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PAWSD candidates deal with major issues

On May 8, a shift will take place on the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation board of directors. On that day, three board directors will step down — Steve Hartvigsen, Jan Clinkenbeard and Windsor Chacey will leave their seats vacant. On May 8, it will be up to the voters to decide which of the following six candidates will fill those seats and complete the shift.

Burt Adams was a part-time resident of Pagosa for 18 years before moving here full-time in 2000. Adams has been the principal at Adams Engineering for 40 years.

Mike Church has been in Pagosa for 11 years and now works as a Real Estate broker. He has a background in civil engineering, both running his own company and working for government entities. He has been active with the Salvation Army and helped with its food outreach services.

Raymond Finney has lived in Pagosa for 16 years, works as a Realtor for Century 21, and is active in Knights of Columbus and Kiwanis. He ran for the PAWSD board in 2010. For over 20 years, Finney has been an active board member for “El Porvenir,” a nonprofit water and sanitation project in Nicaragua.

Patrick O’Brien has lived in Pagosa since 2001 and has been an engineer with Briliam Engineering since 2002. In addition to his work, he has served on the San Juan Basin Health Board for one term and has worked with multiple boards and agencies throughout the region.

Chris Pitcher was born and raised in Pagosa and has worked as a civil engineer at Riverbend Engineering for six years. He is the father of three young children and cares about the future of Pagosa Springs.

Glenn Walsh moved to Pagosa in 2002. Despite working as an office supervisor in New York City on the weekends, Walsh has attended many PAWSD meetings and was also a member of the Water Supply Community Work Group.

Each candidate was asked three questions regarding current and possible concerns PAWSD has. Here are the responses they submitted.

Do you think PAWSD is adequately addressing the district’s water loss? If not, what steps would you recommend be taken to remedy the water loss?

Adams: “PAWSD has a program to significantly reduce system water loss. It will take several years because of poor documentation/locations piping and valves. This is being addressed with Survey grade GPS instrumentation with input to the master plan. This includes implementation of a maintenance plan — not the historical ‘fix it when it breaks.’”

Church: “No. I think the water district’s at the beginning of putting together a GIS system that will identify the weak areas that need attention, but the water district overall has been reactive, as they’ve said, and not been able to anticipate the maintenance required for the main system since it was installed. The simple solution - at night go in and shut the valves on either side of existing fire hydrants, put a pressure gauge on the fire hydrant, and record any pressure drops. Compile that information on the new GIS system, and when that process is completed for the full 300 miles of line, go back and fix the worst ones. And it’s not hard, and it’s inexpensive to do.”

Finney: “I think PAWSD is working at the problem. They haven’t figured it out yet, but they’re working on it. Actually, I’ve got a lot of confidence in PAWSD staff, that it will get it figured out. It’s an engineering problem, and engineering problems can be figured out. People problems are much more difficult to figure out.”

O’Brien: “I think that PAWSD has acknowledged that water loss is an issue, but to date has not yet addressed the issue adequately. PAWSD has identified approximately 19 locations throughout the distribution system where pressure reducing valves are required or need replacement. This is a good start, and a firm schedule needs to be developed and implemented to complete this work within a set time frame. Additionally, we need to develop a priority list using the delineated pressure zones starting with the highest pressure zones within the system (per AWWA standard recommendations). Use the equipment that PAWSD has purchased for leak detection, break down the list into manageable sections and follow through with the work. Once this work is completed in conjunction with both the valve exercising program that PAWSD is currently implementing and the development of a GIS based asset management system, progress on reducing the water loss should continue to be tracked on a regular interval and remain a high priority for the board.”

Pitcher: “For PAWSD to stay true to their mission of providing safe drinking water in an economical and environmentally responsible manner, they should strive to have water losses well below the industry average. The district has made some major improvements in tracking and limiting customer water losses with the automated meter reading program and educating users on water conservation measures, but to really expect their users to participate, the district should be able to lead by example with significant increased efficiency in their water distribution system.

“The PAWSD water distribution network is extremely large considering the relatively small amount of users, and I understand it is a daunting task to accurately assess the condition of the entire network. PAWSD must continue to systematically evaluate the condition of the distribution system and prioritize repairs of older or damaged infrastructure.”

Walsh: “No. PAWSD is losing over 40 percent of treated water. We pay almost $10,000,000 per year to produce 600 million gallons of water and then lose nearly half of it. What private business could survive such waste? It’s a financial and environmental disgrace. First, plug up the leaky thinking. We still hear needle-in-a-haystack excuses, coming after years of the ‘It’s a paper loss excuse,’ the ‘customer theft excuse,’ and the ‘inaccurate metering’ excuse. Everyone at PAWSD owns this problem: No raises in water rates — or management salaries — until water loss is cut in half. Board members, too, have to adopt responsibility for previous mistakes. If water loss is not cut in half in my first term I won’t run for reelection and will send a personal apology to every customer.

“Second, we need to face the basic question: Why should we assume the developers of Pagosa Lakes installed the water pipes more professionally than the roads running alongside them? Repairs in the lakes consistently show shoddy initial work.

“I think we know where the problem is, and I think we are afraid of the price tag, frankly. You cannot solve the problem if you are afraid of the answer.”

Do you think PAWSD has adequate water storage for future needs? If not, how would you address this issue?

Adams: “Dry Gulch reservoir was ill conceived. PAWSD has adequate future water storage, but the interconnecting piping/distribution systems between the various reservoirs is poor. E.g. PAWS can only fill Hatcher Reservoir from Dutton pipeline until May when rancher water rights take precedent. Presently no other way to fill it for use by new Hatcher Plant. PAWSD has a preliminary piping/distribution plan to facilitate a very flexible distribution system.”

Church: “First, these numbers are a rough estimate. PAWSD customers use about 1,400 acre feet a year and the Pagosa Lakes have about 5,500 acre feet of storage capacity. If you take the leak rate of last month of 45 percent in the current water distribution system and reduce it to industry norm of 10 percent leak rate then we have a reduced demand of 980 acre feet per year for all of PAWSD. This means a storage capacity in the Pagosa Lakes is about 5.5 years without evaporation loss counted. The drought of 2002 could be easily handled with all the Pagosa Lakes topped off and used as a water source. Of course, water quality issues using lake water would need to be addressed but lakes are used as water sources all the time. The next step in the far future would be to tie in the entire system into the West Fork senior water rights of about 4,300 acre feet. This would give about 2,000 more acre feet of water for future growth. We do not need the Fred Schmidt Memorial Reservoir at Dry Gulch.”

Finney: “Probably not. I think we need to assure adequate water storage by PAWSD doing smaller projects than Dry Gulch. Again, it’s engineering. Do you dredge out the lakes so there’s more volume? Those are the types of questions to deal with.”

O’Brien: “We were successful in managing the 2002 drought using a combination of mandatory water restrictions, public awareness, and a water usage tier structure that discouraged excessive water usage. PAWSD currently has water storage available in the following reservoir/lakes: Hatcher, Stevens, Village, Pagosa, and Forest. At this time, a portion of Hatcher Lake is not readily available due to a rock shelf that would serve as a natural dam, preventing full use of the lake if necessary. This issue needs to be addressed. Also, the raw water available from the series of lakes from Stevens, Village, Pagosa, and Forest cannot be accessed; although Briliam Engineering is currently assisting PAWSD with developing preliminary plans to convey and treat raw water from the Lake Forest to the San Juan WTP. The combination of obtaining higher priority water rights along with addressing the water loss issues with the existing infrastructure should provide a substantial additional safety factor to address future water storage issues along with possible drought conditions.”

Pitcher: “Near future yes, long range future probably not. It is very important for PAWSD to consider how it will meet the long range water needs of our community. All of the potential water storage options need to be thoroughly considered and a strong consensus reached on a direction that the community is comfortable pursuing. Water storage projects take a long time to come to reality and we certainly do not want to be in a position in the future where we have limited our ability to be a thriving community because of poor planning in the past.”

Walsh: “Absolutely and maybe not. First the ‘absolutely:’ We have three large and two small reservoirs that total 5,500 acre feet of usable storage and are full every spring. PAWSD sells less than 1,200 acre feet of water each year, plus 200 acre feet for irrigation. We start every year with 400 percent of our normal year water use in storage. Why do we need the ‘modest’ 11,000 acre foot Dry Gulch reservoir that will drown us in $200 million of debt? So we can have twelve times our annual use in storage?

“Second, the ‘maybe not.’ We are losing about 750 acre feet of treated water every year. That’s all the water in Lake Hatcher every two years! Fix the leaks. Just as important, we haven’t connected all of our reservoirs with our treatment plants. That’s right, the district has been spending all of its efforts for nearly ten years on Dry Gulch while our existing reservoirs are not connected to our treatment plants. This year, if a drought worse than 2002 were to occur, we would have 3,500 acre feet of storage we could not use without extraordinary effort and expense.”

How would you help to ensure a successful collaboration between the Town of Pagosa Springs and PAWSD so the district may treat the town’s wastewater?

Adams: “Successful collaboration between the Town and PAWSD should be assured as the cost savings of doing the project is huge — in excess of 15 million dollars. This affects all rate payers town and county. A new Town treatment plant (7-8 million dollars) would require relocation of the PAWSD lower San Juan intake to the proximity of the Town bridge over U.S. 160 - many, many millions of dollars for PAWSD rate payers. The signed Intergovernmental Agreement between the Town and PAWSD protects both entities.”

Church: “The IGA that is in place does have one major positive aspect to it, and that is it increases the customer pool size from 3,000 customers (round terms) to approx 4,000, an increase of 25 percent. If an unfunded government mandate requires that higher standards of water treatment occur, those costs can be spread over a larger pool and save the existing customer a substantial sum of money. Upgrades to meet the more possible nitrogen and phosphorous regulations has been estimated by the Denver Post to cost $16 million, and that would save existing customers approx $1,300 each since those costs would be spread over a larger pool. Actual cost of treatment is probably much lower than the Denver Post claims, but until final standards and legislation are determined, that’s the only number I can go by.

“I do feel, that the IGA, while imperfect, is an overall benefit to all customers.”

Finney: “From what I hear, the deal needs to be renegotiated, because it’s pretty one sided. PAWSD is really helping out the Town — i.e. not factoring in what’s already been built; they’re just charging the town what it costs to process the waste water. There should be some type of buy in, maybe not up front but to factor in over time.”

Pitcher: “It makes good sense for the two districts to work together and even potentially become one. This agreement is a first step in simplifying and making more efficient waste water treatment for the community. There are details of how the agreement between the Town and PAWSD is structured that need to continue to evolve to ensure all users are equally considered.”

O’Brien: “Initially, we need to ensure that the entire effort is transparent, equitable, and fair to both the PAWSD and Town customers. The executed IGA between the Town and PAWSD needs to be revisited. It is my understanding that the Town has lost the $2M loan from the CWRPDA and may lose the $1.25M grant from DOLA since the project scoping has changed from a WWTP to a lift station project, and this potentially jeopardizes the funding required from the Town for the project.

“Here are the most pressing issues that must be addressed to ensure a successful collaboration between the Town and PAWSD.

“1) Negotiate a fair and equitable fee schedule addressing the capital costs associated with the necessary future upgrades to the Vista WWTP, including but not limited to hydraulic and organic loading rate and regulatory required treatment technology improvements. 2) PAWSD must address the significant infiltration and inflow (I&I) issues within the Vista and Highlands collection systems. Seasonal flows due to snowmelt and monsoon rains can increase the flow rate by 2 times over the normal based flow rate.”

Walsh: “In my professional and personal life, I’ve learned — sometimes the hard way — that relationships can’t survive without honesty, transparent communication and fairness. Win/lose does not last without bullying. The idea behind the contract between PAWSD and the Town is brilliant. It saves the Town $3 million in construction and personnel costs and opens up a beautiful 26 acre riverside park for the entire community. The contract, however, is unfair. Should the Town get to treat all of its waste at a $14 million plant for 20 years and not pay one dollar towards the cost of that plant? No. Should PAWSD lend almost $3 million of reserves for 20 years almost interest free? PAWSD customers will lose almost half the value of those reserves over 20 years. If new state regulations recently passed are imposed on the Vista plant, PAWSD may have to borrow money at 3 or 4 percent because it doesn’t have the reserves. Altogether, the Town could contribute a fraction of its savings in debt service and interest and make this a fair and sustainable deal. Healthy communities – and we have a divided community right now — are never built upon win/lose deals. Never.”

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