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Water and gas issues drive city council talk

by Bill Knowles

WALSENBURG- The Walsenburg City Council discussed both water and gas issues during its regular meeting on Tuesday evening, Dec. 21, with the council deciding to delay water issues until January and voting to move ahead on gas rate increases for 2011.

    Following up on what they had learned during the Finance Committee meeting on Monday evening, the council voted 5-3 to take steps to consider increasing natural gas rates to city customers by 27 percent in January.(see related story on the Finance Committee meeting).  The three council members who voted no were Craig Lessar, Rick Jennings and Gary Sporcich.

    Mayor Quintana and council member Erin Jerant both indicated that it would be better to raise the rates in 2011.  If, at the end of the year, the increase proved to be an overcharge, then monies could be rebated to the customers.  If it was not an overcharge, then the city would have an easier time funding 2012 gas purchases. 

    However Craig Lessar, who expects  the prison to open next year, voiced concern about the struggle some of the city’s gas customers will go through to make ends meet in a bad economy.  “I think it would be better to come up short next year and then when CCA opens next year we can pass the expenses over to them and we’ll benefit when more jobs are available,” he said.

    During the opening moments of the meeting the council voted 8-0 to strike items “a” and “b” from the unfinished business section of the agenda. The two resolutions, 2010 R—9 and 2010 R—10, if passed, will change the water rights on the City of Walsenburg Ditch Number 5 by adding “augmentation” to the list of uses for the water.  Uses currently listed include municipal, industrial and other uses.  The council will schedule a January workshop to  learn what changes in water rights on  Ditch Number 5 might mean to the city. 

    For the past five years, the city has been using an approved  Substitute Water Supply Plan (SWSP) to address the Water Engineer’s concern about water supplied to the Northlands by the city.  He is concerned about a requirement that the city augment the water used in the Northlands because the return flows do not return directly to the Cucharas River basin.  The current SWSP will expire in March 2011.

    With the expiration of the SWSP, the state engineer expects the city to install a sanitary sewer line to return flows back to the Cucharas River basin and to augment the water that does not return through the sewer system. Resolutions 2010 R—9 and 2010 R—10 seek to address those issues.

    After the paperwork is filed and approved the state should issue to the city a new SWSP under a different section of the the water rights rules.  The SWSP will be contingent upon the city moving forward with the Northlands sewer line.  This new SWSP will be good for one year with four additional one year extensions.

    The City Council went into executive session around 7:30.