Southern Delivery System: What are the impacts from sharing project facilities with providers that were not included in the Reclamation evaluation?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

…at contract negotiations last week, Colorado Springs worked very hard to insert provisions that would allow the use of excess capacity of SDS, partly to help pay for the expense. “We need to be clear that there are plans on the part of several SDS participants to serve others through the project,” Colorado Springs water attorney David Robbins told the Bureau of Reclamation at the negotiations in Pueblo. While Colorado Springs and its SDS partners intend to stay within the limit of taking a maximum of 78 million gallons of water a day from Lake Pueblo into El Paso County, more water could be wheeled through the pipeline than was envisioned in Reclamation’s environmental impact study. Colorado Springs wants to build in the ability to use the project for neighboring communities in El Paso County, asking for changes in Reclamation’s proposed contract to allow for “excess-capacity” users.

That point was raised two years ago by Pueblo County water attorney Ray Petros during the EIS comment period.

Petros pointed out environmental impacts were modeled on moving an average of 52,900 acre-feet of water delivered annually through the pipeline, with a firm yield of 42,400 acre-feet. That is only about 60 percent of the capacity of the pipeline and pumping stations to move 87,000 acre-feet per year. “Any approval should condition the use of the project on the use of only existing water rights without further environmental study and review,” Petros told Reclamation in June 2008. At the time, he also advised against allowing additional users on the pipeline. “The draft EIS does not consider the impacts associated with Colorado Springs supplying raw water or substantial amounts of treated water outside its city boundaries. Such water contracts could increase the amount of water projected to be delivered through the pipeline,” Petros said. “Additional taps to the pipeline could mean unplanned growth and impacts along the pipeline.”

Reclamation responded to Petros’ comments by saying the final EIS would have commitments that require Colorado Springs to stay within the limits modeled. “A commitment not to contract or operate the preferred alternative in a manner that differs substantively from that evaluated in the final EIS, except under emergency conditions, has been included,” Reclamation replied. “Because of this commitment only the water supplies analyzed in this final EIS could be delivered through SDS facilities without NEPA analysis.” Petros brought up the concerns again when Pueblo County’s hearings began for a 1041 permit in December 2008. Throughout the hearings, the concern never went away, and it led to a procedure to deal with new water rights added to SDS or third-party users. Under one condition, Pueblo County can reopen 1041 hearings if new water rights are added. Third-party contracts would require support for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, a commitment not to serve customers outside the Arkansas River basin, adoption of stormwater controls similar to the now-defunct stormwater enterprise in Colorado Springs, cooperation in the Pueblo flow program, participation in water-quality monitoring and support of studies for a flood control dams on Fountain Creek…

During last week’s negotiations, Reclamation asked Colorado Springs to provide an inventory of the water rights that were used to develop the EIS during discussions about excess capacity. In its statement of purpose and need for SDS, Colorado Springs said it was needed to meet future needs of participants, provide redundant systems and develop existing water rights. Nothing was mentioned about supplying the water needs of neighboring communities in the statement…

“If Colorado Springs Utilities doesn’t become the regional water supplier, someone else will step in and do it,” Tony Elia, chairman of the Utilities Policy Advisory Council, told Colorado Springs City Council last July, on the day it decided to delay SDS completion until 2016. The council pushed back SDS to provide breathing room for ratepayers, who nevertheless will be looking at a doubling in water rates by the time SDS is projected to go online.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

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