PAWSD considers property, litigation, ditch repairs

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) boards of directors met in special joint session Monday afternoon, with the bulk of discourse taking place behind closed doors.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., the meeting was called to order.

Soon after, a consultant representing both districts offered a quarterly summary of the 2008 PAWSD Water Conservation and Water Information programs. Following a brief discussion, including talk of similar programs for 2009, the boards adjourned to executive session, accompanied by attorney Evan Ela.

As stated in the public notice describing the meeting, the executive session was “for the purposes of discussing matters related to property acquisition, other matters subject to negotiations involving both Districts, pending litigation with Pagosa Partners I, Inc. and Trout Unlimited, and legal advise pursuant to Sections 24-6-402(4)(a), 24-6-402 (4)(b), and 24-6-402(4)(e), C.R.S. (Colorado Revised Statutes).”

Though the executive session ran well beyond two hours, PAWSD manager Carrie Weiss reported that little of note developed amid the prolonged confidential talks.

She declined comment on legal issues involving Pagosa Partners I, Inc., and said only that the districts and Trout Unlimited (TU) would likely file court briefs some time after the first of the year, in their ongoing litigation before the Colorado Supreme Court.

TU recently appealed the latest District Court, Water Division 7 decision concerning water and diversion rights related to the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir northeast of town.

According to Weiss, directors spent much of their executive session discussing the eventual need to acquire additional properties to accommodate Dry Gulch. Without going into detail, she said the districts have recently determined that ownership of a number of relatively small tracts will be necessary, before the reservoir could become reality.

Once both boards returned to public session, action was taken to negate a Colorado mineral lease on land near Dry Gulch. In January, the districts purchased more than 660 acres to contain most of the future impoundment, but the state held a long-term mineral lease on 40 acres of the land, near U.S. 160.

To suspend any potential for mineral development of the parcel indefinitely, the districts had to file a detailed request and pay $12,000 in fees.

Talk then turned to the need for substantial repairs to Park Ditch. The ditch is a primary irrigation canal that carries agricultural water from the San Juan River to a number of ranches east of Pagosa Springs. It passes through the general area of Dry Gulch, and the districts are among those owning water rights associated with it.

As a narrow earthen waterway running through extensive shale soils, Park Ditch is vulnerable to landslides and substantial seepage. As a result, the loss of valuable water has increased to unacceptable levels in recent years.

Though preliminary, engineering estimates suggest that Park Ditch repairs are essential and could cost as much as $100,000. Collectively, all ditch users will bear the burden, with the amount each individual or entity must pay being determined by the number of shares owned.

All told, there are 600 shares in Park Ditch and together, the districts own approximately 70, more or less. To help fulfill their repair obligations, the districts are now looking into possible grants or, perhaps, a low-interest loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

While a portion of the public session included talk of collecting SJWCD impact fees, Weiss said next week’s board meeting will likely cover that topic in greater detail. The SJWCD board will convene at 9 a.m. Monday, at 100 Lyn Ave.

chuck@pagosasun.com