Supervisors Dissolve Water District

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The Gila County Board of Supervisors voted to "revoke the authority of the board of directors of the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District" at its regular meeting Monday.

The seven-person board had been reduced to two members through a series of resignations. Most recently, chairperson Mary Lou Myers and board member Marvin Mortensen resigned on Aug. 1, leaving only John Breninger and Betty Gooder on the board.

Gila County District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen plans to appoint an interim administrator Sept. 1 who will operate the district until a new board can be elected. Christensen said the district will stay intact and will function according to the will of its residents.

"We're gathering all the information now, all the reports and bills and everything they owe and that sort of thing ... and then we will be in contact with the community -- wanting to know what their ideas would be in terms of the directions they want to take -- and then we'll start the process of trying to accommodate those things," Christensen said.

Long-term water supply

The PSWID is different from the four domestic water improvement districts in the Pine-Strawberry area which sell water to individual subdivisions. Under its charter, the district is charged only with finding a long-term, reliable water supply for the two communities.

To that end, the PSWID sanctioned a hydrogeologic engineering study late last year that purported to find a new source of groundwater -- more than enough water to meet the summer demand of both Pine and Strawberry -- and also indicated where on private land to drill for it.

At a public meeting last month in Pine, Breninger told a large audience that the total estimated cost of developing the new water would be about $4.2 million. Christensen and Breninger both suspect that the enormity of such an undertaking might very well have been a factor in the resignations.

"Some of them resigned for health reasons and some of them really didn't express much about the reason that they were going to be resigning," Christensen said. "So I think it just got to be more than what they could probably deal with."

High attrition rate

Christensen said volunteer boards have a high rate of attrition.

"We find the same things happening in fire districts and sanitary districts as well," he said. "‘I didn't know how much work it was going to be.' People with the very best intentions say they want to do this, and then they get in there and realize they really don't want to do this anymore."

Breninger took exception to a claim by the supervisors that there weren't enough available candidates to fill the vacancies through appointment.

Christensen said Myers thought otherwise.

"We'd heard about some of them, but the chairperson of the board at that particular time (Myers) was reviewing all of those and came to the conclusion they didn't want to (appoint any of them)," he said.

Where the water is

The findings of the hydrogeologic study confirms what many expected, Christensen said.

"We were pretty sure about that anyway, because the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District had done a bore hole in Strawberry before," he said. "So we knew there was water at deep depths down there. Some other people have keyed off that and drilled a deep well in the area and that's being tested right now. We understand that when you get down to the red limestone, there's water. Now all the extrapolation of data needs to be put together and the numbers: what does it cost to bring it up, how good a shape are the storage and the delivery systems that are out there, and who is going to be utilizing this water and the distribution of it?"

Christensen believes the work of the PSWID can continue under a temporary administrator.

"It's not a water delivery system, so there's not a great deal of management that needs to be taken care of right at the moment," he said. "We have a report that was done, and we want to get that so we get proper distribution of that to where it's supposed to go."

Purchase has merit

Christensen denied Breninger's suspicion that board members resigned so the board of supervisors could tilt the PSWID in the direction of local developers and realtors who want the district to purchase the Pine and Strawberry water companies from Brooke Utilities.

A new board will be selected the next time an election is held, probably in November.

"The other option is to hold a special election, and that costs a lot of money," Christensen said.

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