Things looking up, kind of, for water district

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Caught in a vicious circle and a downpour of bad tidings, the Florissant Water & Sanitation District is treading water. Put on notice last week by the Department of Local Affairs, the board agreed to temporarily dissolve the district.

“We don't have any record that the district has held, or cancelled, an election since 2004,” said Jarrod Biggs, research analyst with DOLA.

The second nail was the board's failure to comply with audit mandates for 2011 and 2012. “A third issue is the enforcement order,” Biggs said.

In a meeting May 14 with Biggs and Clay Brown, DOLA's regional manager, in addition to engineers from Colorado's public health department, the board heard possible solutions along with the bad news.

The hurdles were high, however. Cited in 2010 with an enforcement order, the five-member board failed to submit the appropriate discharge-monitoring reports, or DMRs.

“Some DMRs were turned in but there is still some question because they're not meeting the necessity of enforcement orders,” said Bret Icenogle, engineer with the state's water-quality control division. “You need to think about that in terms of how you can get your sampling done.”

But it's the audits that present the biggest threat to the district, not only the cost but also the snafu around an unelected board. “Arguably, this board can't sign anything with any legal standing,” Biggs said.

To date, the audit bills have not been paid, due to a misunderstanding about the charge. According to the accountant, Charlotte Plush, the board was told the bill from the auditors would be $4,500 but was instead $9,400. Ideas to pay the bill included trying to get a bank loan or extending the payment period.

On the issue of the legality, the board could be sanctioned in 30 days if appointed by Teller County commissioners. “Obviously, this board is trying to conduct the business of providing water; there is a lot of funding available and we want to try and work this district through,” Biggs said. “It's a familiar refrain and, in rural Colorado, it's a problem to get people to sit on the board. We have places where there are two board members, some with one.”

On a positive note, Brown, the regional manager, highlighted glimmers of hope, of sun amid the clouds. “We're kind of flying sidewise; we'll make it work somehow,” he said. “You guys are service providers; if you weren't sitting here, who's going to provide the water and sewer? Just keep it going, we'll work the technical details out.”

For a volunteer board, working with an annual budget of less than $100,000 to serve 94 customers, the state's intercession is considered a good thing, not a judgment call, for the members as well as the accountants. “I'm glad you all are here to help us out,” Plush said.

A day after the meeting, the board hired an engineering consultant, Adam Sommers, with plans to hire a full-time operator for the water system.

In a district besieged by problems, brown water, regular broken water mains, and, last week, a sinkhole caused by the leakage of 80,000 gallons of water, along with a series of complaints, there were no residents at the meeting that evening.

District board members are Ginger Bruvold, Cathy Valdez, Calvin Steele, Conrad Swift and Harold Clare.