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How the tea parties really began in Durango

Letter from Jeanne W. Englert

Water – May 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Dear Ed,

In the April edition, you did a magnificent job of explaining the history of the Colorado Water Conservancy District law and its ramifications, as well as the recent attempts to hold elections for directors, using a difficult, unsatisfactory, and cumbersome method — although it’s admittedly better than what the folks in the West Divide WCD tried to do in the ’80s.

You did make a mistake or two. You say there are 45 of these WCD special districts in Colorado. It’s close to 50 of them now, but even the state Department of Local Affairs, which supposedly oversees their activities, could never be sure. I still get a chuckle remembering when I was there perusing the Department’s files.

The Department of Local Affairs had attempted to find a district by sending a certified letter — with return receipt address requested. It was returned, stamped “addressee unknown.” But eventually Local Affairs did locate that district; its one-page budget had $12,000 for the district’s lawyer, whose office, the district’s “office,” was located on the second floor of a bank building, $8,000 for a water engineer, and $400 for weather modification.

This isn’t water development. This is a clever way for an attorney to get the local property taxpayers to pay his overhead. And he isn’t the only one to capitalize on that. Some other water conservancy districts have similar situations.

You wrote flattering stuff about me in the article about the courts’ role in appointing directors. Though for the most part, it’s well-deserved praise, I must correct you.

You give me credit for the first tea party grassroots folks staged to protest “no taxation without representation.” The credit for the idea and original execution goes to the TAR (Taxpayers for the Animas River) Babies in Durango, who dumped a symbolic box of tea off the 23rd Street bridge.

TAR’s chairman, Lew Matis, was dressed in a judge’s robe and an 18th-century wig our Fort Lewis College political science professor member Jim Decker supplied him. (When not teaching and dam fighting, Decker was also involved in local community theater.) Lew read our manifesto of grievances.

I was, however, instrumental in the next wave of tea parties, done on April 15, tax day. The Friends of the Poudre (Northern Colorado WCD) had a bullhorn, great slogans on signs, got in a raft at Horsetooth Reservoir, then dumped grass clippings into it lest they be accused of polluting Ft. Collins’s water supply, though I didn’t think a few tea bags would do any harm. (Probably could have dumped some politically correct herbal tea.) They got a full-page color photo on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News.

The Clear Creek folks were also great. They got both Channels 2 and 4 there at the turn-off to Central City. The Gilpin county commissioner who officiated wore her Campfire Girls garb, which we all admired, and we dumped our tea into Clear Creek twice because Channel Four was late.

I do wish you had given personal recognition to Richard Hamilton for his tireless efforts at the Legislature to get elected WCD boards, but I understand space considerations. Most of the minor reforms you describe can be directly attributed to Hamilton plus he did the legwork to form the Park County Center of Colorado Water Conservancy District to fight Aurora’s water grabs.

Jeanne W. Englert