Need for south area authority change hits high-water mark
GRANBY — Since south Granby’s water rates have started to climb, water managers and public officials are also working to rebuild public perception.
After state-required testing found one of the district’s main wells was under the influence of surface water, managers have determined the best solution is to build a new water treatment plant to the tune of around $8 million. While many customers in the south district agree that a new plant is the inevitable solution, controversy has sprung up over the district board’s assessment process, estimated costs for the new plant and the burden of Granby Ranch’s snowmaking operation.
“I think everyone’s trying hard to do the right thing, but I’m not sure people necessarily know what the ‘right thing’ is or the right approach,” said Gary Smith, who owns a condo in the Grand Elk area. He’s also the president of his small, 24-unit homeowner’s association.
Smith first moved to the south Granby area in 2004, right before a court order forced the town and the SilverCreek area to link their water management under a joint water authority, the Granby/Silver Creek Water and Wastewater Authority. His first water bill, in October 2004, came from SilverCreek. By the next bill, the Authority had formed and he said his bill doubled. He’s continued to see rates rise ever since.
“A lot of people have their finger in this pie, and it’s hard to figure out who’s steering the ship,” Smith said.
The Granby/SilverCreek Water and Wastewater Authority manages the water infrastructure for Granby residents and businesses south of the Fraser River, including the Granby Ranch ski area. The Town of Granby used to own the area’s wells and treatment plant, but SilverCreek Water and Sanitation used water from that supply and distributed it to a large portion of the taps in the area. They tried to use this Authority to control some of their customers’ land uses, which resulted in several conflicts and squabbles with the town. In 2004, a court decision established the Authority to oversee the water’s supply backbone while equally representing both interests.
Instead of an elected board, both the town of Granby and the SilverCreek Water and Sanitation District appoint members to equally represent the interests of their customers. An impartial manager is also appointed to the Authority board.
The town and SilverCreek still have responsibility for dispersing the water to their residents. Water consumers ultimately end up receiving a bill from two different entities.
Accusations conflict of interest
Because the Authority operates the wells and treatment plant, they were the ones charged with finding a solution after the state found one of its wells out of compliance last May, which is where much of the recent water turmoil sprung up.
“It was created to solve a problem, but now it has become the problem,” said Granby Town Manager Wally Baird.
When Colorado’s Department of Public Health and environment hit the Authority with an unfunded mandate to bring its well “under the influence of surface water” into compliance, the board retained SGM Inc., the town of Granby’s engineering consultant, to assess possible options. After the board determined a new treatment plant was the most feasible option, SGM also helped with pre-design plans and cost analysis.
SGM’s president and CEO, Louis Meyer, sits on the Authority board, which many south area residents have perceived as a conflict of interest. The Authority has paid SGM $84,000 so far for its groundwater analysis and plant pre-design.
“I can’t believe the Authority would open themselves up to that kind of criticism,” Smith said, who has brought up concerns with a conflict of interest to both the Authority board and Granby trustees. “I’m not saying they’re not the most qualified, but it should’ve been a competitive process all the way through.”
Baird said state statute allows the board to appoint an engineer for pre-engineering consulting service. Joe Pandy, who was appointed to the Authority to be its impartial manager, said the Authority has worked with SGM for nine years, but said any criticism that there’s a conflict of interest is unfounded.
“That public perception is untrue because Mr. Meyer, who’s on the Authority board as the town of Granby’s selected representative, leaves the room and does not participate in any discussion (about engineering plans),” Pandy said. “He does not vote on it, he recuses himself.”
Both Pandy and Baird confirmed that a company will be selected for future construction of the proposed water plant after a competitive bidding process.
Still, the public has also complained that SGM’s estimated $8 million cost for the new plant is bloated. They’ve called for a value engineering assessment peer-review of SGM’s proposal by a firm that will not be allowed to bid on its construction. Recently, the board agreed, issuing a request for proposals from three firms. The deadline for bidding was Friday, April 4, and the Authority board will likely make a decision at its next meeting on April 24, Pandy said.
Expensive Water for Snowmaking
Water customers have also complained the proposed plant is unnecessarily expensive because it will continue providing treated water to Granby Ranch’s snowmaking operation.
Because the Authority also has a contract to supply water for Granby Ranch’s snowmaking, water use jumps to 1,000 gallons per minute during the winter. Regular consumption from the Authority’s 1,700 taps amounts to 150 gallons a minute in the winter and 300 gallons in the summer. The proposed plant will have a capacity of 1,500 gallons per-minute to compensate.
Since tap rates are expected to nearly double with the new plant, some residential consumers wonder why treated water is being piped to make snow.
Smith said he has brought up this concern with water and town staff several times, but is only told it would be too expensive. They never tell him exactly what that expense would be, however.
“I’d like to see it looked at,” he said. “Why do we provide treated water to them? They don’t need it, they know that.”
Town manager Baird said it would involve construction of a new reservoir for Granby Ranch untreated water to be pumped from the area’s wells and installation of a separate line to pump that water to the ski area.
“People have looked at it, but I don’t think anyone’s looked at it in depth to get estimated costs,” Baird said. “Some say $1.5 million. How accurate that would be, I don’t know.”
According to Pandy, it would be up to Granby Ranch to cover those costs.
“We would not be interested in the business of supplying untreated water, but Granby Ranch would be free to do that on their own,” he said.
Still, Pandy said the ski area pays their share. According to Pandy, Granby Ranch accounts for about 20 percent of the district’s annual water consumption. Their contractual rate for water varies from year to year, but it’s currently at $1.48 per 1,000 gallons. Pandy said this rate fairly covers the ski area’s share of water use as well as operation and maintenance costs at the treatment plant. The Authority’s contract with Granby Ranch is set to expire in 2016, at which time new terms, including its water rates, could be renegotiated.
The Sky-Hi attempted to contact representatives from Granby Ranch for comment on Wednesday, but by the time of publication on Thursday, calls had not yet been returned.
Dissolving the Authority
Despite the troubled waters, most concerned parties have found common ground on one issue — the need to dissolve the Authority.
“Both boards have indicated they want to dissolve it,” Pandy said. “It’s a legal matter, so I have not idea how long it will take. We hope sooner rather than later, we want to get done as soon as we can.”
Liquefying the water authority will mean the water backbone — wells and the treatment plant— return to Granby’s ownership. It will also require an agreement that the Town of Granby will treat SilverCreek Water and Sanitation District fairly with how it supplies and charges for its water. Although it will take some legal work, Baird said he doesn’t perceive any snags with the process. He figures it’ll be disbanded by the winter of 2015, before the new treatment plant’s construction project is put out for bid. That will put Granby’s trustees in charge of managing the project going forward.
flat-rate Water use
Part of Smith’s issue with the bills in the water authority’s service area is that they’re a flat rate each quarter, regardless of use. Since the bulk of homeowners in his condo’s association are absentee, only spending a few weeks in the area, he said it’s unfair for them to pay the same fee as someone who lives there year-round. To cover the first round of costs for the new treatment plant, the quarterly fee for single-family equivalents jumped from $51 to $64 on Jan. 1. But to help finance construction, rates will need to jump again, by as much as double the current rate. Smith would at least like to see metered water rates based on use instead of a fixed one.
“Homeowners are concerned about the impact this (fee) will have on home values when it comes time to sell,” he said.
Doing away with the Authority doesn’t necessarily mean billing will change, however. According to Baird, customers in the SilverCreek Water and Sanitation district will likely continue to be billed a fixed rate.
“Doing it that way simplified a lot of things,” Baird said. “My idea, originally, was to meter all water going into the SilverCreek district and bill them on that basis, which meant they’d be required to install meters. They’ve indicated they’d rather have it on a single-family equivalent basis.”
But regardless of how new billing will be set up, Baird and other Granby officials said the costs of the new water treatment plant will be equally passed on to everyone, including Granby Ranch. Rising costs for water, however, are inevitable, as Mayor Pro Tem Ken Coatney said in a recent trustee meeting.
“Rates are pretty aggressively low and they have been for quite some time now,” he said, according to meeting minutes. “It is time to pay the piper in some respects … our hand has been forced in that situation.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.
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