Granby-area neighborhood waits in ‘water purgatory’
July 11, 2013
GRANBY —Moraine Park residents continue to endure water woes as the late Lew "Paul" Geisendorfer's estate is being settled in court in Colorado Springs.
Moraine Park is a neighborhood near Middle Park High School that is part of unincorporated Grand County but surrounded by the town of Granby. It has its own separate water system owned by Geisendorfer and his Grand River Corporation, until his death on April 24, 2013.
Geisendorfer, a heroic Korean War POW and Granby resident for much of his life, owned the surface water rights to an aquifer that supplies water to about 50 homes, mostly on Avenues A, B and C and portions of 4th and Diamond Avenues. Most of the pipes in the system were installed in 1979 by Geisendorfer. He made few maps of the buried pipes while connecting new homes built there in the 1980s and 1990s onto the water system.
As the system aged over decades of use, leaks have become a problem. The system was installed and expanded without shut-off valves for each home, so the entire system must be shut down with every leak. After the pipe problems have been fixed and water service resumed, residents have been asked to boil water before use because stagnant water increases the chances for bacterial growth in the pipes. Many of the residents continue to suffer low water pressure and murky tap water.
History of Moraine Park Problems
According to documents going back 16 years provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Grand County:
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• Geisendorfer was issued the first enforcement order by the state health department in 1997 for chronic failure to monitor monthly corrosion by-products (copper and lead) in his water system.
• A year later, CDPHE issued a second enforcement order for violations of the state's drinking water laws. CDPHE advised Geisendorfer that failure to comply with state health requirements would result in civil action against his corporation.
• In June 1999, Geisendorfer finally contacted the Attorney General's office to assure his future compliance with the state's drinking water laws and to suggest a payment plan regarding the penalties he had assessed.
• In May of 2000, he was issued a consent order from CDPHE after bacteriological analysis done on March 1 and March 6 indicated coliform levels beyond MCL allowed by state law and several other violations. He was ordered to increase the frequency of testing and install a chlorinator to disinfect the system twice a year.
• The CDPHE issued violations from 2000-present. Geisendorfer came into compliance on all of them.
• In the summer of 2002, the county paid $300,000 to Rothberg, Tamborini & Winsor Inc. (professional engineers and consultants) for an analysis of the wells, engineering and finances involved in the Moraine Park system. According to a study, the pipe joints consisted of metallic hose clamps that were beginning to corrode, and the five connected pipelines had dead ends, which led to stagnant water in the system's extremities. The 4,100 linear feet of two-inch-or-less-in-diameter pipes needed to be replaced with minimum 6-inch pipes. The small diameter pipes and lack of water pressure and storage also precluded the system's ability to be used for fire protection. However, increasing pressure could only lead to more pipe leaks. In addition to replacing the pipes, the study recommended looping the dead-end lines to provide better circulation within the system, and adding shut-off valves and fire hydrants. It indicated that each tap required one-third to one-half of an acre-foot per year. It also noted that, at that time, the system lacked a certified water system operator.
• In 2002, the county negotiated with Geisendorfer to transfer water rights and operation of the water system. The provisions of that agreement included the transfer of "certain water rights" from Grand River Corporation to Grand County, plus efforts of the county to obtain financing to replace the current water system and negotiation of an agreement with Granby for its maintenance and operation. The Corporation would be alleviated of liability and all fines and penalties. But these negotiations were unsuccessful due to inadequate compensation for the transfer of water rights from the point of view of Geisendorfer, according to sources.
• Another enforcement order was issued in 2003 for failure to comply with the state drinking-water regulations under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
• In March of 2004, a fine of $365,000 was imposed on Geisendorfer for operating a public water system without a license. • Another enforcement order was issued in September of 2007.
• In December of 2007, a meeting was held with Geisendorfer, representatives of the county, the Department of Health and the Attorney General's Office to discuss transferring water rights needed to provide an adequate supply for the neighborhood based on historical consumption, which would have given the county ultimate ownership of the water system. The amount of water agreed upon was 50 acre-feet per year. (According to the Bureau of Reclamation, an acre-foot is defined as 325,851 gallons or enough water to supply a family of four for a year.) Since there have never been water meters on any of the residences in the Moraine Park neighborhood, no one is sure exactly how much water it actually needs.
• In an attempt to resurrect the 2002 agreement, a letter was drafted in February 2008 by the county and signed by Geisendorfer and his wife, Norma Jean Long, stating their intent to give up all ownership, maintenance and operation of the system in exchange for the state's forgiveness of penalties against Grand River Corporation. They sought no monetary compensation and the letter stated they would surrender the entire Moraine Park water system including "its supporting wells and their infrastructure." But when it came time to sign the contracts, the Geisendorfers stepped back from the agreement. At this point, the county exited the negotiations entirely.
• In 2008, a meeting was held with Moraine Park residents, the Geisendorfers, representatives of CDPHE and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, and the mayor and town manager of Granby, but negotiations were again unsuccessful. Town officials stated they did not want to annex the subdivision, as the roads were substandard and the system would be costly to replace. In addition, most of the residents did not want to be annexed by Granby or be on its water system. (As an independent water system district, Moraine Park residents are not eligible for government grants and loans to replace the system. However, as part of the town of Granby, they could apply for these.)
• In 2010, representatives from the CDPHE asked Granby to assume the responsibility of applying for funds for a new water system and overseeing the construction of it.
• In October of 2012, the town of Granby approved a federal principle forgiveness loan agreement between the town, Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to replace the entire water system at no cost to the town. Moraine Park would remain a separate entity from Granby and would not be on the town's water system; but the town would manage the system and bill the residents quarterly for water.
Installation of the new water system was set to begin in the spring of 2013, but when a new contract was written up to transfer the water rights (50 acre-feet and one well), Long, who had gotten a temporary power of attorney over her husband's estate as illness incapacitated him, pulled out of the deal. She did the same thing on a second contract drawn up two weeks before her husband's death.
Negotiations in Limbo
"Neither contract had the wording of what had been agreed to. Things were added. I couldn't sign them," said Long of her decision to back out of the deal. "It's a matter of getting the wording correct and tying up loose ends in the contract."
All negotiations on Moraine Park must wait until she becomes the legal owner of Grand River Corporation. In the meantime, nothing in Geisendorfer's estate can be bought, sold or transferred – even after the estate is settled – because of liens on the fines and penalties levied by CDPHE.
"I'm talking with my attorneys and trying to decide what to do and how to do it," said Long. "They are working with the Department of Health to make sure that it is all done according to law."
"It's baffling and frustrating!" said Granby Town Manager Wally Baird, who says he has worked more than 200 hours of his own time to come to this deal. He has seen Granby work crews called to assist with Moraine Park water leaks at least six times since he became Granby's town manager in 2008. "We have this principal forgiveness loan from the state to replace the water system and we want to use it to get the project done. We hope that it will carry over until this all gets resolved. In the meantime, they have a substandard system — not that the water is bad — but that every leak results in turning off the pump (for the whole neighborhood)."
The final amount owed to CDPHE including interest and penalties will not be totaled until a final agreement is reached with Geisendorfer's estate, but according to Baird, that number is close to $750,000.
Peace in the 'hood trumps water pressure
Baird estimated that, if the system were replaced, Moraine Park residents would be paying Granby about $35 per month for average residential water use. At present, each tap is paying $60 per month. But despite their frustrations, residents were hesitant to speak on record about their water woes, citing a desire to keep peace in the neighborhood and show respect for Geisendorfer, whom they described as a likeable, one-of-a-kind character and a hard-working, generous and intelligent man.