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Water Group: To be, or not to be

The Water Supply Community Work Group met Nov. 3 and, with little in the way of water matters discussed, the group’s questionable future took center stage.

When group chairman Bruce Dryburgh called the meeting to order, the group lacked a quorum, though with the arrival of Steve Van Horn, official business could begin — approval of past minutes and “removing members from the island.”

Jan Clinkenbeard was voted out of the group due to her recent appointment to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors, as was Archuleta County Commissioner John Ranson for his conflict of interest in light of the BoCC’s statutory oversight duties concerning PAWSD.

Wrapping up the little water business discussed at the meeting, member Glenn Robinson pointed out to the group that, according to PAWSD figures, the number of gallons pumped from the Trails Fill Station had decreased significantly over the years — for example, in October 2008, 855,000 gallons were pumped, while in the same month in 2010, 331,000 gallons were pumped from the station.

Robinson said he did not have similar data for the downtown fill station at the time, so was unable to attempt any conclusions, but simply pointed out the “startling” data to his colleagues.

With that, Dryburgh combined a number of discussion items into one, pointing out that the size of the group has recently dwindled from 19 members to 12, including the departure of John Huft, who was scheduled to give a subcommittee presentation at the meeting.

“We’re losing members in a hurry,” Dryburgh said after naming off the members still on the committee.

Dryburgh outlined the history of the group, from the first June meeting with a PAWSD-hired facilitator, the self-appointed group’s first meeting (at which, Dryburgh pointed out, the group had decided that any information disseminated to the public for articles would be reviewed by another member of the group), and the “substantial progress” the group has made over the last three months.

Among those accomplishments, Dryburgh cited the reasonable population forecast adopted by PAWSD, Huft’s stats that indicate water demand is not growing, Huft’s documentation of a 40-percent water loss, and the agreement of the PAWSD board to hold off on spending money on the Dry Gulch project until they received a report from the work group.

Dryburgh then delved into the negatives — the loss of Huft, whom Dryburgh referred to as the “most valuable member,” due to articles published by fellow group member Bill Hudson on his website.

Dryburgh voiced the opinion that a small committee can’t function and that he didn’t see a way of resolving the group’s problems while retaining enough members to do the remaining work — the mechanical subcommittee’s work on water rights and a group look at the PAWSD fee structure.

Continuing his speech, Dryburgh admitted that the work on the water rights was more difficult than originally anticipated and would take longer, adding that PAWSD may also choose to wait for a new general manager to be hired before continuing the work.

After stating, “It’s beyond my capability to fix this problem,” Dryburgh solicited comments from the PAWSD board directors in the audience, as well as the group’s members.

Allan Bunch voiced his opinion that the group was formed in hopes that the community would help solve the problems facing PAWSD, admitting that ill feelings were part of human interaction, but stating that county residents needed to be aware of what was happening and that the group needs as much publicity as possible.

Bunch also noted his wish that the group not dissolve, but that more people would step forward and community support for the group would grow.

Following on his heels, Clinkenbeard expressed her disappointment with the status of the group, calling the group’s help “invaluable” and pointing to the needed skills of individuals on the group.

Roy Vega said the group has a “definite value to the board as a way of getting input,” and said the group should not lose sight of another role — representing the community in watching over the governance of PAWSD.

Hudson refuted the “terrible drama” of the group, noting that “people come and go,” suggesting more people be invited to the group and that if the group were unhappy with his publicizing the group, perhaps a PR person should be appointed.

Discussions then continued about the possibility of a PR subcommittee, which Dryburgh said had been voted down previously, as well as about past issues within the group involving Hudson’s work with his website and the resignation of members such as Huft.

Group member John Ramberg then noted that he felt that it was “detrimental to the operation” of the group for a member to resign, then offer to counsel the PAWSD board on an individual basis, then added that he was not opposed to the public communication that had taken place on the website, ending by saying he hoped the group would continue to function and that he hoped Huft and others could work out their issues to be a part of the group.

Robinson questioned that a member of the media should be on the group, saying, “Bottom line, I feel that the committee as it stands now has no credibility or effectiveness.”

Robinson then called for the group to be disbanded and taken back to PAWSD, citing the infighting and declining membership of the group, asking, “Who would want to be on the group?”

Jim Smith noted that, at the group’s first meeting, it was decided that media would be welcome at the meetings and that the group had discussed whether or not some people should be allowed on the committee, with it being decided to leave those questionable members on.

Smith voiced the opinion that Hudson had done a lot for PAWSD and the community in the formation of the group and that the group’s role was to audit PAWSD, not be on the side of the district.

Moving down the list of group members, Steve Van Horn noted that the group had done some “tremendous work” and that he didn’t want to see the group disband, but also opined on the difference between reporting on and editorializing about the group and its work.

Van Horn then resigned from the group after citing personal reasons.

It was then Cynda Green’s turn to speak. Green had handed out a packet of contentious e-mails between her and a number of the group’s members, again inciting the discussion concerning group members writing for media outlets without having their information vetted through another member of the group.

Green then asked for a motion to vote her off because she didn’t agree with the group’s recommendations on the public dissemination of information — a motion that was never made.

With that, a symbolic motion was made by Smith for the group’s forgiveness of “brash statements,” for the group to follow ground rules, and for the group to move on.

Hudson then made a motion to recommend that criticism of another group member be “strongly vetted” by another committee member before being sent to the subject of the criticism, with the motion passing 6-2 with Jan Jorgensen and Robinson opposed.

Dryburgh then wrapped up the committee meeting, noting that the group should invite more people, consider a PR subcommittee, and for the remaining group members to e-mail him with suggestions for the group’s future.

Following a brief hiatus, the group then met with the PAWSD board, with Shellie Peterson, interim district manager, presenting a report on the history of the PAWSD schedule of fees and charges.

The presentation included the development and justification of all of the PAWSD fees, with many board members noting the informative value of the report.

PAWSD Special Projects Manager Renee Lewis said in a later interview that the report provided a good platform for the WSCWG’s future work, should they decide to continue on and in what capacity to do so.

According to Dryburgh, no further meetings of the WSCWG had been scheduled as of presstime.

randi@pagosasun.com