As the city of Durango becomes increasingly involved in matters concerning the Animas-La Plata Project, its leaders say they want their voice heard in decisionmaking.Short and sweet: They want a representative on the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District board of directors - a 15-seat body to which members are appointed by a water court judge.
In addition to helping craft decisions as the Animas-La Plata Project moves forward, the city also wants a say in other projects involving the river.
"It makes sense because Durango has invested significant money to have enough Animas River water to operate a whitewater boat park at Smelter Rapid," Mayor Leigh Meigs said Friday. "We need to be at the table."
Meigs was speaking about a 2007 negotiated settlement signed by water court judge Gregory Lyman that ended three years of wrangling between Durango and 50 other water users or interested parties and averted a trial.
As for A-LP, in 2005, the city put up slightly more than $1 million to cover the installation of equipment that will transfer A-LP water to a city treatment facility. The city share of construction costs was estimated at $5 million.
The $500 million A-LP will provide water for three Native American tribes and several nontribal partners from a reservoir in Ridges Basin. The reservoir is being filled now. Durango tentatively is in line for 1,900 acre-feet of water and would pay a proportionate share of operation and maintenance costs.
Councilman Doug Lyon said it was either invest in A-LP or build a dam in Horse Gulch. The city's water-storage capacity is inadequate, Lyon said. In hot weather, the city has only a week's worth of storage.
City Manager Ron LeBlanc said a seat on the water district board is necessary in order to plan confidently.
"We need to protect water interests of 16,000 residents and up to 19,000 visitors daily who ride the train or come to town to bank," LeBlanc said. "Since water district board members aren't elected, the city has no guarantees. We're used to electing representatives."
Durango also is scheduled to annex the property on which the A-LP pumping plant sits. The pumping plant, located on the banks of the Animas a short distance downstream of Smelter Rapid, draws water from the river for Lake Nighthorse, the human-made reservoir over the ridge from Bodo Industrial Park.
The city is an obvious stakeholder in the development of recreational facilities at the lake. But so far, it hasn't responded to a call from a water conservancy district subcommittee that is looking for funding and recreation planning help.
The subcommittee formed when Colorado State Parks said it has no money for Lake Nighthorse recreation.
As matters now stand, Durango can't count on having a designated seat on the water district board.
The district has three zones - the outlying Shenandoah and Rafter J subdivisions (three seats), the so-called Dryside around Breen and Marvel (seven seats) and incorporated Durango (five seats). The five Durango members are residents of the city but don't speak for it.
Bob Wolff is chairman of the water district board, a resident of Durango and a member of the city's water commission, said Barry Spear, legal counsel for the water district. Wolff knows city positions well, but doesn't represent it, Spear said.
"If Durango sent representatives to our meetings, we'd listen to them," Spear said.
Otherwise, statutes governing board membership don't allow for special-interest appointments, Spear said. When there is a vacancy, the opening is advertised for 30 days and anyone who owns property and has lived for a minimum of one year in a district may apply.
Judge Lyman considers applicants on the basis of knowledge of and/or participation in water issues, Spear said. An applicant backed by City Council wouldn't automatically be accepted or rejected for either reason, he said.
A case in point: One of the seven Dryside board members has moved out of the area. Applications to replace him will be accepted until July 26. Interested parties, however, must meet all requirements, which include being a resident of the district.