Colorado Springs: Stormwater enterprise demise leaves $82 million worth of projects to compete for general fund dough

A picture named arkansasfountainconverge.jpg

From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck):

Stormwater Enterprise manager Ken Sampley unfolds a large budget graph labeled “DRAFT” in big gray letters. He circles one total: $66,145,000. That was the estimated cost in 2006 of completing Stormwater’s 26 top-priority drainage projects. He circles another number: $82,790,676. The estimated cost for completing the same 26 projects in 2009 dollars.

Stormwater began work in 2007, with a backlog of more than $300 million in projects. So far, Stormwater hasn’t put much of a dent in that. “We never got to the point where we even got close to our $60 million,” Sampley says. “If we can’t get close to the $60 million, why even worry about the next couple hundred million?” On average, Stormwater collected $16 million a year in fees, and spent about $8 million annually on capital projects, leveraging the money where possible. The rest went to other needs: In 2009, over $4 million was spent on maintenance and another $1.7 million to maintain mandated federal water quality standards. The rest was sucked up by engineering, planning studies and administrative costs. Over three years, fees produced just $22.5 million for projects. Stormwater leveraged that to nearly $30 million but still finished less than a third of those top-priority projects.

One project that Stormwater won’t complete has certain consequences. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it will declare a northeast section as a 100-year floodplain if repairs and updates aren’t made to the Templeton Gap levee. The floodplain area contains more than 3,000 properties and 5,000 structures. With no Stormwater funds, the Templeton Gap project, which could cost up to $6 million, won’t get done, and most lenders will require property owners within the plain to buy flood insurance. While Stormwater fees cost a single family home $25.80 to $163.80 a year, flood insurance will cost many times that amount. Councilor Scott Hente has fought hard to keep his constituents from paying those big insurance premiums. After 300 passed, he wanted to keep Stormwater fees for at least two years, so Templeton Gap could be completed. But he was in the minority. And his fighting spirit on the issue was tempered when he found out a majority of the floodplain residents voted for 300. “You’re saving yourself a few bucks a year,” Hente says with astonishment, “to incur the luxury of spending $1,000 a year on flood insurance.”[…]

With no fees, the city will have to fork over money for emergency stormwater repairs. It’ll also have to pay for a federally mandated basic stormwater program costing about $1.75 million a year. If the city doesn’t pay, it could face fines of up to $27,500 per day for each water quality-degrading “incident” from the Environmental Protection Agency, plus an additional $10,000 in daily civil fines from the state. If an incident isn’t properly reported or is deliberate, the state can also levy criminal fines of up to $25,000 a day. But the death of Stormwater grieves none so much as Utilities. It loses a crucial partner in controlling rainwater runoff, which eventually makes its way to Fountain Creek — the lightning rod in the city gaining approval for its Southern Delivery System.

More stormwater coverage here.

BLM seeking public input for draft Wild and Scenic River Eligibility report

A picture named sanmiguelriver1109

Here’s a release from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (Erin Curtis):

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is seeking public comments on a draft Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Report conducted by the Uncompahgre Field Office.

The report is the first step in a Wild and Scenic River evaluation for the 900,000-acre field office, which is being conducted as the field office revises the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan. The Draft Eligibility Report provides an inventory of river and stream segments on BLM-administered lands, and identifies those segments that meet the eligibility criteria necessary for federal Wild and Scenic River consideration.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968 to preserve selected rivers or sections in their free-flowing condition in order to protect “the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.” To be eligible under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a river or stream segment must possess one or more “outstandingly remarkable values,” have sufficient water quality to support those values, and be “free-flowing.” The BLM evaluated 174 river and stream segments and found 35 to be eligible.

The draft report identifies five segments of the San Miguel River (approximately 55 miles), two segments of the Dolores River (approximately 20 miles), and two segments of the Gunnison River (approximately 18 miles) as eligible. Eligibility review does not take into account potentially conflicting uses or the manageability of a river segment, which will be addressed in the upcoming suitability phase.

At this stage, the BLM is specifically looking for information regarding free-flowing condition and outstandingly remarkable values, including vegetation, wildlife, cultural, recreation, hydrologic, geologic, and scenic. Public comments on the draft report will be accepted through Feb. 26. The report is available at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/ufo/uncompahgre_rmp.html.

Comments can be emailed to uformp@blm.gov or mailed to the Uncompahgre Field Office, Attn: RMP Revision, 2645 S. Townsend Ave., Montrose, CO 81401.

“Once the eligibility study has been finalized, we’ll be working with stakeholders to look at each eligible segment to determine whether or not it is suitable for Wild and Scenic River consideration,” said Uncompahgre Field Manager Barb Sharrow. “Public involvement in this process is essential.”

The suitability study will be included in the Resource Management Plan revision, which will analyze a range of possible recommendations. The BLM may or may not actively recommend suitable segments for Wild and Scenic River designation, based on input from stakeholders and the public.

River segments determined to be eligible are afforded interim protective management by the BLM until a suitability study is completed. The Resource Management Plan revision and suitability analysis is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

The Cache La Poudre River is currently the only river in Colorado with segments included in the Wild and Scenic River system. For more information on Wild and Scenic Rivers, visit http://www.nps.gov/rivers/.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here.

Snowpack news

A picture named usdroughtmonitor12222009

From the Summit Daily News (Robert Allen):

Dillon Reservoir recorded 9 inches of snow this month — accurate before Wednesday — relative to 34.5 inches for the entire month in 2008, Burroughs said. While El Niño is often blamed for higher snowfall in Colorado’s southern mountains, Burroughs said local observers have noticed “just really a different storm track this year.”

State Representative Kathleen Curry plans to introduce bill to allow boaters access to streams running through private property

A picture named raftingarkriver.jpg

From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Though settled in other Western states, the question of whether rafters, kayakers and fishing enthusiasts have a right to use Colorado’s waterways when they go through private land remains a sticking point between those users and private landowners. While there is court precedent on the subject, exactly what it allows is still in dispute, the Gunnison lawmaker said. Curry, who shocked the state this week with her announcement she is leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent, plans to introduce a measure to allow commercial rafters to traverse private land even without a landowner’s consent.

The issue was sparked anew this summer when a Texas developer, Lewis Shaw, purchased thousands of acres of land on the Taylor River in Gunnison County with the intent of reselling it as exclusive 35-acre ranches. As a result, the developer notified two long-established rafting companies that they no longer could cross the land, Curry said…

Danny Tomlinson, a Denver lobbyist who represents a landowners’ group that routinely opposes such measures, said he only recently heard about the proposal and wouldn’t comment on it, either. He did, however, say his group doesn’t want to see anything that alters People v. Emmert, a 1979 Colorado Supreme Court case that ruled rafters who touch the bank or riverbed are trespassing, although some lawyers say that case affects even those who merely float through. “We’ve had concerns about various different floating, fishing, trespassing kinds of legislation,” Tomlinson said of Creekside Coalition, a group of private landowners that is expected to oppose this measure, too. “We haven’t seen a copy of the bill, so it’s hard to quantify what our concerns would be, but we would have serious concerns if it made significant changes to the Emmert case.”

Bob Hamel, president of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, said the issue is one of jobs and fairness. Hamel said the courts have long held that the water flowing down the state’s streams are publicly owned and that the right to float on it shouldn’t be an issue. “We’re not trying to take away the landowner’s rights, but rafting is a $142 million business in Colorado, and it employs hundreds of people. We’re just trying to protect jobs and people’s livelihoods,” Hamel said.

More whitewater coverage here.

Green River: Aaron Million’s pipeline dream one of the big stories of 2009

A picture named flaminggorgepipelinemillion.jpg

From The Green River Star (Jack H. Smith):

One story that hit home hard and sent shock waves across Sweetwater County was the possibility of a transbasin water diversion project. In April, Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million visited Green River to speak at public scoping meeting conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers…

His plan was met that night and in the following months with stark opposition. “Mr. Million gets the last allocation of Colorado water, and we get the shaft,” Western Wyoming Professor Craig Thompson said at the scoping meeting. Local leaders, residents and government agencies would all speak out against the project.

“If the Million pipeline is built, the river below the point of diversion and Flaming Gorge Reservoir will suffer eternal drought,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Fisheries Biologist Craig Amadio said.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Carbondale: $1.7 million targeted for wastewater treatment plant maintenance

A picture named wastewatertreatmentwtext.jpg

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Initial lab tests had indicated the plant may already be at 85 percent capacity, but the tests were inconsistent, according to an engineers report presented at the Dec. 22 Carbondale Board of Trustees meeting. A problem was detected that was believed to have resulted in the higher readings, and subsequent tests indicate the plant is actually at about 55 percent capacity, the report indicated. As a result, “The present plant will be capable of treating present and future growth flows for the next five to 10 years as a result of these interim improvements,” the report stated. Also reinforcing the town’s decision to proceed with the plant upgrades rather than a new plant at this point was an engineer’s determination that the quality of the water coming out of the plant and going into the river is better than most treatment plants in the area, Baker said. Another factor working in the town’s favor to extend the life of the existing plant is a decrease in demand on the facility, and lower costs for some of the work related to the economy, he said…

Approximately $123,000 worth of work was done on the plant this year, mostly to address an odor problem that became noticeable around the north end of town and in nearby unincorporated Satank last winter. So far this winter, the odor has not returned. The $1.7 million worth of upgrades will be able to be paid for out of the town’s existing wastewater fund, which had a $3.9 million fund balance going into 2009. Town trustees have also been considering an increase in tap fees for new development as a way to pay for an update to Carbondale’s 14-year-old water and wastewater master plan, which would help determine when exactly a new treatment plant would be needed.

More wastewater coverage here.

Snowpack news

A picture named usdroughtmonitor12222009

From The Denver Post:

Through Monday, the state’s snowpack this season is at 82 percent of its 30-year average. The Upper Rio Grande River basin in south-central Colorado has fared the best at 94 percent of average. The basins of the Yampa and White rivers in northwest Colorado have done the poorest, at 72 percent.

Officials have not expressed alarm, since Colorado’s snowiest months are still ahead. Besides skiing and beautiful winter landscapes, snow provides about 90 percent of the state’s year-round water supply.