Water focus group meets with officials

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— The water focus group will meet with the Steamboat Springs City Council and Mount Werner Water District Board today to discuss progress the group has made since it was formed at the beginning of the year.

The water focus group was created after voters turned down the water authority agreement in November 2002. One of the group's tasks was to look at why the vote failed and what to do to create efficiencies between the city's two water utilities.

The focus group has proposed the Steamboat Springs Water and Wastewater Commission. The combined operating entity would make recommendations to the council and the Mount Werner Water Board on policy and operational issues.

The proposal calls for the board to be comprised of three members appointed by the council from within the city utility district plus a council member and four members appointed by the Mount Werner Water Board.

"In order to start going to the next level, the focus group needs some legitimacy," member Bill Martin said.

The focus group has identified five issues that need attention: renewal of the 1980 wastewater agreement, water vendors, the wellhead protection plan, the security of the system and a cooperative water agreement.

"I think (the focus group members) just need some direction before putting more energy into what they are doing," Mount Werner Water Manager Bob Stoddard said.

Members of the water group include city appointees Martin, Nancy Mayer and Paul Stettner and Mount Werner Water appointees Tim Borden, Joe Brennan, John Fetcher and Mark McElhinney.

"We have held brainstorming sessions as to all the different ways we could think of that could achieve what the City Council asked us to do: to see if we could find ways of running our water more efficiently. Not necessarily consolidating and not necessarily a water authority," Martin said.

One of the leading options was revisiting Steamboat Water. From 1996 to 2000, the city and Mount Werner Water had what was termed a living arrangement with offices housed together above the Fish Creek Filtration Plant.

The focus group has been discussing the pros and cons of that arrangement.

But Martin said that discussion will not come before council for a while and the group first wants to talk about the direction the water focus group is taking.

"Everybody has put in a lot of time and if this is an informal get together for coffee," Martin said, "we basically have better things to do."

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