It turns out the Colorado Springs did need a stormwater enterprise after all, Fountain Creek water quality has declined


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Stormwater flows, sedimentation and E. coli counts on Fountain Creek increased after Colorado Springs eliminated its stormwater enterprise in 2009. That’s not idle speculation, but an analysis provided by Colorado Springs to the Colorado Water Quality Control Division.

Preliminary results of the analysis were given to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday by Peter Nichols, the district’s water attorney. “At the same time, staffing and budgets have decreased, despite what they say their plans are,” Nichols told the board. “Funding has declined and bottomed out in 2012.”

Water quality data from Colorado Springs Utilities required by the state for the city’s stormwater permit from 2008-12 was used in the study by Nichols, a former director of the state water quality agency.

Flows on Fountain Creek increased from an average of 149 cubic feet per second in 2009 to 419 cfs in 2012 at Security, despite drier overall conditions in 2011-12. Similar increases were seen elsewhere in Colorado Springs.

At the same time, E. coli levels and sediment loads increased. Staffing for stormwater by Colorado Springs dropped from 47 in 2007, the first year of the stormwater enterprise to just 9 by 2012. Spending declined from $16.7 million in 2007 to just $1.8 million in 2012.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Mayor Steve Bach seems hellbent on forcing Colorado Springs Utilities to fund the city’s stormwater needs, and he’s made yet another maneuver that could harm the city’s $1 billion Southern Delivery System pipeline project from Pueblo Reservoir.

Bach and City Council President Keith King, who is against a tax increase for stormwater, wrote a letter last month to Pueblo County Commission Chairman Sal Pace saying that Utilities had promised years ago to spend $17.6 million annually on stormwater mitigation to secure a construction permit from Pueblo County. Written as a follow-up to a meeting Bach had with Pueblo County officials May 3, it states the city has made “excellent progress” on the stormwater issue.

The city this week confirmed that the letter’s $17.6 million claim is accurate. But according to records and sources, it’s not — which would represent the second time in less than a year that Bach’s administration has used inaccurate statements while trying to foist stormwater funding onto Utilities…

This time around, on June 6, Bach and King sent Pace a letter saying the city submitted a five-year funding and project-priority plan “as part of” the 1041 process. “Colorado Springs and CSU submitted a five year funding and project priority plan for our stormwater capital projects during the review of the 1041 permit,” the letter states. “This plan contemplated spending approximately $88 million over the court of five years, for an average of $17.6 million per year. We have attached a copy of that funding summary for your review.”

But the attached list of Stormwater Enterprise projects is dated January 2010, which is eight months after the 1041 permit was issued. In addition, no such list shows up in the filings made as part of the 1041 process. The permit itself mentions the Stormwater Enterprise, but fails to state dollar figures or outline projects tied to SDS. Instead, the permit says the city “shall maintain stormwater controls and other regulations intended to ensure that Fountain Creek peak flows resulting from new development served by the SDS project within the Fountain Creek basin are no greater than existing conditions.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, as SDS project manager John Fredell says in a statement: “The SDS permit requirements related to stormwater are intended to mitigate the actual impacts of the project, not pre-existing conditions.”[…]

Neither Bach nor King consulted Utilities before writing the June 6 letter, according to Utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel. King says the mayor’s office asked him to sign it, but he’s now “working with” Utilities officials “about an explanation of that particular letter, to make sure everything is copacetic on this.”

In response to a request for a comment from Bach, Melcher, the city attorney, writes the following via email: “The City confirmed that the June 6, 2013 letter to Pueblo County was accurate, and that early and later drafts of the attachment to that letter (a draft list of proposed Stormwater Projects, totaling $88 million) were communicated to Pueblo County by City and Stormwater Enterprise staff during the 1041 Permit process. The Mayor and City Council will continue to coordinate efforts to address Stormwater, and to communicate those efforts to our neighbors to the south in Pueblo County.”

It’s worth mentioning that Council, not Bach, has authority over Utilities.

Meanwhile Colorado Springs is hosting a public meeting about Fountain Creek Flooding in the wake of the Waldo Canyon Fire. Here’s a report from J. Adrian Stanley writing for the Colorado Springs Independent. Click through for the information for the meeting. Here’s an excerpt:

If you live along Fountain Creek, you’re probably worried about flash flooding. And you should be. The mud, water and debris that came roaring out of Williams Canyon on July 1 and claimed three homes, could have just as well come racing down Fountain Creek. And, in that scenario, who knows how many structures it would have claimed.

Where and when a flash flood happens is a matter of chance — it all depends on which area a storm decides to dump on, how much it rains, and how quickly the rain comes. Thus, the city of Colorado Springs is offering a meeting to help Fountain Creek residents prepare for the worst.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

For months now, the Stormwater Task Force has managed to be two things: (1) a group of interested citizens and government workers striving to fully identify the region’s stormwater problems and identify a funding solution, and (2) an enduring focal point for angst between El Paso County and Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach.

At a July 15 meeting of the Task Force, El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen said Springs City Attorney Chris Melcher had met with her weeks ago and stated unequivocally that the city would not work with the task force. But at the same meeting, task force member John Cassiani said he’d been talking with the executive department of the city and hoped that a meeting would be possible toward the end of the year.

Lathen said she hoped the meeting would happen, though she doubts it will. “The message that you just gave us is very different than the one we were given just a few weeks ago,” she told Cassiani.

Given that the area has as much as $906 million in stormwater capital needs, plus an estimated $11.5 million in annual stormwater maintenance needs, the ongoing political squabble is no small problem. The mayor believes that the city should solve its stormwater problems independently, and that the scope of the problems is exaggerated. He’s hired Englewood-based firm CH2M HILL to identify the city’s most pressing needs. It could report back as early as October.

Meanwhile, the Stormwater Task Force has been moving forward without the help of the city or its staff. At the July 15 meeting, leaders said they hoped to ask voters to fund a stormwater remedy in the fall 2014 election. What voters would be asked to approve is not yet clear — the task force has not decided whether to pursue a tax, or create a special enterprise that would charge a fee.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

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