Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Monday, May 21, 2007

Futilities Department

For a while now, I've had a problem with the City of Boulder's Utilities Department, as led by Ned Williams. But the latest fiasco with the City's new water budgeting system may just get him the kind of attention he doesn't want.

Whether you agree with the new rate structure or not, you have to admit that it was implemented extremely poorly. The idea of the plan was to charge a higher rate for water as people and businesses use more. Conserve water and pay a low rate. Waste water and pay more per gallon.

After the system was implemented, the first question was obviously going to be, "So, how much water are we saving?" But apparently when creating the new billing system they didn't think to create any reports to provide this fundamental information, or even the ability to quickly create such reports. I've been in the software business for many years, and such a blunder is inexcusable.

On top of that, one of the city's meter readers misread the water meter at an apartment building and sent out a bill for about $1.5 million. Then they announced that revenues were up by 50%. Again, inexcusable. Any system that relies on human data entry must have safeguards to check for such major errors. This one would have been easy: Any water bill with more than 6 digits to the left of the decimal point should be examined by a person before being sent out. Not hard. Again, go back to your Freshman computer science class and reread the textbook.

But Ned Williams and his gang of turf-building cronies have been haunting Boulder for a while. I first experienced them via my ownership of water rights in the Silver Lake Ditch and Reservoir Company. This is a group of folks who own rights to irrigation water in Boulder's watershed, and who still use that ditch water to irrigate their residential and business properties. Unfortunately, Mr. Williams didn't like that we owned water rights that he couldn't control. So, he sent the City Attorneys and the Planning Department after the ditch owners and literally started bullying them to relinquish their water rights to the city for a tiny fraction of what they are worth.

Fortunately, calmer heads at the City (City Manager Frank Bruno) forced him to temporarily stop the bullying. However, Ned's gang has been in negotiations with the ditch company for almost two years, and they have still been unable to resolve the differences. I'm not involved in the negotiations and don't know their current status, but I know that the City's going in position was that they didn't have to do anything, because they already owned the water rights (contrary to all of the written agreements).

In another case (in which I have no vested interest), the City has gone to court to force farmers in central Colorado in the South Platte River Valley to stop taking water from their wells. It seems that by pumping water from their wells the farmers are using water that belongs to someone downstream from them, and when those downstream users demand the water they can force the City to give up its more junior rights. Water rights in Colorado are very complex, but it seems to me that putting farmers out of business is not in the best interest of the City. There has to be another solution to this problem.

Back in the 80s, the city constructed Goose Creek, kind of an ugly channel for flood control purposes. What really mattered was the most efficient conveyance of water. Put a bike path next to it and call it a greenway. Well, Mr. Williams finally got religion and discovered some federal money that could be used to upgrade Goose Creek to a "real" creek. You know, make it look more natural, with realistic looking artificial rocks, pools for any goose fish that could figure out how to swim upstream from Boulder Creek, trees to keep the cyclist cool, etc. (Not that the cyclists aren't already cool.) It may not be the most efficient way to get water from here to there, but with all that extra Silver Lake and South Platte River water you're going to be getting any day now, it won't really matter.

Oh, by the way, the City recently announced that there is plenty of water in its reservoirs and snow pack this year, and there will be no watering restrictions. Just watch your water budget.

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