As the town of Paonia considers future growth and prepares to deal with the aftermath of a water emergency, they were recently given one more issue to consider.
At the March 26 board meeting, Mountain Coal Company representative Westin Norris addressed the board of trustees. Referring to the water emergency that began on Feb. 18 and affected service to all of the town's water users, as well as rumors of a pending large-scale housing development, Norris reminded the town that it is still required to honor a more than 40 year old agreement.
Norris referred to a 23-page agreement originally made in 1975 and 1976 between the Town of Paonia and Richard and Faye Mott. The agreement came about after a new mine was proposed. Its permit required the mine to have housing available for the anticipated workforce. The Motts agreed to grant the town water rights to German Creek in exchange for 400 water taps.
When the agreement was made, the Motts owned a parcel southeast of German Creek Subdivision, currently leased by Mount Lamborn Ranches. Of the 400 taps, 200 must be used on that parcel, with the remaining taps available for other uses.
Of those 400 taps, 316 now belong to Mountain Coal Company. Norris reminded the town that the agreement remains in effect. "There's no plans to develop those any time soon, but I just wanted to make sure folks aware that those taps are still outstanding," said Norris.
Norris stated concern over the recent water emergency, and rumors of a proposed 50-unit development that town administrator Ken Knight neither confirmed nor denied. Norris pointed out that, under the agreement, the town must maintain the infrastructure to service those taps. He asked that until the town proves it can do so, that it consider placing a moratorium on sales of all new water taps.
Under the existing 2016 town water ordinance, an out of town moratorium allows for the sale of five water taps per year to an existing water company serviced by the town's water system; there is no moratorium or limit on the number of taps that can be sold in town. The town is also considering the annexation of several parcels located just outside of town limits in the near future.
At the April 9 board meeting, former trustee Bill Brunner echoed the suggestion for a moratorium on future tap sales, referring to a 2012 water system study. "There's a lot of people with the perception of, by selling another tap you're taking away the right to water that's already been sold," said Brunner. "It's a very real perception, and I think that's pretty close to exactly what's happening."
Brunner's comment came during Knight's regular town administrator's report to the board. In his report he asked to publish requests for proposal (RFP) for a water engineer to study the addition of raw water to Lone Cabin and/or Roeber reservoirs or any other reservoir that could provide water to the town, a study of the town's water treatment capacity and raw water availability, and for the mapping of the water and sewer system in a format compatible with Delta County's Geographic Information System.
Knight stated that the pending report on the water emergency by the state Incident Management Team responding to the water outage could support the need for such studies, which would increase the town's chances of receiving grants from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to fund them.
Mayor Charles Stewart said he doubts that a 2012 study Brunner referred to provides all the information Knight requested in the RFPs. "I have not seen any study that definitively says, 'this realistically is how much water you can provide to customers; this is how many taps you can issue.' It makes a lot of sense to get the studies done," said Stewart.
Stewart reminded all concerned that once the after-incident report is released to the public, the town will schedule a special meeting specifically to water issues . As of Monday, the town had not received the report.
"This is a topic that is going to get picked up in the near future and we're going to spend a lot of time on it," said Stewart.