Bookmark and Share

Work group to consider water issues

A disparate work group assembled for the purpose of aiding community water planning met last week in an inaugural session that spanned three-and-a-half hours. By meeting’s end, however, preconceived convictions apparently ruled, as panelists belabored a single question.

In light of recent community unrest regarding future water planning and storage issues, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors asked that willing citizens step forward and assist in determining how best to assure long-term water supplies. By the June 9 meeting, 21 participants signed on, including local government officials, builders, Realtors, water experts and rate payers.

During its first meeting, though, according to hired meeting facilitator Maro Zagoraz, of Desired Outcomes Inc. (Fort Collins), the group was supposed to analyze, accept or revise a lengthy list of desired outcomes, while moving through a detailed agenda designed to stimulate a three-hour discussion over a broad array of topics.

While an ambitious undertaking, participants did agree to meet every two weeks, rather than monthly as originally proposed. Then, after Zagoraz described the general process and how it might work, panelists first established the following ground rules:

• All cell phones will be set to vibrate.

• The group will consider all minority opinions.

• Vote would be by consensus, meaning all will live with group decisions.

• One person will speak at a time, with no interruptions.

• Should someone adamantly opposes a group decision, he or she will be allowed to voice his or her perspective before a subsequent group vote.

• Participants, or their alternates, must attend all meetings.

• Alternates will be on the e-mail distribution list and may attend meetings.

• Participants and alternates must keep abreast of all group activities.

• Information requested by the group will be obtained prior to the next meeting.

• Participants promise to read all provided information.

• Public comment will be allowed prior to major votes and at the end of all meetings.

• Public comments will be limited to one minute.

In other action, the panel asked that PAWSD Special Projects Manager Sheila Berger share the history of the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir project and the basis for all relative district decisions made, to date.

In addition, the group agreed that its ultimate recommendations to PAWSD be documented on the district website and in the local media. It also asked that the district’s reaction to, and follow-through on, its recommendations be documented similarly.

In all, reaching consensus on the above topics took roughly an hour, with about half established in the meeting’s first half-hour, and the rest agreed to in its final half-hour. In the middle two-and-a-half hours, though, the group wrangled — sometimes contentiously — over exactly how the first of five guiding questions should be phrased.

In its original version, the inquiry read, “Should we be planning for water storage?”

Though the intent was simply to introduce the question (and four related ones), while delaying discussion until the next meeting, former San Juan Water Conservancy District board member Fred Ebeling suddenly asked, “Why can’t we answer that now?”

As Zagoraz quickly explained that the group was only engaging in “procedural stuff today,” area resident Bruce Dryburgh raised a hand and exclaimed, “Before we go further, can we talk about the first one, because I find it highly insulting, it is the response of the PAWSD board, when anybody ever said, ‘maybe we don’t need 35,000 acre feet,’ the response is, ‘oh, you’re not in favor of planning for water storage.’ Our little children are in favor of planning for water storage. It’s a stupid question and we ought to eliminate it right now.”

Others disagreed, however, as another panel member suggested the only stupid questions are the ones that don’t get asked. Ebeling continued by insisting, “I think it’s a very good question … as representatives of the public, I think we need to answer that, yes or no.”

As the debate advanced, one panelist recommended changing the wording to read, “How should we be planning for future water needs?” Most panelists warmed to that right away, as others offered somewhat refined versions, including potential planning horizons.

Citing the possibility that water could eventually be stored in Dry Gulch and made available to a community like Aspen Springs, consultant and former water commissioner Val Valentine said planning for future “water development” might make better sense. He added that the term “storage” is narrow, just like “needs” is.

Expressing a different point of view, others, including area resident (and Trout Unlimited Water Lawyer) Mely Whiting and home builder Dusty Pierce insisted more data is necessary before the panel can offer reasonable recommendations to the PAWSD board. Pierce, in fact, said there is a need to know where the district is with current water supplies and demand, before moving forward.

In the end, the group agreed that more enlightenment should come from PAWSD staff before it addresses the first and subsequent questions at its next meeting, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. June 30, in the north room of the Vista Clubhouse.

On that occasion, perhaps, the group will also determine the true makeup of the panel — how many members should participate, who’s in, who’s out — and what the group will actually call itself.

Meanwhile, Berger will supply panelists with all pertinent data and act as the Community Water Supply Planning Group contact person.

chuck@pagosasun.com