Consolidation splits water board
Possible consolidation of two water districts serving the eastern half of Eagle County has stalled over what some board members believe is a taxation without representation issue.
Arrowhead and Beaver Creek representatives to the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority say they aren’t keen on effecting a consolidation with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, because they’re concerned it will dilute their representation. Many of the property owners in those two areas have primary residences elsewhere and cannot vote here.
“It’s not so much a question of wanting more influence, as it is a question of wanting to participate in the process,” said Steve Friedman, Beaver Creek representative to the Water Authority. “I honestly believe there is an issue for this valley because of the significant percentage of taxable base in the hands of people not eligible to vote here.”
A consolidated water district would be divided into seven wards based on registered voters. While Beaver Creek and Arrowhead represent a significant amount of revenue for the district, the registered voter base of each is tiny by comparison, because many of the properties are second homes.
“We have precious little voting power to influence results as it is. We’re reluctant to give it up,” Friedman said.
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He and Arrowhead representative Gil Marchand expressed doubt that a consolidated effort would work, and with two of the six districts opposing consolidation, it would be effectively stalled.
Water Authority Chairman Bob Warner, who favors consolidation, said the taxation and representation issue will be there regardless.
“Your vote isn’t based on the amount of money you pay into the system,” Warner said Thursday after a joint meeting of the Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. “There’s a huge difference in what people pay for income taxes yet everyone gets just one vote for president.”
While consolidating the operation will streamline the administrative end of things significantly, people turning on the tap in their homes wouldn’t notice any difference. It won’t result in a decrease in the cost of services, proponents said.
Friedman said a compelling argument supporting consolidation has not yet been made and suggested that the proponents develop one.
“This doesn’t sound like a passionate argument,” he said.
Proponents agreed to develop a document outlining reasons for consolidation. Water board attorney Jim Collins said it’s possible a partial consolidation of the district could be undertaken.
Last spring, a debate about tiered water rates drew a line in the dust over who should shoulder the cost of lawn irrigation water. The tiered rates, designed to drive water conservation, charged progressively higher amounts for increasing water usage, provoking a sharp response from representatives of district with large homes that required more irrigation water.
The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District serves as the operating arm for the Water Authority, and provides treated drinking water to residents from Dowd Junction to Wolcott under a $1.6 million contract. Eagle River supplies treated water from Dowd Junction east and sewer treatment service from Vail to Wolcott.
The Water Authority was formed in 1984 -when the regional Avon water treatment plant was built- to integrate the water supply needs of six districts from Eagle-Vail to Edwards. Since then a redundant loop water delivery system has been installed so water can be moved up or down valley as needed.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or firstname.lastname@example.org