Southern Delivery System: Pueblo County wants Colorado Springs Utilities to spend $50 million on mitigation

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Here’s an update on Pueblo County’s 1041 permitting process for Colorado Springs’ proposed Southern Delivery System, from R. Scott Rappold writing for the Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

Pueblo County gave Colorado Springs Utilities a list of conditions Wednesday under which that county would approve a $1.1 billion water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, and a Utilities official said none of them appears to be a deal-killer. Utilities would be required to give $50 million to the new Fountain Creek Watershed, a consortium of local governments and organizations working to improve the creek. The money would be used for erosion, sedimentation, flood control and water quality projects, to compensate for sending increased treated effluent down that creek. Utilities would also have to spend $75 million on wastewater improvements here by the end of 2024, something Utilities officials said they planned to do anyway. “I just see this as another big step forward for the project,” said Utilities project manager John Fredell…

The conditions are the recommendation of the [Pueblo] county staff there; Pueblo commissioners then would approve them as part of approval for a permit for the pipeline. Colorado Springs City Council would also have to endorse them. Fredell said Wednesday he was unsure whether Pueblo County will attach additional conditions. Utilities officials had been waiting for weeks to see what conditions Pueblo County would attach. In the meantime, they have received approval from Fremont County to build a pipeline from the Arkansas River, a backup plan that would cost $150 million more, in case Pueblo County denied a permit or attached unfavorable conditions. There is a long tradition of acrimony over water issues between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and Utilities challenged in court Pueblo County’s right to require a permit. After receiving the list of conditions Wednesday, Fredell said none appeared unacceptable, and even with the expenditures required, the Pueblo route would still be cheaper. “I see this as an investment in infrastructure and an investment in some great improvements in terms of recreational opportunities on Fountain Creek,” Fredell said…

Some of the other conditions would require Utilities to:

• Reduce sediment in lower Fountain Creek prior to SDS construction by dredging and sediment-collection.

• Maintain stormwater controls and other regulations intended to ensure that Fountain Creek peak flows resulting from new development served by the SDS project within the Fountain Creek basin are no greater than existing conditions.

• Continue participation in the Pueblo Flow Management Program to protect Arkansas River flows for recreation and the Arkansas River Corridor Legacy Project.

• Work with the Pueblo Board of Water Works to outline how the two cities would maintain a storage pool in Pueblo Reservoir to permit the release of water into the Arkansas River during times when the flow in the river could fall to low levels – at or below 50 cubic feet per second.

• Wait to begin construction at or near Pueblo Reservoir Dam until after the Bureau of Reclamation performs its dam-safety review and accepts the design construction plans.

• Voluntarily participate in developing a management plan for Pueblo Reservoir to protect reservoir levels and recreational opportunities, when and if the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, Reclamation and other affected parties agree to develop such a plan.

• Treat private property owners fairly, avoid creating financial burdens for property owners, and use power of eminent domain only as a last resort to acquire property and easements.

• Mitigate construction impacts and restore disturbed lands.

• Take “substantial steps” within 36 months to “construct the permitted development.”

The Donala Water and Sanitation District is looking at SDS as a possible means to move water that they’ve recently purchased from the Mount Massive Ranch, according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. The pipeline project is just one possible solution for water providers dependent on the Denver Basin Aquifer System. From the article:

Without SDS, Donala could look at other options: Using its new source as augmentation water or making a deal with the Super Ditch. With one study estimating a cost of at least $1 billion to build a pipeline from the Lower Arkansas Valley north, it’s not likely that the district and its neighbors could afford such an option, Duthie said. For a relatively small player like Donala, which serves about 2,700 homes, finding a way to get the water could be costly, but the district is reaching the point where it needs to spend money for water…

The owner of the Mount Massive Ranch approached Donala with the sale, which was completed in November. Donala paid $4.7 million for what it expects will be about 300 acre-feet of water, or more than $15,000 an acre-foot. That amounts to about one-fifth of the annual demand of the Donala district. The change of use of the water still has to be decreed in water court, and then there’s the problem of moving it. The district also owns about 700 acres in Lake County and is working with county commissioners there on how the land will be developed…

Donala sits atop the Denver Basin Aquifer, a deep underground source of water that is not tributary to surface systems. Like other El Paso communities, the district faces increasing costs of extracting the water in what amounts to mining the aquifer. While more wells could be drilled, the expense is prohibitive and Donala and its neighbors, which have banded together to form the Pikes Peak Water Authority, are searching for new solutions…

Other districts in El Paso County face similar challenges and could be in the market for water. Last year, the Pikes Peak authority put out feelers for water on the Bessemer Ditch, a move that ultimately sparked the Pueblo Board of Water Works most recent attempt to buy shares on the ditch. Fountain last year purchased a ranch in Custer County. In Fremont County, Penrose made a similar purchase of ranch water rights in the western end of the county. It’s not likely to stop. “We cannot rely on Denver Basin groundwater to solve our problems,” said Jessie Shaffer, who was recently hired as the engineer for the Woodmoor District, which has 3,300 accounts.

The Cherokee Metropolitan District, which is located near Colorado Springs, lost about 40 percent of its water in a recent court case and is still trying to gain state approval for a plan to recharge part of the Upper Black Squirrel Creek basin — a well area east of Colorado Springs not connected to surface supplies — so it can reuse flows it now flushes down the Fountain. New water could also be a possibility. The district serves more than 7,000 households. “Cherokee will never be off irrigation restrictions,” said Kip Petersen, general manager, adding that the decision has been hard. “People don’t like to hear that your lawn is a secondary concern.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

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