Southern Delivery System: Corps of Engineers Clean Water Act permit a foregone conclusion?

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Here’s an update on Colorado Springs Utilities’ proposed Southern Delivery System, from R. Scott Rappold writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

The public comment period ended Friday, and 13 people and organizations -12 against, one in favor – submitted comments, a possible sign that people see the once-controversial project as a foregone conclusion, since the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County have both approved it. Van Truan, from the Corps of Engineers Pueblo office, said he was surprised by the low number of comments…

Truan said the Corps will not release the comments until a permit is issued or denied. The Corps is expected make a decision on the permit within 120 days, Truan said. He said most of the comments were similar to those voiced earlier in the process, so the agency has not decided if it will hold a hearing on the permit. “A lot them refer to things that are really not in the scope of our permit, but beyond that,” Truan said.

Some who commented released their remarks. The Sierra Club and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition called on the Corps to hold a public hearing. The Pueblo West Metropolitan District, a partner in the pipeline, asked the Corps to deny a permit because it wants to slow the approval process while the district tries to resolve a conflict with Pueblo County over flow guarantees through a whitewater park on the Arkansas River. Pueblo County District Attorney Bill Thiebaut, who has sued Colorado Springs over sewage spills and opposed the pipeline, urged the Corps to consider the cumulative impacts of the project and possible alternatives to the pipeline. “The Corps must require CSU to analyze other less environmentally harmful alternatives, such as water conservation strategies, water recycling and reuse and land use restrictions,” Thiebaut wrote in his comments, which his office released.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While Pueblo West is fighting a Pueblo County condition requiring it to help protect the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam, the metro district has agreed in the past to help maintain flows through Pueblo. In a Nov. 13, 2001, agreement with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo West agreed to cooperate in a flow management program as a condition for future storage in Lake Pueblo under the Preferred Storage Options Plan. On June 8, a decree in Pueblo West’s 1985 filing for reuse and exchange committed the metro district to forgo exchanges when levels in the Arkansas River fall below 100 cubic feet per second in order to maintain water quality…

Utilities Director Steve Harrison said Tuesday. “Every water provider knows the value of environmental flows, but there is a difference between environmental and recreation flows.”

Pueblo County is taking a hard line on the flow program because the variety of flows it helps to provide are needed for aquatic life as well as recreation, countered Ray Petros, special counsel for water and land-use issues for the county. “The health of the river below the dam is important,” Petros said. “The cost of restoring the river later would be much greater than protecting the river now.”

Pueblo West, currently undergoing political turmoil, still stands by the 2001 agreement, which was associated with the potential enlargement of Pueblo Dam under PSOP, Harrison said. “We didn’t think it would be that large of an issue. It was a voluntary program,” Harrison said. Petros argued it was more than a voluntary program, pointing out the 100 cfs limit was written into Pueblo West’s June 8 water court decree. “This was back in 2001, long before the county permit requirement,” Petros said. “At that point, they looked at this as what would be required as a condition for reservoir enlargement. I don’t agree it’s voluntary. It’s embedded in the contract.”[…]

Pueblo West would stand to lose more as a full participant in the Pueblo flow program, Harrison said. He pointed to a draft report by MWH Engineering, contracted by Colorado Springs, that shows Pueblo West eventually could lose the ability to exchange about 500 acre-feet of the 3,200 acre-feet of exchanges it could theoretically make now. The loss would be about one-third as much if Pueblo West is successful in developing a pump-back option of sewer flows from Wild Horse Creek to a gulch near the golf course. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is considering that request…

Petros said the MWH report fails to consider how the Recovery of Yield program – which returns about 70 percent of forgone flows – would reduce that amount, and assumes that Pueblo West would be able to fully develop 8,400 acre-feet of water. Petros said other factors may pose a greater limit for the metro district’s ability to realize the full amount.

That doesn’t matter to Pueblo West, which doesn’t believe the county has any right to curtail its water supply, which is nearly all transmountain deliveries of water that would otherwise not be in the basin, Harrison said. “Pueblo West doesn’t want to dry up the river,” Harrison said. “I don’t understand why the county is trying to take a large chunk of our water. If we lose that water, we have to replace, and that could be expensive.”

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Army Corps of Engineers has not decided whether a public hearing is needed for its evaluation of the Southern Delivery System. “We’re reviewing the comments we received to see if there would be valid, new information to be gained at a public hearing,” said Van Truan, chief of the Southern Colorado regulatory arm of the Corps. “There has been plenty of opportunity to comment on the project.”

The major impacts that concern the Corps is that 0.23 acres of wetlands would be permanently lost in the project, three outfall structures and numerous stream crossings of pipelines. Those impacts are relatively routine and the Corps considered issuing a permit under a process that requires no public review. “Colorado Springs is insisting we do everything in the open,” Truan said. “Having a public hearing is a big process for us. We may have a public input session.”[…]

Among the comments received:

The Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition and Sierra Club requested a public hearing on the SDS pipeline, as well as additional time to file comments. The coalition said alternatives to SDS have not been adequately studied.

Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut asked the Corps to delay a permit until ongoing problems on Fountain Creek, including sewer spills, flooding and sedimentation, are fixed.

Pueblo West, a participant in SDS, asked the Corps to delay action until its issues with Pueblo County over the Pueblo Arkansas River Flow Program are resolved.

Pueblo County endorsed any Corps action that incorporates pertinent conditions of the county’s 1041 permit. The county also refuted Pueblo West’s comments about the flow program, saying it is necessary to protect the Arkansas River.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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