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Diane Bower appointed to water conservancy district board

Following a seven-month vacancy and a recent appointment, the San Juan Water Conservancy District now has a fully-seated board of directors ... for now.

A single vacancy on the 10-member board 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.

After many months and at least three failed attempts to fill the empty slot, Judge Gregory G. Lyman of District Court (Water Division 7, State of Colorado) appointed Diane Bower to the position on Thursday, Oct. 29. Bower was subsequently sworn in and given the oath of office last Monday, prior to attending her first district meeting as a board member.

When asked in a Wednesday phone interview why she wanted to serve on the board, Bower said, “I think it’s an important mission to safeguard our community water supplies, and I think I can help achieve real results.”

She went on to say her experiences as a longtime area resident participating in numerous other special district boards over the years have prepared her for the process and procedures typical of functioning governmental bodies.

In an Oct. 5 letter to the district board, Bower wrote, “ ... I have been a resident of Pagosa since 1977 and have worked with various districts including Pagosa Fire Protection District, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and the Upper San Juan Health Service District. This history has given me a lot of experience in working with governmental entities.”

While Bower sees effective government as an important issue, water conservation and the preservation of water rights are apparently of even greater importance.

In her Oct. 5 letter, she added, “ ... I hold the deep belief that the issue of water has become more and more a priority for this area if we and our children are to survive and continue to live in this area. Preservation of water rights and conservation are critical. The development of the Dry Gulch reservoir absolutely plays the most important part in our future and I believe that your (the district’s) efforts to date are commendable. I am aware that the Board has gone through considerable difficulties in dealing with misperceptions and often ignorance of the real issues. It is my hope that I can provide support and work with you in making water conservation and reservoir construction a reality.”

Soon after Schmidt’s resignation, three other candidates sought appointment to fill the board vacancy, with two candidates eventually withdrawing their applications, while a third failed to meet basic eligibility requirements.

Mely Whiting is an attorney for Trout Unlimited (TU), an environmental group currently litigating an action against the district and PAWSD in respect to water rights related to the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir. She applied, but ultimately withdrew when board members suggested her professional standing might interfere with her ability to remain objective.

Archuleta County Director of County Development Rick Bellis asked for board consideration, suggesting his personal views would not be clouded by his work with the county. Though he complimented the board and seemed to reflect support for its work on Dry Gulch to date, he eventually withdrew amid questions of his eligibility.

A third aspirant, local businessman J.R. Ford, also sought board appointment, but was determined ineligible when the district realized he lived outside district boundaries.

With her appointment, Bower will serve out the remainder of Schmidt’s term and stand for re-appointment in March 2012. Meanwhile, three other directors’ terms expire in March 2010, and, at this point, it’s unclear whether they will seek reappointment.

chuck@pagosasun.com