Water and sanitation district responds to critics

In 2006, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) lawfully established a Water Resource Fee (WRF) to help fund future water rights, raw water storage and water treatment facilities made necessary by growth.

As a component of its Capital Investment Fee (CIF) initiated in 2002, PAWSD now imposes the WRF on all new construction. Charged at a rate of $7,210 per equivalent unit of estimated water usage, one EU is roughly equal to the water demands of a single-family residence.

Since developing the WRF, PAWSD considered all residential properties as a single EU, while calculating the number of EUs for commercial properties by referencing a convoluted American Water Works Association work sheet. Results often led to grossly-inflated upfront fees that precluded many developers from continuing with planned projects.

In the meantime, Realtors, builders and developers began feeling the squeeze from various impact fees, including the WRF, and voiced serious concern at several PAWSD board meetings. Local editorials and letters to the editor reflected similar angst, as speculators began looking elsewhere to invest development capital.

In response, PAWSD eventually agreed to a five-year amortization schedule (at 5 percent interest) for those unable to pay large fees upfront, and changed its method of calculating residential and commercial EUs to a system consistent with the Universal Plumbing code.

The system relies on fixture count to determine appropriate meter size, which more accurately indicates the number of EUs necessary to service a particular property. Among other things, fixtures include sinks, toilets, domestic laundry hookups, hose bibbs, water heaters and showers.

The program more fairly assesses water resource fees based on anticipated use. Further, if a commercial property has undergone renovation, yet its meter size hasn’t changed, the owner or developer pays no water resource fee at all.

As PAWSD and the San Juan Water Conservancy District looks to the future and eventual development of Dry Gulch Reservoir, their boards of directors insist that “public input has always been, and continues to be, an influential consideration in board decisions.”

With that in mind, directors point to other actions recently taken by both boards, including hiring consultants to revise growth and reservoir cost projections. With that information, another PAWSD consultant will provide independent analyses of its Capital Investment and Water Resource fees, which could result in significant fee adjustments.

Meanwhile, talks with a local land alliance continue, in hope that placing conservation easements on Dry Gulch property will ensure future public use of land surrounding the reservoir.

According to a recent press release, PAWSD has also created a Dry Gulch link on its Web site to serve as a clearinghouse for all project information. The site categorizes all concerns expressed by those attending public meetings or communicating through public forums, including those related to the Capital Investment and Water Resource fees.

As a three-part link, the first section lists all comments individually, while the second summarizes them by issue. The third segment provides direct board responses to each issue.

To view what PAWSD refers to as its “Listening Log/Responsiveness Summary,” log on to www.pawsd.org and click on “Board Responds to Dry Gulch Input” on the home page. Those without computer access may obtain a hard copy by visiting the PAWSD offices at 100 Lyn Ave., Pagosa Springs.

chuck@pagosasun.com