Colorado Springs plans to spend $28 million on stormwater next year, critics do not see a long-term committment

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs plans to spend $28 million next year on stormwater issues, but local critics say it’s mainly a reaction to last summer’s devastating Waldo Canyon Fire and not a long­term fix for future damage. “It’s a start, but they still need to find a sustainable revenue stream in the future,” said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

City Councilwoman Brandy Williams shared the list of projects with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday.

Among the projects are $2 million for the Mirage Channel, which has attracted attention in Colorado Springs media; $2 million in transferred funds from a defunct improvement district; $6.6 million in federal grants, matched by $2.2 million in local funding for stabilizing tributaries; $2 million for street and stormwater staff and programs and $12.8 million for Colorado Springs Utilities fire mitigation or stream fortification projects. About $7 million directly addresses Waldo Canyon drainage stabilization.

“This is a beginning to a continuous process,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner, who chairs the Fountain Creek board. “As commissioners, we’ve tried to talk to (Colorado Springs) Mayor Steve Bach about the stormwater issues, but he hasn’t met with us to explain anything.”

Chostner plans to attend a meeting of the El Paso County stormwater task force next week, as it reviews area responses to stormwater needs.

Winner said it appeared Colorado Springs is shifting city functions like streets, utilities infrastructure and response to the Waldo Canyon Fire into stormwater, rather than strictly addressing issues once covered by the nowdefunct stormwater enterprise.

“As I look through the list, I don’t think it’s a solution to fix Fountain Creek for the benefit of Pueblo,” Winner said. “I hope in the future they are as concerned with the downstream stormwater needs as they are their own.”

Pueblo County and the Lower Ark district have asked for annual Colorado Springs stormwater funding levels of at least $15 million.

More coverage from Daniel Chacón writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s and excerpt:

The city and the public utility issued a joint news release Friday outlining their proposed stormwater-related expenditures in 2013. The funding includes $7 million to address impacts caused by the Waldo Canyon fire and $980,000 in salaries and benefits for employees who work explicitly on stormwater projects.

“I am pleased that our staff has been able to find additional resources for the city’s critical stormwater needs and will be coordinating with Colorado Springs Utilities to ensure their funding is also directed at the most urgent stormwater needs,” Mayor Steve Bach said in a statement.

For months, Bach advocated Utilities’ financial involvement in funding stormwater, which the four-service utility said it was already doing.

Helen Migchelbrink, the city’s public works director and city engineer, said the stormwater spending for 2013 was released in anticipation of a meeting Tuesday of a task force that will look at stormwater funding regionally…

Chairman Anthony Nuñez and Commissioner John Cordova said they wanted to review the city’s list of projects before saying whether the funding was sufficient. But both said Colorado Springs has a long way to go.

Utilities obtained a permit from Pueblo to build the Southern Delivery System water pipeline with the promise to address stormwater needs.

“I realize it’s tough times, but with $500 million worth of needs … it seems a little shy,” Cordova said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Jane Green, who owns property on Fountain Creek south of Fountain, has become a regular at meetings of a district designed to fix the troubled waterway. She’s spoken to the board several times since a flood washed out a levee protecting her home in September 2011, without many clear­cut suggestions about how to go about fortifying the bank before the next wave of water hits. But Friday, the Fountain Creek was moved to begin taking action to help her and other landowners who experience erosion or flooding from sudden storms on the creek.

“I think we can move forward on this,” said Richard Skorman, a Colorado Springs businessman who sits on the board of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

Ferris Frost, another woman who owns land in the creek channel and a member of the district’s citizens advisory committee, showed the board slides of her own property. A logjam 100 feet wide by a quarter­mile long clogged an irrigation headgate last year. The creek has cut away 50­foot cliffs over the last three decades. “Jane Green has been to the district three times this year, and found no one to help,” Frost said. “It should be one of our functions.”

The district did tell her to contact the Corps of Engineers and Natural Resources Conservation Service for help in repairing the levee, and got a permit to do work in the stream, but she had to line up her own materials. The concrete chunks thrown in the creek as a stop­gap measure go against the plans, which were developed during years of meetings leading up to the formation of the district in 2009.

Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said state funds for stream stabilization projects went unused last year. The funds are available for public entities like the Fountain Creek district, but not landowners. Board chairman Jeff Chostner set up a special committee to look into options for grants and programs the district can use to help landowners.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A board dedicated to fixing Fountain Creek took a few more baby steps toward finding permanent funding last week, tempering the desire to get things done with finding the right approach to voter approval. “As I said before, let the discussion begin,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner, chairman of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “There are going to be a lot of nuances.”

Chostner has prodded the board throughout the year to talk about the timing of asking voters for a mill levy. The district’s funds are dwindling, and the only funding in sight is a one-time payment of $50 million to the district in 2016, if Southern Delivery System is online by that time. The district also must ask voters to suspend Taxpayer’s Bill of Right provisions on revenue growth to receive even that money, said general manager Larry Small. Under the 2009 legislation creating the district, which includes all of Pueblo and El Paso counties, the district can assess a tax of up to 5 mills. There are also provisions for subdistricts — a potential way to fund stormwater, for instance — in just parts of the area that would not affect the mill total, Small said.

The board got some more tools to work with as its discussions continue:

– The Trust for Public Land agreed to provide advice and technical assistance in a survey of voters regarding the timing and wording of a ballot issue.

– Sample language for a ballot issue, including stating the district’s objectives, was presented. Flood prevention, water quality, drainage, open space, recreation and wildlife were included.

– Financial projections show the assessed valuation is $6.32 billion in El Paso County, and $1.56 billion in Pueblo County, or $7.88 billion total. Each mill would raise $7.88 million, representing an annual payment of about $20 for a $250,000 home, or $145 for a $500,000 business.

More stormwater coverage here and here.