Secondary water representatives work to clear up muddy communication

Secondary water representatives work to clear up muddy communication

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As fall approaches, the secondary water season in Morgan City is drawing to close.  For many customers of the Morgan Secondary Water Association, they hope the closure of secondary water lines leads to an opening of communication lines.

Several customers of the Morgan Secondary Water Association (MSWA) are complaining about not receiving an annual secondary water bill and not being able to leave a message because of a full voicemail box. Just this year, 37 secondary water customers have posted complaints on social media, leading to Facebook threads with hundreds of comments.

Although no one wanted to go on the record, some complaints indicated that the processing of their payments were delayed.  Customers say it can be unnerving because their annual bill indicates that if payment is not made by the June 30 deadline, their secondary water would be turned off.

In a letter provided by Shelly Betz, former MSWA secretary/bookkeeper, it was noted that the association will be actively seeking a bookkeeper/secretary during the off-season.

“Those interested may look for an upcoming ad in The Morgan County News,” the letter reads. According to Betz, although she has stepped down, she has been spending every spare moment volunteering her time to assist until a replacement can be found.

Secondary water in Morgan County

The MSWA is a non-government entity run by a volunteer board comprised of shareholders from the five major ditch companies that service properties within Morgan City: North Morgan Irrigation Company, South Morgan Water Ditch Company, East Richville Ditch Company, Welch Field Ditch Company and Weber Canal Company.

According to the Utah State Division of Corporations and Commercial Code, the MSWA is listed as an active domestic non-profit corporation first registered on Feb. 9, 2000, and last renewed on May 9, 2016.  According to the association’s articles of incorporation adopted June 5, 2002, the corporation was organized with directors from each of the five participating ditch companies for the purpose of engaging in the acquisition, diversion, conveyance and distribution of secondary water to residents of Morgan City.

MSWA’s five ditch companies are part of many more spread throughout the county.  According to the Utah Division of Water Rights, 170 water companies are being billed for exchanges as well as water taken out of the Weber River.  Of those, 25 have Morgan County billing addresses (http://www.waterrights.utah.gov/distributionsystems/dsBrowse.asp), most of which have accounts that are current on their assessed bills.  However, three Morgan County water companies have outstanding bills with the Utah Division of Water Rights, some going unpaid since 2015 and currently accruing late fees.

“There are companies that struggle with paying bills when they aren’t well organized.  It does require the company to do a little bookkeeping,” said Ben Anderson, a distribution engineer with the Utah Division of Water Rights over Northern Utah water commissioners.  “But we hesitate to intervene because it is not like they are unwilling to pay.  It is more likely the bill isn’t getting to the right person.”

Although rare, he has seen ditch companies given notice that if bills remain unpaid for several years, head gates can be locked.

Outdated state records

According to the Utah State Division of Corporations and Commercial Code database (https://secure.utah.gov/bes/details.html?entity=3107027-0140) and most recent renewal on May 9, 2016, current MSWA principals are President/Director Walter N. Boyce, Registered Agent/Secretary Shelly Betz, and directors Leland Manning, David Potter, Susan Ralston and Auggie Rose.

However, three listed directors told The Morgan County News they were no longer associated with the MSWA including Leland Manning, David Potter and Auggie Rose.

The aforementioned letter provided to The Morgan County News on Sept. 12 included bullet points about MSWA supplied in part by MSWA President Boyce.  However, attempts to contact Walter Neil Boyce directly were unsuccessful.

The Utah Division of Water Rights database (waterrights.utah.gov/forms/watercompanies.asp) listings for contact information for the five ditch companies was also outdated.  Three companies’ listings haven’t been updated since 2002, while others were last updated in 2011 and 2014. Those listings include two board members who passed away in 2009 and 2013.

Despite outdated databases and unpaid assessments, Betz said water service has remained reliable.

“No one has had their service terminated this year regardless of account status,” according to Betz’s letter.  “Service fees have been the same for the past 10 years.”

MSWA director meeting planned

The surmounting complaints spurred newcomer Clarke Garn to call a meeting to address customer concerns.

Pamela Turner—who served as secretary of the South Morgan Water Ditch Company for 28 years, secretary of the Weber Canal Company for eight years, and secretary and a founding member of the MSWA—said she has continued to receive calls from concerned customers even though she is no longer on any of the boards at this time.

“I have had grave concerns,” said Pamela Turner, who was secretary of the South Morgan Water Ditch Company from 1980 until 2008.  “I have received many phone calls asking me to change stock certificates and questioning the billing for each company. I would be very willing to explain to the new people the process of running the companies, and hopefully get to the point that the correct people are getting the constant phone calls I am receiving.”

“I’ve had so many calls it has been unreal,” said Jan Turner, the first president of the MSWA and a former secretary of the Welch Field Ditch Irrigation Company.

Garn, who has been president of the South Morgan Ditch Company since April, said representatives from all five ditch companies are set to meet next Thursday to “see where we stand with secondary water and hiring a secretary.”  Garn also said the meeting should address updating state records with the name of the new secretary.  “We hope to have a plan of action in place to correct problems.”

“We receive grant and loan money from the state that needs to be paid back over time,” said Susan Ralston with the Welch Field Ditch Company.  “We need to make sure there is some revenue and that we are all tidied up.”

“We have had some complaints.  They are legitimate and need to be corrected,” said Garn, who said he found out he was an MSWA director in August.  “We want our shareholders to be happy, informed, know how to pay their bills, and have their checks cashed.  We want to be totally open and transparent. We want the public to know who we are.”

Who they are

As The Morgan County News can attest after three weeks of research digging in outdated state databases and contacting many former directors, finding current contact information for secondary water ditch companies can be difficult.

Anderson said keeping contact information updated “is a challenge” because it is done on a voluntary basis only when their state division of water rights secretary has the time or ditch companies voluntarily submit the information.

“Keeping things updated is one of the things we struggle with,” Anderson said.

While many city residents use secondary water from the MSWA, not all officially belong to any of the five ditch companies unless they own ditch company shares.  Ditch presidents are usually elected by shareholders at their annual meetings, Pamela Turner said.

For those who own ditch company shares, confirmed current contact information for those companies is as follows:

  1. EAST RICHVILLE DITCH COMPANY: President Walter Neil Boyce; Secretary Kevin Tucker
  2. NORTH MORGAN IRRIGATION COMPANY: President Bruce Clark
  3. SOUTH MORGAN WATER DITCH COMPANY: President Clarke Garn; Secretary Shelly Betz; Board Members Tom Hemming, Harold Fry, Blaine Fackrell, Milan Mecham
  4. WEBER CANAL COMPANY: President Rod Spencer
  5. WELCH FIELD DITCH COMPANY: Susan Ralston

The presidents of these five ditch companies also serve as or appoint directors of the MSWA.  These people—rather than the MSWA—can be contacted by individuals needing to have personal water shares transferred into their name.

All MSWA customers can contact the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District (801-771-1677 or http://www.weberbasin.com/) in order to find out when their secondary water will be turned off and back on again if it is expected to vary from the typical April 15 start-up and Oct. 15 shut-down.  This year secondary water is expected to be shut off Oct. 14. (update: on Sept. 28, The Morgan County News was informed that the Weber River Water Commissioner, Erma Carter, put residents on notice that water would be shut off as of Sept. 30, 2016.)

For those who have bought a new home or sold an old home with secondary water in the MSWA area, Betz advised, “MSWA has no way of knowing when a home has been sold; customers need to fill out and sign a Service Application, pay a $25 transfer fee, show proper water rights (if applicable) and pay a connection fee (if applicable) before service may will be provided,” according to the letter.  “Payments may be mailed to: PO Box 1064, Morgan, UT  84050 or slipped thru the slot in the door at the office (200 East 125 North, Suite A). Credit card payments or partial payments are not available at this time. Proper forms of payment are cash, check, cashier’s check or money order.”

A thankless job

Customers should be aware that their fellow residents serving on ditch companies and water associations often volunteer their time and efforts helping with water with little to no pay.

“Because the leadership for each of the ditch companies is basically a volunteer position, the leaders are reimbursed only a pittance, such as $25 a year for their time,” Pam Turner told The Morgan County News.  “Most of the members of the boards of directors are fully occupied in other professions.”

“It is a thankless job,” said Susan Ralston, who has served on the Welch Field Ditch Company’s board for many years.  “We are a small ditch, and most of us live out of state.  We haven’t had a meeting for some time.  All of us are volunteering to make this happen.  It is an amazing amount of work for very little reward.”

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