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PAWSD could lift moratorium
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In 1999, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) imposed a moratorium on new out-of-district inclusions until it could develop added raw water storage and delivery systems sufficient to serve additional customers. Now, 10 years later, the district board of directors will consider lifting the interlude at its July 14 meeting.

The district board originally based the moratorium on two specific concerns. One involved whether current raw water storage capacity could accommodate new developments outside district boundaries, while the other related to the district’s ability to adequately treat and deliver potable water to current and future customers.

Completion of the Dutton Ditch pipeline in 2006, and ultimate completion of the Stevens Reservoir enlargement this year, will soon provide enough raw water storage to allow limited new inclusions, but treatment plant capacity — particularly near downtown and during peak demand times — is still a cloudy issue.

Upon completing the Dutton Ditch pipeline, the district could more efficiently deliver more raw water to both Hatcher and Stevens reservoirs. In 2008, meanwhile, the district augmented the Stevens Reservoir dam, increasing the impoundment’s maximum storage capacity from 624 acre feet to 1,775 acre feet. An acre-foot is one acre (43,560 square feet) of land flooded to a depth of one foot.

Though Stevens can now accommodate considerably more water than it did when the district first declared its moratorium, it won’t be filled to capacity until wetlands mitigation work ends later this year.

That work, now underway, is the first of a two-step process involving site preparation; excavation and placement of several inches of wetland soils; the installation of monitoring wells, depth gages and erosion control measures; road maintenance and planting of around 1,300 small shrubs. PAWSD officials believe workers will complete the first step in 120 calendar days.

Then, depending on weather, the reservoir will be filled to capacity when district water rights are in priority, later this year.

To complete the final step, district managers will again reduce the reservoir level by approximately six vertical feet, sometime around May 2010. That will allow planting of an additional 70,000 wet meadow and emergent plants, before refilling the reservoir late next year, when district rights are again in priority.

In spite of developer requests for new inclusions and pressure from the town and county governments to accommodate growth, the PAWSD board has refused to consider lifting the moratorium until seeing substantial completion of the Dutton Ditch pipeline and Stevens enlargement projects. By “substantial,” the board apparently includes finalization of current wetlands work, installation of livestock fencing, final filling of the reservoir, and removal of the former Humane Society building.

Given real progress in the projects overall — and belief that Stevens will likely fill after next year’s runoff — the board is now willing to at least discuss an end to the moratorium. However, concerns over treatment plant capacity and delivery of potable water remain.

PAWSD serves two main districts. Generally speaking, District One includes Pagosa Lakes and an area part way down Put Hill. The downtown area generally falls in District Two.

At present, the Snowball Water Treatment Plant on Snowball Road serves the downtown area. The facility is already at capacity, forcing PAWSD to occasionally divert potable water downtown, from the San Juan Treatment Plant on Lyn Avenue near Pagosa Vista Estates. Therefore, new inclusions to District Two would conceivably create demand greater than the district could meet in that area.

Because the San Juan plant’s capacity currently exceeds demand, however, the district board may choose to consider new inclusions to District One, while leaving the moratorium in place for District Two.

Certainly, the long term answer in accommodating growth outside the district will be to increase treatment capacity. That will come, as PAWSD is able to construct a new treatment plant near the Dry Gulch dam site. Of course, that will take both time and money.

To add complexity to the situation, increasingly restrictive state and federal drinking water regulations will require costly treatment plant upgrades district-wide, further inhibiting PAWSD’s ability to meet demand over and above current levels.

According to PAWSD Special Projects Manager Sheila Berger, “An ultimate board decision on July 14 to lift the inclusion moratorium will be predicated on the Board’s confidence in its ability to balance current supply with current demand, projected supply with projected demand, and in the end, public health, safety and welfare with economic development.”

chuck@pagosasun.com