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Rare water election will be July 10

Brief by Central Staff

Water – July 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

A rare kind of election — only the fourth one in Colorado history — is scheduled for July 10. It’s for a seat on the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Board of Directors.

There are nine directors. One serves at-large, and there are two from each of the district’s four divisions, which coincide with school-district boundaries: Buena Vista, Salida, Cotopaxi, and Westcliffe.

The contested seat, for the Buena Vista division, was held by Gary Merrifield, who chose not to run after a local group, Citizens for Water Integrity, successfully petitioned the district court to order an election earlier this year.

Jeff Olinger, Robert Mailander, and Lloyd G. Johnson are competing for the four-year term, and their letters of candidacy, which include brief résumés, are posted on the district’s website at www.uawcd. com.

There’s one polling place — the First Baptist Church at 608 S. San Juan in Buena Vista — and it will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Absentee ballots are available at the Chaffee County Clerk’s office.

The only people eligible to vote in this election are registered voters who either live in Buena Vista School District R31 (essentially, northern Chaffee County), or who live elsewhere in Colorado and own real property inside the district’s boundaries.

Water conservancy district elections are rare because they require petitions; directors are normally appointed by district judges — in this case, John Anderson of Cañon City.

On June 1, Anderson re-appointed two UAWCD incumbents to four-year terms — Tom Young of Cotopaxi for Division 1, and Tom French of Howard for the at-large seat.

There were at least two other applicants for the at-large seat: Jack Close of Nathrop, and Gene Rush of Salida.

Close is a retired chemical engineer and executive of an industrial chemical company. After moving to Chaffee County, he organized a private water company, the Mesa Antero Water Association, to provide potable water and fire protection to that area.

Rush is a retired hydrologist, and is president of the Methodist Mountain Homeowners Association, which administers water rights for the 33 lots in that subdivision.

Both men said that after sending their letters to Judge Anderson, they never heard anything more — they were never interviewed, or even notified that someone else had been appointed to the at-large seat.