Approximately 1,000 Paonia voters within the city limits will have the final say on a citizen proposed water moratorium in a special election on Jan. 7. Last October, Paonia’s trustees decided to put the matter in the hands of citizens rather than adopt a moratorium by ordinance via petition as submitted by former trustee Bill Brunner and resident Kathrny Martinez.
Paonia trustees unanimously turned their backs on the ordinance as submitted because it was deemed detrimental to the town’s future. Trustees could have adopted the ordinance and made modifications; however, according to Corinne Ferguson, interim town administrator, that would have been “disingenuous” to the 57 Paonia voters who signed the petition. Ferguson said petitioners were asked to wait until the General Election in April in order to save the town money, but declined.
Last week, the town released the official language of the citizen-proposed ordinance on its website. However, voters should be aware that the language on the ballot will only represent a summary of the ordinance. Therefore, qualified voters are encouraged to carefully read both the citizen’s petitioned ordinance and the official ballot language. A “yes” vote on the ballot will institute all of the stipulations in the proposed ordinance.
If approved by voters on Jan. 7, the citizen-initiated ordinance will amend Chapter 13, Article 1 of the Town Code prohibiting the sale of domestic water taps including the water supply distribution system or right to water sold by the Town of Paonia. The moratorium also includes the “extension of water delivery pipes.”
If passed, the moratorium will be in effect until the town produces two reports conducted by a licensed engineer experienced in domestic systems. The first report must prove that the town has in operation sufficient infrastructure and associated water rights to serve all existing obligations or water into the foreseeable future.
In addition, the final stipulation in the amendment states that the town will not incur obligations for more water taps than the number quantified in the second report, unless another report meeting all of the requirements of the second report establishes a new limit.
The official language on the ballot represents a summary of the ordinance and does not reflect all of the stipulations that could be imposed.
Town of Paonia Referred Measure 2A :
SHALL THE TOWN OF PAONIA ADOPT AN ORDINANCE AMENDING SECTION 13 - 1 -131 OF THE MUNICIPAL CODE THAT INSTITUTE S A MORATORIUM ON THE SALE OF DOMESTIC WATER TAPS AND THE EXTENSION OF WATER DELIVERY PIPES UNTIL THE TOWN RECEIVES A REPORT, BEARING THE SEAL OF A LICENSED ENGINEER EXPERIENCED IN DOMESTIC WATER SUPPLY SYSTEMS AND MUNICIPAL WATER TAPS, WITH A FINDING THAT THE TOWN OF PAONIA WATER SUPPLY HAS IN OPERATION SUFFICIENT INFRASTRUCTURE AND ASSOCIATED WATER RIGHTS TO SERVE ALL EXISTING OBLIGATIONS FOR WATER INTO THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE AND THAT THE TOWN OF PAONIA CAN REASONABLY SUPPLY WATER WITHOUT THE LIKELIHOOD OF ADVERSELY AFFECTING THE SERVICE TO EXISTING WATER TAP HOLDERS?
The special election could cost Paonia tax payers upwards of $3,000; however, the final bill will be determined afterwards according to Teri Stephenson, Delta County clerk and recorder.
Ballots will be mailed out the week of Dec. 16 and can be returned by mail or dropped off at the 24/7 drop off boxes located in Delta, Hotchkiss and Paonia. Election results will be posted on the Delta County and Town of Paonia websites after the votes have been tabulated.
Several Paonia leaders are concerned with the election being so close to the holidays. They fear voters will not study the implications of the tightly written water moratorium, and inadvertently hand-cuff future economic growth. The town currently has a moratorium that limits out-of-town tap sales to five per year, only to existing water companies, and that each sale must be approved by the board of trustees.
One resident who lives just outside the city limits and asked not to be identified, said she won’t be able to vote on a matter that will affect “everyone who lives and works”in town. She called the moratorium petition “ a knee-jerk” reaction to last February’s water crisis propped up with outdated reports that don’t reflect the town’s current situation. The water emergency caused by a series of undetected leaks left some customers without service for up to four weeks.
“That (water crisis) was just the perfect storm,” she said, “ and it had nothing to due with the town’s capacity, but had more to do with aging infrastructure.”
In an attempt to stop the moratorium, a number of Paonia citizens are handing out an opposition paper entitled “10 Reasons To Vote Against The Water Tap Moratorium” with the following arguments:
1. We have sufficient water
a. Town treats approx. 98 million gallons of water per year between two plants.
b. Town has the capacity to treat 638,750 million gallons of water per year.
c. Town spills approx. 95 million gallons per year. Almost as much as we treat. What we need to focus on raw water, storage not stop tap sales.
2. We have sufficient water for growth — If every stand-by- tap (400) went live today that would increase our gallons treated per year by approx. 23 million for a total of 121 million gallons. That leaves a capacity to treat an additional 638,629 million gallons. We would still spill 72 million gallons a year.
3. Will stop healthy growth and development — Will stop residential and commercial development both in town and in the areas Paonia supplies water to.
4. Will harm existing businesses — Businesses that rely on contractors to purchase building materials will be hurt as well as the contractors and all the people they hire.
5. Does not present realistic requirements for termination – What constitutes “the foreseeable future?”
6. May prevent needed work on existing infrastructure — If a pipe needs to be moved or extended to continue effective service, this may be banned.
7. Spreads the perception paonia is not a good place to do business or live — Perceptions like this can destroy the reputation of the town and surrounding areas, negatively impacting all the residents and businesses in the area.
8. Will hurt economic development — Who would want to move their business here if there is a question of available water?
9. Will undermine the town’s stability — Will undercut the town’s ability to be flexible and meet the needs of its citizens and water buyers.
10. Will impair our ability to get grants - Fostering the perception that the town is not economically viable nor stable will make obtaining grants to maintain and upgrade infrastructure almost impossible.
In a proactive move, the town board recently accepted a $97,000 bid proposal from Glenwood Springs based SGM for engineering services that include GIS mapping and the development of an asset inventory. The survey will also address a capital improvement plan while helping to maintain and improve existing infrastructure including water capacity and function. However, the inventory does not address or replace any study required in the proposed water moratorium ordinance. Any further water studies could cost the town thousands of dollars.
For now, a number of town leaders and citizens are worried that despite their best efforts to address last spring’s water crisis and plan diligently for the future Paonia voters may decide to impose what many are calling a “needless and costly moratorium.”