Water districts: Providing the essentials
November 22, 2016
Special districts fill a host of essential and unique roles for citizens of the high country.
Among the most crucial and low profile special districts are water and sanitation districts. Water and sanitation districts (WSDs) provide, as the name implies, clean water and sanitary sewer services to residents of the county and the various municipalities as well as those living in the quasi-independent special districts not ostensibly connected to a local government.
TABERNASH MEADOWS OVERVIEW
Whitney Kemper, Chairman of the Tabernash Meadows Water & Sanitation District (TMWSD), explained the specific services provided by that district. While not all WSDs in Grand County provide the exact same scope services as the TMWSD the district provides a reasonable snapshot of what WSDs do in general.
"We supply sanitation and water for the Pole Creek Valley and Coyote Creek areas," Kemper said. "We have about 222 customers right now and we supply water and provide water treatment. We have an IGA (intergovernmental agreement) with Grand County to provide sewer lines and treatment to Tabernash, all up and down Highway 40 and Old Town Tabernash."
The water supplied by the TMWSD comes from a series of three wells located within the District's boundaries. Each one is "tested frequently" according to Kemper to insure the district is in compliance with state and county water guidelines as well as those issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Water flowing into homes and businesses within the boundaries of the TMWSD follows a fairly specific path. The water is initially treated to meet regulatory guidelines. For example, one of the TMWSD wells naturally has an excess of fluoride in its water. The District "treats" the water from that well by diluting it with additional water to reduce the level of naturally occurring fluoride.
After treating the water pumped out of the District's wells the water is then pumped throughout the District to private residences using lift stations. Additionally the TMWSD maintains a large water tank on one of the higher hills in the Tabernash area. The elevated water tank provides additional water pressure for local property owners.
After water flows into residences and businesses in the District it is used, you can use your imagination as to how, and then flows back out. The used water goes to the TMWSD water station for post usage treatment. After final treatment from the District the water is then discharged into the Fraser River. According to Kemper the water discharged by the TMWSD into the Fraser River is actually cleaner than the untreated water flowing through the River.
Kemper said the TMWSD treats roughly 30,000 to 50,000 gallons of water each day. The treatment process involves several steps but when it comes to processing human waste the folks at TMWSD get quite a bit of help from some tiny workers. Insects, surprisingly, do much of what could be termed as the "heavy lifting" of processing human waste.
"We use bugs to process the human waste," Kemper said. "They eat it all. The problem is keeping those bugs active. It can be hard to do during the colder months. We still have to treat it and filter it but that is the major part of it."
There are a total of 13 WSDs in Grand County. That figure includes several districts attached to local municipalities or county government (Granby Sanitation, Winter Park Water & Sanitation, Grand County Water & Sanitation). The number of mills assessed on property owners in a given WSD varies throughout the county from a low of zero mills, assessed for districts such as Columbine Lake and Granby Sanitation, to the high of 64.356 mills that the residents of the Tabernash Meadows Water & Sanitation District had assessed in 2015.
The annual revenues derived from mills also varies broadly between the districts with Grand County Water & Sanitation receiving the highest amount of annual revenue in 2015 at $774,769 and Winter Park Ranch Elkhorn having the lowest annual mill levy revenues of any Grand County WSD that actually assesses a mill levy at $1,434. District budgets are often supplemented through the service fees each district assesses for various reasons.
DECLINING VALUES/INCREASED MILLS
The tax revenue received by the various WSDs from mill levy assessments are based upon the number of mills assessed within a given district as well as that districts overall assessed property value. Over the past six-years or so assessed property values in Grand County have, broadly speaking, declined. Declining property value assessments result in lower tax revenues received by the districts.
As such many districts have been increasing the total number of mills assessed as property values have declined. Increased mill levies are intended to retain an equivalent amount of tax revenue that was lost through property deprecation. The TMWSD had a mill levy of 30 mills as recently as 2011. As assessed values in the District have declined the mill levy assessment has increased to the 2015 level of 64.356 mills.
With property values rebounding throughout Grand County a decrease in the mill levy rate is a possibility in the future. Kemper said it is the goal of the TMWSD Board of Directors to bring the mill rate down significantly.