, he said, but there was a question of whether the existing decree allowed for that. This issue is still in water court on a more recent filing. Steve Pargin was re-elected by acclamation.
1994 - Snowpack was only 61 percent of normal, but the reservoir held 75,000 AF, a lot more than in previous years. There was more worry about water vultures. Bob Witt said, “You can’t imagine who has designs on our water… We want to be in a position to get paid for it.” BIA representative Jim Formea added, there are “more masked attacks on project water than you can imagine. Agriculture water is the first target, then recreation or municipal and industrial uses.”
1995 - At the annual meeting, shareholders voted to investigate the potential of providing a rural domestic water system. Irrigators felt that more efficient water management could cover the amount a rural system would use. At follow-up community meetings that year, news stories referred to the system serving Florida Mesa, west to Elmore’s, as well as the Pine River Valley, so water use outside the PRID area was part of it from the start.
Dirk Nelson commented at one of those meetings that the original decree for Vallecito made water available for domestic use, but that they’d probably need water court approval to extend service outside the Pine River Valley.
Bob Witt and Steve Pargin referred to 500 acre feet needed for the rural system. They said that was available. Joe Brown cited the water vultures again. Lots of downstream users would pay big bucks for valley water, he said. “I have this government fellow constantly telling me how I am going to use this water for the squawfish. It’s pretty obvious to me that either we get into the water business, show a broader use of the water, or give it to the squawfish. They will take it.” Brown also said, “I have a Department of Interior document that says I will price this water to ensure conservation,” meaning too expensive for irrigators. “We have to show more beneficial use of the water, or they are going to take it from us. This cost thing is one way.”
Public comments back then included concern about the impact on other water users, especially in dry years.
1996 - At the annual meeting, water engineer Steve Harris said PRID had allocated 2,000 acre feet of storage water per year for non-irrigation use, enough to serve 10,000 to 15,000 people. He predicted a rural system would actually need around 160 AF per year.
The 2,000 AF would be 1 percent of the amount of irrigation water in a normal year, and 2 percent in a dry year, Harris said. He and Joe Brown gave reasons for the system, including keeping control of “excess” water so other entities wouldn’t get it, giving non-irrigators more stake in what happens to Vallecito water, and profiting from much higher charges to non-ag users.
PRID directors proposed creating a separate entity, a coop, to build and operate the system. Shareholders approved appointing a committee to write by-laws for the new entity, and they authorized PRID to provide front money to the new entity, to be paid back later. The motion specified that the new entity’s board would be PRID shareholders. The motion was approved with a show of hands, with no “no” votes, although it didn’t look like everyone voted “yes.” PRID’s only responsibility with the system would be to deliver the 2,000 AF. Shareholders would have to approve any increase over 2,000 AF.
January 8, 1997 - At the annual PRID shareholder meeting, dam superintendent Joe Brown said Burec had held up Vallecito Water Company while A/LP alternatives were considered. A/LP opponents were trying to claim 45,000 acre feet of allegedly unused Vallecito water as an alternative to A/LP.
PRID director Bob Witt said PRID and VWC were doing two plans to achieve a rural water system, one with Burec and one without. VWC rep Chris Kramer said there’s 206,000 AF of flow for irrigation in a good year and 105,000 AF in the worst year at that point, 1977. Compared to that, 2,000 AF is nothing, he said. Irrigators will never miss it in a dry year, Witt said. It equals 2.6 cfs, he said. He introduced a resolution to designate 2,000 AF of storage to supply VWC. It was approved 11,426.76 shares to 341 shares. This is the vote that was overturned in October 2003.
March 3, 1997 - VWC engineer Chris Kramer reported a last minute flurry of initial tap sign-ups came in before the Feb. 28 deadline. It cost $100 refundable deposit on a $3,000 tap fee to show where the demand was. Kramer said they had 800-900 plus another 300 to be processed. The VWC board was to meet Mar. 20. They would work on by-laws and regulations. They are Bob Witt and Steve Pargin representing PRID, Bayfield Chamber president and town planning commissioner Carol Short, SUT Council member Marvin Cook, and Florida Mesa farmer Dick Lunceford. No info on change from motion approved at 1996 annual meeting authorizing PRID to provide front money for the new entity, and that all the new entity’s board would be PRID shareholders. Bayfield was objecting to potential overlap of service areas. The county worried about growth impacts.
April 7, 1997 - At a progress meeting with the county commissioners, VWC reported 1,165 tap sign-ups concentrated in a diagonal band from Gem Village southwest to Oxford to CR 318. The $100 fee was to be refunded with interest in areas where the system didn’t happen. Chris Kramer reported 95 percent of the sign-ups were residential, and 80 percent of those were existing homes. Kramer said they rejected a request for 40 taps from a parcel owner up Texas Creek. Discussion centered on where VWC lines might compete with the town of Bayfield, the tribe, or Durango. Witt said the tribe had been invited to be a one-sixth partner in VWC, as they are in the reservoir. The stickiest issue was the water service area recently claimed by Bayfield. Pre-annexation agreements were discussed. Lunceford and Kramer objected to people who need water being held hostage to that.
1998 - Dam title transfer was the big issue.
1999 - At the annual meeting, Bob Witt reported tap commitments meant the water system initial service area would run from a treatment plant near Bayfield to Oxford and along Hwy. 160 to near Elmore’s. They had 350 tap commitments in that area and needed at least 700 to get federal funds released.
One shareholder objected to raising the base rate instead of the per acre fee, apparently related to Vallecito Water Company costs. Witt said it was an effort to put the cost on potential water system users. “Ranch land is not going to use taps. That’s the reason for doing it this way,” Witt said. There was general agreement to accept the increases for now.
Efforts to take Vallecito water as an alternative to A/LP were still a concern.
January 2000 - PRID shareholders were advised that VWC was close to getting the minimum 920 tap reservations required for USDA funding. Bob Witt reported USDA would provide a $1 million loan and $2 million grant on top of $5 million already committed, but they raised their minimum tap requirement from 700 to 920.
Witt commented, "Some people feel we are going to take all the water from Vallecito, that it will take all the water from irrigation. It's such a small amount (2,000 over a full year) we can't even measure it." He said a total 1,500 taps could be sold.
Feb. 23, 2000 - Meeting at FLC on PRID’s effort to get dam title, a representative from the anti-A/LP Citizens Progressive Alliance said if PRID gets that title, it would be harder for A/LP opponents to take Vallecito water as an alternative to A/LP.
Jan. 16, 2001 - PRID held comment meeting on new water management planning effort to consider how to use water freed up when land goes out of irrigation. Hal Pierce, then working for Colorado Division of Water Resources, said suburbanization could free up 80 percent of water then used for irrigation. There should be a plan to keep as much of that as possible for local use, he said. Steve Harris said one reason for creating VWC was to switch water no longer needed for irrigation to uses that pay $220 per AF instead of the small amount paid by irrigators. He said 2,000 AF is about a day and a half of summer water releases. Spread over a whole year, it’s too small an amount to measure.
Early Feb. 2001 - Steve Harris told the Times construction on the rural water system would start in July or August, with the first trunk line along Hwy. 160 from Bayfield to Grandview. Oxford and Florida Mesa were next in line for service, Harris said.
The plan then was to put the 1 million gallon per day treatment plant on PRID dam superintendent Joe Brown’s land at the west end of North St. PRID had filed for a diversion point there, Harris said.
VWC still needed county approval of its master plan, and the service area overlaps with growth areas claimed by Bayfield and Durango were still an issue.
Feb. 6, 2001 - Bayfield town officials told VWC representatives they weren’t ready to sign an agreement to settle claimed service area overlap issues, so system construction could start this year. The county wanted agreements with Bayfield and Durango before VWC applied for a county class II land use permit.
April 18, 2001 - County commissioners’ on-the-road meeting in Bayfield, audience members wanted to know when the rural water system will happen. The commissioners said they were blamed unjustly for holding up the project. The county bought 50 taps at the airport to help VWC reach the minimum for federal funding, Bob Lieb said. He said the county supported VWC’s application for an Energy Impact grant, but it was rejected because VWC wasn’t a public entity. Josh Joswick said public utilities should be publicly owned. At that point, VWC was still an enterprise under PRID. Lieb said, “They can run with it. They have met all the criteria. The ball is in their court."
July 12, 2001 - Bayfield and VWC reps met again to try to find agreement on service area overlaps. The potential overlap areas in Gem Village and Grandview have 20 percent of customers, Steve Harris said. Restrictions in the agreement apparently threatened VWC access to federal funding. Harris disputed that. Bayfield had hired the same attorney as Durango to deal with VWC. He said forming a rural water district would solve the problems. VWC director Dick Lunceford said construction wouldn’t start for another year under the best case scenario.
August 2001 – Bob Witt notified the county commissioners that “due to financial and organizational concerns, the District has concluded that its present plans for a domestic water system are not viable, nor is it feasible to initiate construction… in the foreseeable future.”
Sept. 18, 2001 - PRID reps asked the county to keep the rural water effort alive. Participants discussed hiring a consultant to do a feasibility study. PRID and VWC reps wanted to focus on how to do it, not whether it’s feasible. They didn’t want a consultant starting from scratch after the years of work they’d done. The study was to include review of organizational structures to build and operate the system.
Jan. 5, 2002 - King Ditch director Jerry McCaw told ditch shareholders that a review of water supplies, prompted by the effort of A/LP opponents to claim Vallecito water, showed there is no extra water. “There’s not enough storage water for you to irrigate your whole place all summer. You need river (adjudicated) water. The way Vallecito is set up, there’s no water available that I know of.”
He advised the King Ditch had filed for 10 cfs of winter flow to beat out an anticipated filing by the Colorado Water Conservation Board for winter in-stream flow.
Apr. 9, 2002 - PRID dam superintendent Joe Brown predicted non-Indian irrigation water from Vallecito would be gone by mid to late July unless it rained. He predicted the reservoir would start the irrigation season with 60,000 AF, with 10,000 of that for the tribe and 2,000 reserved for a rural water system and water well augmentation. Asked about calculating daily releases to last longer than mid July, he said, “Stretching it out farther doesn’t do anybody any good.” He said the goal was a first cutting of hay. Everyone except the tribe was likely to be on storage water from the start of irrigation, he said.
Meeting in Bayfield with consultants hired by the county to do a feasibility study, PRID directors said they were still willing to provide 2,000 AF for a rural water system if one happens. The consultants showed a map showing areas with the highest density of potential customers. PRID directors worried that most are outside the PRID service area. Bob Witt commented, “The landowners who secured this water (2,000 AF) were counting on a water system. If you determine that the only place it’s feasible is outside the irrigation district, I will have a hard time selling it.”
May 2002 – Bayfield shelled out $24,200 to PRID to guarantee 110 AF of storage water in addition to the town’s traditional 166 AF, paying PRID’s $220 per AF rate for non-ag water. The town manager and public works director argued against shutting down bulk water sales, because rural customers would need it more than ever during the drought.
May 16, 2002 - Joe Brown told the Bayfield Area Chamber of Commerce that 319 cfs was coming into the reservoir that day, and the tribe was entitled to 212 cfs of that. He cited potential downstream claims on Pine River water for endangered fish or the City of Albuquerque. Oil is moved all over the world and no one thinks anything about it, he said. People pay more per gallon for bottled water at the store than they do for oil, so water could come to be moved around the same way oil is. He said, “Las Vegas was putting out feelers to pay $550 per acre foot for water a few years ago. If I sold it for that and turned the money over to the farmers, that would be more money than these farmers usually make.”
June 1, 2002 - Statewide snowpack was gone. Vallecito maxxed out at 64,000 AF.
June 7, 2002 – Joe Brown said major ditch networks would be out of water by July 1. Some had reduced flows to stretch out their season. Some would likely shut off in mid June. A lot of ranchers wouldn’t get a first cutting of hay. Shareholders were getting .95 AF of storage water for every 1 AF they had rights to. In a good year they get more like 2.7 AF for every 1 AF of storage rights, he said.
July 2, 2002 - Consultants said a rural water system is physically and economically feasible, and the county is the best entity to make it happen. Feasibility was determined by how the initial service area was defined, they said. Their proposal was similar to what PRID had proposed, with the first phase along Hwy. 160 from Gem Village to Grandview, and the airport and Oxford area. The second through fifth phases might include parts of CR 502 and 223, CR 509 and 510. They based feasibility on current total demand of 1,270 taps using 250 gpd, for a total annual demand of 360 AF. They proposed a treatment plant near Bayfield.
Vallecito reservoir held about 20,000 AF as of July 2, with the tribe entitled to 7,000 AF of that.
Sept. 30, 2002 - Consultants held community meeting about the feasibility study. Some participants questioned using Vallecito water and worried it would take water from irrigators. Some objected that the PRID shareholders who approved the 2,000 AF were not in the proposed service area. Others described the unsuccessful water wells they’ve drilled. Dick Lunceford said the 2,000 AF was still in the reservoir.
Nov. 13, 2002 - County commissioners discussed results of rural water feasibility study. No other local government entity, private organization, or the tribe had stepped forward to make the system happen. The study assumed 28 miles of pipeline initially, and 79 miles at build-out. It projected annual water needs at 360 AF for phase 1 along Hwy 160; 620 AF for full buildout in 2020; and 850 AF in 2050.
Nov. 25, 2002 - County commissioners held hearing on the possibility of a rural water system. There was general agreement that a system is needed. Most speakers wanted the county to do it, but southeast residents objected they are the ones who would provide the water but they aren’t included in the proposed service area.
Dec. 20, 2002 - PRID representatives told the county commissioners that their willingness to supply water for a rural system depends on that system serving PRID shareholders. Commissioner Sheryl Ayers pointed out the proposed service area is similar to what VWC planned. Bob Witt said southeast residents had more trust in VWC than in the county commissioners to get service to them. Joe Brown said the consultant proposal talked only about Hwy 160 and Florida Mesa. Phil Lane said PRID’s plan had been to get service to southeast residents in five years. The PRID reps made it clear they blamed obstructions from the county, Durango and Bayfield for inability to build the system. Steve Harris said it was a condition on the master plan approval to get separate class II approval for every part of the system.
Jan. 4, 2003 - King Ditch shareholders strongly opposed using Vallecito water for a county water system serving mainly Florida Mesa.
Jan. 5, 2003 - Community meeting in Allison debated whether PRID should resurrect efforts to build a rural water system, with a promise that the southeast part of the county would eventually get service, or to keep water just for irrigation. Many of those present wanted the latter. They questioned how 2,000 AF got allocated for domestic use in the first place. Many opposed sending water outside the PRID service area for a rural system that would be built first between Bayfield and Grandview, and south to Oxford and the airport.
Jan. 8, 2003 – PRID annual meeting was packed. Shareholders voted by more than 2-1 to let the PRID board negotiate with the county toward creation of a rural water system. At the time, the county was considering doing the system.
May 27, 2003 - County commissioners discussed a rural water system and concluded that it would best be done by a special district. Steve Harris said some people were working on that, in hopes of a formation election in May or Nov. 2004. USDA money previously secured by PRID was still available.
Aug. 26, 2003 – Citizens group chaired by Dick Lunceford held community meeting in Bayfield to announce plans to create a rural water district. Around 100 people came. Lunceford and Gregg Johnson discussed a pay as you go plan with a 5 mill levy, and build-out over 15-17 years; or a 10 mill levy with authority to bond for $70-$80 million and build all at once. Most audience members wanted it built all at once. They didn’t want to pay the tax for 15 years without having service. The service plan involved a minimum 20 year commitment of 2,000 AF from Vallecito.
Oct. 29, 2003 – A special PRID meeting was held on leasing 2,000 AF for rural water system. The opposition group called it a gopher hole and took the name Opponents of the Gopher Hole Project. They rallied shareholders to reject the allocation of Vallecito water, 15,522.6 shares against and 14,203.3 shares for. Most of the nos seemed to be small shareholders. Steve Harris said 2,000 AF is 36 hours full release from Vallecito.
Nov. 2003 – Bob Witt announced a new effort to create a voluntary pool of PRID shareholders to provide the water. He asserted there were plenty of people willing to do that.
Dec. 2003 – Announcement that Dick Lunceford had filed in mid-Nov. for 30 cfs of decreed rights in the Animas River with three potential diversion points, and 10 cfs from the Piedra River with a diversion point just north of Navajo reservoir. Gregg Johnson said 1 cfs for a year is 730 AF. Both rivers are under-appropriated, so the water district could pull from them before getting the decrees.
Dec. 11, 2003 – The county planning commission approved the service plan for a rural water district, although they worried about the plan’s vagueness. Steve Harris said 5 cfs would provide the 2,000 AF. He said the proponents also would file for rights on the Pine.
Dec. 15, 2003 – The Gopher Hole group sued to stop PRID from providing 2,000 AF for a rural water system; also to block individual PRID shareholders from doing this. They wanted a declaration that there is no surplus water in Vallecito (defined as water acquired after formation of the district); or a ruling that the water can’t be leased without proving that it won’t hurt irrigators.
Dec. 16, 2003 – The Bayfield town board voted on wording it wants in rural water district service plan. Residents in the town’s outlying growth area (eg Gem Village) would have to petition the county to join the district, and sign an annexation consent agreement. They would have to give the town nine months notice, and the town could decide whether to provide service or let them be in the district. Town Manager Brett Boyer said district proponents agreed to what the town wanted.
April 2004 – The La Plata County Commissioners approved the service plan for a rural water district, but with conditions. They allowed exclusion requests from landowners but not gas development companies. The companies successfully challenged that in court, and this first version of a water district never went to a public vote.
June 28, 2004 – Judge Jeff Wilson ruled in the Gopher Hole suit. He ruled a 1994 PRID resolution that there is extra storage water to lease and authorizing 2,000 AF for a rural water system doesn’t satisfy legal requirements; individual shareholders may pool shares and lease water to a rural system if it’s approved in Water Court; the PRID board has statutory authority to allocate water between domestic and irrigation use without specific shareholder approval; Gopher Hole failed to show lack of adequate notice for Jan. 2003 PRID annual meeting. PRID agreed the 1997 resolution should have referred to leasing, not selling, 2,000 AF.
Issues still to be settled at trial were whether PRID has excess water to lease; if it is determined there is excess water, PRID will have to get shareholder approval for the lease. Also whether PRID’s five year limit on keeping records is too restrictive.
Aug. 30, 2004 - In a clarification to his June ruling, Judge Wilson said, “As to the pooled water, the court cannot see any reason why PRID’s board cannot allocate how such water will be used outside the district. … However, PRID does not have the authority to allocate non-pooled water outside the district.”
Wilson concluded, “that PRID’s board has no power to allocate water outside the district’s boundaries except when authorized to do so by vote of the shareholders… or when individual owners of the water rights being leased delegate their authority to lease their water to the board.”
Dec. 9, 2004, Gopher Hole and PRID submitted an agreement and request to dismiss any remaining issues in the above suit, presumably meaning whether there is excess water available to lease.
Dec. 2004 – PRID and the Bureau of Reclamation started negotiating a contract to govern conversions of project water for existing and future non-ag uses.
Feb. 2006 – At a PRID-Burec contract negotiating session, some audience members protested a contract provision that would allow leasing outside the PRID service area. Burec reps said it’s not their concern and it would stay in the contract. From the start, the contract included a provision that no water conversion to non-ag use would be allowed if it was detrimental to irrigation or rights of prior appropriators.
April 28, 2006 – Comment deadline for EA required as part of finishing the contract. It covered 3,000 of the total 6,700 AF of non-ag use authorized in the draft contract.
March 2007 – The final contract was signed, apparently with minimal change from 2006 version.
June 19, 2007 – PRID filed in Water Court for a change in its decree to allow leasing outside the district, to an area coinciding with the proposed rural water district service area.
Early July 2007 – Water district proponents filed new service plan with the county.
Aug. 6, 2007 – The Southern Ute Indian Tribe filed objection to PRID’s water court filing on grounds it could damage their rights.
Oct. 2007 – The La Plata County Commissioners approved without conditions the rural water district (LAPLAWD) service plan. All exclusion requests filed by the deadline were approved, including gas production companies. BP did not request exclusion.
June 5, 2008 – District Court Judge David Dickinson authorized a vote on Aug. 12 on whether to form a rural water district and elect a board of directors. A Water Court ruling was still pending on PRID’s application to lease water outside the PRID service area. The next hearing on this is currently scheduled for Sept. 12, 2008, at 3 p.m. There are around 14 objectors, including the tribe and the Town of Bayfield.
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