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New board ponders Dry Gulch

Dry Gulch Reservoir. Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District.

The two nouns were once commonly found in the same sentence with each other, in the same thought, in the same headline, even the same breath. When PAWSD was mentioned, by subtext and connotation, Dry Gulch was also mentioned.

Since the induction of Directors Allan Bunch and Roy Vega two years ago, these two proper nouns have separated. When Dry Gulch is mentioned, PAWSD might be thought of, but no longer are the two found as companions in paper work or board agendas. Vega and Bunch ran for their director seats on the platform of putting an end to Dry Gulch. In fact, during their first board of directors meeting as official directors, Bunch and Vega presented the idea for a resolution which would impose an immediate moratorium on Dry Gulch spending.

With three new directors on board, last Wednesday night was the first work session for many of them. Directors Mike Church and Glenn Walsh made it very clear during their campaign period that they were opposed to spending another dime on Dry Gulch, not to sell the property, not to make it valuable. No more rate payer money spent on anything regarding Dry Gulch.

Director Burt Adams, while agreeing that Dry Gulch Reservoir is not a viable project for the district, was not opposed to spending some money to cut all ties with the project, the concept and the land.

Church had asked for Dry Gulch to be put on the agenda for the meeting so that PAWSD could have a stated policy on their position regarding Dry Gulch. He continued, “I would like to dissolve the IGA (intergovernmental agreement) between PAWSD and the San Juan Water Conservancy District and make a statement that we don’t need water storage.”

Dry Gulch is not solely a PAWSD project, but is in conjunction with the SJWCD.

In 2008, PAWSD received a $11.2 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to be used for “the land acquisition and initial project development costs for the future Dry Gulch Reservoir site,” with an estimated total cost of $12.3 million. The loan contract between PAWSD and the CWCB continues to state in the project description that “based upon the feasibility report (supplied by Harris Water Engineering), the CWCB determined the Project to be technically and financially feasible.”

Of this total amount, $9.3 million has been withdrawn in order to pay for the Weber’s ranch property at the proposed site.

Around this same time, the San Juan Water Conservancy District received a $1 million grant that was used as a 10 percent contribution for payment of the Weber property.

But the grant and the loan from the CWCB were granted primarily on the basis of future water projection in view of demand. In the feasibility study, which was submitted to the CWCB with both applications, it stated that “historic water connection within the Districts average about 300 per year which is a growth rate of 5 percent to 7 percent.” The feasibility study continues to state that, by making the Dry Gulch Reservoir at 35,000 acre-feet, this would provide a firm water supply for the district through 2100.

A 2010 court decision limited the reservoir volume to 11,000 acre-feet.

While the PAWSD board has made known it does not want to put more money into Dry Gulch, SJWCD does not share the sentiment.

In a phone conversation with SUN staff, SJWCD Board Director Rod Profitt clarified the conservancy district’s stand on Dry Gulch.

“We’ve been trying to find a plan or way forward,” Profitt said.

Profitt has met with various entities and discussed the reservoir, trying to see if this is a viable project.

“I will talk to as many people as possible to see if they think we have a viable project. We need to find a new partner and find a way PAWSD can get out from under their obligation in a way that allows us to go forward,” Profitt said.

“We are getting very positive feedback,” Profitt said, adding that as long as PAWSD and SJWCD were not in communication, they were likely heading in different directions. “For us, we have a million dollars invested in this project. It’s not something we can walk away from.”

However, during the work session, not one PAWSD director mentioned moving forward with any project intending to build a reservoir.

“We are letting a minor owner market for us. That’s not the way I’d do it,” Church said in regards to how SJWCD is handling the situation.

Walsh echoed this view. “We have marketing representatives (SJWCD) that I don’t have confidence in. They are trying to keep this thing alive,” Walsh said.

Director Vega was also advocating cutting SJWCD out of the project.

“I don’t think you have to sell it today, but we don’t want to do business with them,” Church said, and then reiterated his stance that PAWSD dissolve the IGA between the districts.

After nearly an hour of discussion, the directors, who could not take action during the work session, were in consensus on putting the matter of the SJWCD and PAWSD Dry Gulch IGA on the agenda for either renegotiating or dissolution. All directors also agreed that a joint meeting with the SJWCD should take place soon, a meeting that Profitt said the SJWCD would look forward to.

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