The La Plata Archuleta Water District has said “no” again to becoming Ignacio’s water provider.
Town representatives met Sept. 12 with the water board to ask, one more time and in person, for the board to consider becoming the town’s water provider. The town’s visit was in response to an August letter from the water board that said it would not be the town’s provider unless conditions were addressed. After the meeting, those concerns remained, said Edward Tolen, the water district’s general manager.
“We’re not planning on providing service at this point,” Tolen said.
Ignacio began looking for alternative water providers when its current provider announced a rate increase set to begin Oct. 1. The town argues the increase is too much, but Southern Ute Utilities Division, the water provider for Ignacio, the tribal campus and local tribal members living near Ignacio, contends the increase is necessary.
Ignacio trustees Tom Atencio and Sharon Craig and Ignacio Mayor Stella Cox attended the La Plata Archuleta Water District board meeting.
“Please consider providing us with water if you have the ability to do it,” Atencio said.
The water district has the capacity to provide water to the town, according to its August letter. However, it has declined to be the town’s water provider because of two primary concerns: land easements and water loss in the town’s piping system.
To reach all the customers in the 400-square-mile district, the water district must cross land owned by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in 11 places, Tolen said. After the meeting with the town, the board was still concerned the tribe could block those easements. The tax-funded district cannot use eminent domain because the tribe is a sovereign nation, he said.
If the town secured a letter from the tribe saying it would not block easements, then the water district would be open to negotiations, board members said.
Mark Garcia, interim town manager, said the likelihood that the tribe would meet that condition is low. The tribe would likely want to consider each easement individually.
In the meeting, Garcia addressed the water loss concern, saying it was a high priority for the town. Town staff also recently repaired a large leak that should reduce loss, he said.
“Part of the problem is that you’re out of district, and we have a larger community of customers to serve,” said Dan Lynn, a water district board member, during the meeting.
The water district does not include incorporated areas of the county in its district. It would have to amend its service plan, which requires county approval, to provide water and sewer services to the town.
“We’re sympathetic, but we have to think of our customers,” Lynn said.
For the town of Ignacio, the water district’s position means searching for other water options or accepting the rates set by the tribe.
“I am hoping that we find a solution for our town,” Craig said. “I don’t know if that’s going to be with the tribe or if that’s going to be independently. I’m hoping to find rates that are not as expensive as what we are currently experiencing.”