Water Conservancy District seeks to fill vacancy on board

According to a legal notice found elsewhere in this edition of The SUN, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) is still looking to fill a vacancy on its board of directors. The announcement is labeled, “Notice of Acceptance of Applications to Serve as Director of San Juan Water Conservancy District.”

In part, the item reads, “ ... Notice is hereby given that a vacancy exists on the Board of Directors of the San Juan Water Conservancy District. Applications for appointment to the Board of Directors of the District will be received until July 1, 2009.”

The notice also suggests anyone interested in serving on the district board must have resided within district boundaries for one year, and must be the owner of real property within the district in Archuleta County. Candidates must also “be knowledgeable in water matters.”

In accordance with certain Colorado Revised Statutes, namely Section 37-45-114, applications will be taken on an at-large basis, with the intent to achieve a geographical representation of the district. Prospective candidates should send a letter of interest and resume illustrating qualifications to: Board of Directors, San Juan Water Conservancy District, P.O. Box 4632, Pagosa Springs, CO 81157.

The board vacancy opened in early April with the abrupt resignation of longtime director Fred Schmidt. Schmidt served on the board in excess of 18 years. His departure came with nearly three years remaining in his current term.

During a May 11 meeting, two prospective replacements approached the board, each offering why she or he should be chosen as Schmidt’s successor.

Mely Whiting was the first to address directors. Ironically, she works as an attorney for Trout Unlimited (TU), an environmental group currently litigating an action against the water districts in respect to water rights related to the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir. Whiting is not directly involved in the case, but agreed her appointment may be perceived as a conflict of interest.

I would like to serve and this board is number one on my list,” she began. “I am not trying to infiltrate the group or sabotage the process. I’m here as a concerned citizen and not here on behalf of TU.”

In fact, a few directors expressed concerns with Whiting’s TU connections, which likely prompted her application withdrawal a few days later.

In a letter to District Court Judge Gregory Lyman, dated May 15, she expressed regret with doing so, but said, “It has become clear to me that, given my employment with Trout Unlimited and ongoing litigation over the Dry Gulch water rights, some Board members would be uncomfortable with my appointment at this time. I had hoped that my planned recusal from any discussion or decisions surrounding this short-term conflict, together with my qualifications and long term commitment, would ease some of this discomfort. This does not seem to be the case for some Board members.

“ … Accordingly, I am at this time withdrawing my application.”

While rescinding her application from further consideration, Whiting may well have been the most qualified candidate to come forward for district board service in some time. After all, the bulk of her professional career has involved work around Colorado water law.

Archuleta County Director of County Development Rick Bellis has also expressed interest in filling the Schmidt vacancy and has attended most SJWCD and Pagosa Area water and Sanitation District meetings since mid-summer 2008.

However, he apparently does not meet current SJWCD board residency requirements, which stipulate qualified candidates shall have resided within the district for a minimum of one year. Bellis moved to the area sometime after July 1, 2008, and will not officially be a resident until after the application deadline.

chuck@pagosasun.com