Fountain Creek: Colorado Springs Utilities fined $35,500 as a result of Sierra Club lawsuit

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Here’s a look back at the Sierra Club’s lawsuit against Colorado Springs Utilities over sewage spills into Fountain Creek, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Sierra Club says it has leveraged progress, while Colorado Springs claims it would have taken steps without the threat of a federal lawsuit…

Colorado Springs is spending millions to improve its sewer system, and is cooperating with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in a corridor master plan. Numerous studies are looking at water quality. The public’s attention in the past turned to Fountain Creek only after major flooding, but now it has become a major focus for water-quality issues in the Arkansas Basin. “If you look at the big picture, a lot of things on Fountain Creek have happened since the lawsuit was filed,” Ross Vincent, of the Pueblo Sierra Club, said Friday. “Without the lawsuit, I think we would have seen a continued record of violations, because their response initially was to spend ungodly sums of money on PR.”

Bruce McCormick, Colorado Springs Utilities chief of water services, emphatically disagreed. “We recognized how important this is in terms of environmental stewardship,” McCormick said. “Since 2004, we have spent $120 million, and we plan to spend $300 million more. These are commitments we have made to improve the system.”[…]

The judge retained jurisdiction for the next year, while saying enforcement by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was “effective.”[…]

The judge sided with the Sierra Club that federal laws were violated and assessed penalties that the state had not, Vincent said. “The remedies are weak if you want to make sure violators understand they need to make investments,” Vincent said. “If it’s cheaper to ignore the law, they will continue to do so.” Vincent said the early state compliance orders, which track violations back to 1998, did little more than require studies and paperwork while spills into Fountain Creek continued…

The suits came after two sewer lines broke during flooding of a tributary of Fountain Creek, less than one year after an operator error had released tons of sludge into the creek. Pueblo political leaders were livid following the incident, creating a year of turmoil that ultimately led to the Vision Task Force.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

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