After the third 10-year voter approval of the county one-percent sales tax was passed, Park County commissioners voted Jan. 24 to eliminate any person on the Land and Water Trust Fund board who owns or administers water rights.
The specific language in Section 3(e) of the 2019 resolution reads “No member of the board shall be a member of the governing body, employee, agent or representative of any public or private entity engaged in acquiring, operating or maintaining water rights, water systems, water structures or water augmentation plans, or shall otherwise have a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest in relation to his or her service on the board.”
Two current members, Dan Drucker and County Manager Tom Eisenman, work for entities that own and administer water rights and associated augmentation plan.
The resolution did not address when the two would be removed, immediately or when their terms expire.
One exception to the new rule is that a member of family-owned ranches and farms with water rights may still be appointed to the LWTF board.
The original draft banned anyone with farming or ranching water rights from being on the board.
John Woodward, current LWTF chairman, will be able to keep his position on the board because family-owned ranches were specifically added as an exception to the new rules.
Under the 1997 resolution, in Article VI (b), two members had to “possess expertise and experience in water resource preservation, protection, acquisition and/or management.”
The 2019 change was made “to prohibit people from serving on the board that may not have the best interest of Park County in mind, but are serving other water organizations with their own water interests,” Commissioner Dick Elsner told The Flume.
“If we need water expertise, we have an excellent law firm that advises us on issues related to water rights,” Elsner said.
Commissioner Mike Brazell voted against the resolution. He said the commissioners had discussed the pros and cons for about an hour.
Brazell told The Flume that LWTF members signing a conflict of interest clause would address any perceived conflict if a project was proposed by a water entity that had a member on the LWTF board.
“There is no reason someone should be on LWTF board that also serves on another board that competes with us on water, our most precious resource,” Commissioner Dick Elsner told The Flume.
It has been a practice since the LWTF’s creation in 1997 for board members to declare a conflict and not vote on projects when members are also a board member/employee of the entity requesting funding or a partner in a project.
One such entity is Coalition for the Upper South Platte. It has three board members, Eisenman, Drucker and Lynda James, who also sat on LWTF until she resigned from LWTF recently.
“‘Catch-22’ is live and well in Park County” Drucker told The Flume, “If you have historic knowledge of the LWTF or experience in water and stream health, we (the commissioners) no longer need you.”
Drucker continued, “But if you know nothing about water issues, then membership on the Land and Water Trust Fund Board is yours for the asking.”
Drucker said it seemed that gratitude is shown only to supporters and friends; not to the members of the Park County water community who fought for the creation of the one-percent sales tax who funds the LWTF or those that fought for the creation of the Center of Colorado Water Conservancy District.
He said without both, the 1996 water court case with Aurora would have taken the waters of South Park and left many with dry wells.
The 2019 resolution added that all members must be registered to vote in Park County.
Elsner said the requirement was to make sure Park County people are making the decision on how to spend Park County money.
The original 1997 resolution required members to be county residents but not registered voters.
Elsner said the resolution was in part because the uses of the sales tax were expanded by voters in November to include open space, wildlife and recreation resources.
“I wanted the requirements changed to allow a broader cross section of Park County residents to be allowed on the board,” Elsner said.
“It is critical to have experts in those fields as well as in water,” Brazell said. “But that could have been accomplished without the resolution.”
Two LWTF members resigned last fall, and three other members have terms that expire at the end of 2019. Brazell supported using the vacancies to balance expertise in new funding uses.
Brazell said another factor that led to the resolution is a $3 million-plus fund balance.
“The BOCC still has final say (on project approval), but a more varied background of the group will open up more possibilities for beneficial use of the money,” Elsner said.
Brazell said he hoped the money was spent wisely.
Brazell said unintended consequences could be a problem.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Mark Lamb has worked in the county since 1992.
He is one of five whoapplied for two current vacancies on LWTF’s board.
Part of Lamb’s job is administering CPW’s water rights and associated augmentation plan in Park County. The new rules prohibit his appointment, even though he is an expert on Park County’s wildlife and migration corridors.
Brazell said Lamb as a local wildlife expert would make a very desirable board member, but can’t be appointed.
(Note - Lynda James, is a former LWTF board member who now contracts with the county to complete financial, secretarial and website work for the LWTF).