Southern Delivery System: Fremont County route on life support

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Here’s an update on Colorado Springs Utilities’ proposed Southern Delivery System, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“I don’t see anything in our analysis that changes our preferred alternative,” SDS Project Director John Fredell said Thursday. “Pueblo County has been our preferred alternative all along, while Fremont County is our secondary alternative. I don’t see any change in that approach.”[…]

County commissioners in both counties have given their blessing to SDS, with conditions attached. One of those conditions, requiring Pueblo West to participate in the Pueblo Arkansas River flow program, has created a snag in the permitting process, however. This week, Pueblo West sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers asking them not to issue a permit until the flow program issue is resolved, ratcheting up a fight over the flow program. In April, the Pueblo County commissioners required all SDS partners present and future to participate in the flow program set up under 2004 intergovernmental agreements among Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Fountain and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Pueblo West objected to the requirement at a hearing in March and later filed a lawsuit against Pueblo County claiming exemption because the metro district has never agreed to participate. “We do support SDS and Colorado Springs,” said Steve Harrison, Pueblo West utilities director. “But we can’t give up the water to this extreme demand of Pueblo County. We do not have any water to provide for recreation.”[…]

Fredell said Colorado Springs still considers Pueblo West a full partner in the project, but supports Pueblo County in requiring participation in the flow program. “We signed up a long time ago to protect the flows through Pueblo, and we’re committed to that,” Fredell said. “This issue needs to be worked out. We’re trying to work through this issue and help the other parties work things through.” Fredell said Pueblo West’s action does not change Colorado Springs’ acceptance of Pueblo County conditions. “We believe compliance with this condition is reasonable,” Fredell said. “We hope to continue the partnership with Pueblo West since there are benefits to both of our communities by their participation.”[…]

The current analysis by Colorado Springs Utilities is looking at updating the numbers in the EIS, using value engineering Ñ or adjusting the cost of the project as details are firmed up, Fredell said. The study also is updating scenarios for supply and demand of water in future years and making recommendations to council about financing the project. Once the project route is finalized, Reclamation will schedule contract negotiations for storage, conveyance and exchange at Lake Pueblo, which are needed to complete SDS.

More coverage from the Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

The Pueblo West Metropolitan District board voted Tuesday to send a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking them agency not to issue a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the last major pipeline approval needed…

Utilities needs a 404 permit because pipeline construction will impact 14.2 acres of streams and wetlands…

Pueblo West’s opposition is not based on the Clean Water Act, but a desire to slow the pipeline approval process until the flow guarantee dispute with Pueblo County is resolved. “It’s kind of interesting to me and I think unclear in terms of how this would be a 404 issue,” Utilities Project Manager John Fredell said Wednesday of the Pueblo West decision. “We weren’t informed ahead of time because I would have clearly provided the same feedback, in terms of it’s confusing to me and I don’t see how it’s a 404 issue, and I was disappointed they chose that approach.”

Pueblo West is not talking about backing out of the project, but that city’s opposition could complicate what looked to be a quick and uncontroversial Corps of Engineers permitting process for the long-planned pipeline. “This is unfortunately one avenue we feel is necessary to force the issue that we don’t have the water available to lose for recreation when we need it for our people,” said Steve Harrison, Pueblo West director of utilities. “We have not done this to create a problem. We have done this to underscore the fact we don’t have water to participate.”[…]

It is unclear how Pueblo West’s letter will impact the Corps of Engineers permit. As of last week, the agency had received one comment, a request by The Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition, to extend the deadline for public comments. The Corps did so and is accepting feedback through June 19. Pueblo West’s opposition letter will be another public comment. A news release from the agency says, “Any comments received will be considered by the Corps of Engineers to determine whether to issue, modify, condition or deny a permit for this proposal.” The agency can also decide to hold a hearing on the permit based on comments received…

Harrison noted the irony of Pueblo West opposing a permit for a project it is a partner in, but said the city doesn’t want the pipeline approval to go further with the issue unresolved. He also reiterated Pueblo West’s intention of staying with the project.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.