FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Mike Wiggins):
Efforts to forge a state water plan to bridge the anticipated gap between supply and demand should focus on enhanced conservation efforts on the Front Range and shun any new transmountain diversions, according to a group of primarily Western Slope residents.
In a meeting this week with The Daily Sentinel editorial board, Adventure Bound River Expeditions owner Tom Kleinschnitz, Silt Town Trustee Aron Diaz, Western Resource Advocates Program Director Bart Miller, Bruce Talbott of Talbott Farms, Mesa Park Vineyards co-owner Brooke Webb and Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said they want to see river basins in other areas of the state call more for reducing water usage. Some of them also pitched the ideas of investing in improving existing infrastructure and building smaller storage projects at higher elevations.
“Conservation and cooperation is the new paradigm,” Acquafresca said.
Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050, one of the reasons why Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order calling for the development of a statewide water plan by 2015. The state’s eight largest river basins will present draft plans to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Western Slope water stakeholders say arguments that the majority of Colorado’s water should be used on the Front Range because the vast majority of the population resides there ignore usage of the river by the entire basin. The Colorado River Compact requires the Upper Basin states to deliver no less than 7.5 million acre-feet of water to the Lower Basin states during any 10-year period.
“My biggest fear is we will get a call (on the river) from the Lower Basin,” Talbott said.
Members of the group applauded Clark County, Nevada, and its county seat, Las Vegas, and organizations like Denver Water for their conservation efforts. Las Vegas has redesigned its golf courses to be more water-efficient and pays residents to rip out their lawns, while Denver Water has dramatically reduced municipal water usage over the last several years. As a result, Western Slope water users say they enjoy a good relationship with Denver Water. That relationship, though, doesn’t yet exist with entities like the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, group members said.
Colorado dry bean farmers are on pace to make up for last year’s historically “horrible” crop — and then some. Not only is this year’s abundant moisture expected to give the crop a boost, but the number of acres devoted to the crop this year has skyrocketed. According to recent crop reports, farmers planted about 60,000 acres of the crop this year in Colorado, ranking seventh nationally, and also marking a 54 percent increase over last year — far outpacing the nationwide 29 percent uptick in dry bean acres.
Larry Lande, who operates Northern Feed and Bean in Lucerne and serves on the Colorado Dry Bean Administrative Committee, said the uptick in acres across the board has much to do with dry bean prices holding strong while grain prices, particularly corn, have dropped.
More specific to Colorado, Lynn Fagerberg — who grows onions, corn, wheat and dry beans near Eaton — added that the improved water situation, with this year’s abundant snowpack, led him to replace many of his wheat acres with dry beans this year.
“And so far, it’s a good-looking crop,” Fagerberg said.
Last year, when water was in much shorter supply, Fargerberg upped his wheat acres because it’s a less water-dependent crop than others, like corn and dry beans. So, with more water now and corn prices low, increasing his dry bean acres made plenty of sense, he said.
The sharp uptick in dry bean acres comes less than a year after Colorado farmers saw one of their worst crops in memory.
Significant amounts of moisture in September — harvest time for dry beans — can cause discoloration and sprouting for mature beans still out in the fields, negatively impacting the appearance, which is important for a crop that’s sold on grocery store shelves.
And there was no shortage of rain last September.
In addition to destructive flooding that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage across northeast Colorado, the local dry bean crop, too, fell victim.
Weld County farmers were delivering to the local elevators the worst quality beans they’d harvest in years, or ever in many cases, local farmers said.
“The way things are going, that won’t be the case this year,” said Lande.
An increase in dry bean production this year would help Colorado — where sales of dry beans in recent years have amounted to about $30 million — rebound from its steady decline.
Dry bean acreage in the state has taken a hit in recent years as producers began planting crops that were seeing huge increases in commodity prices, and as Mexico, a big buyer of U.S. beans, has started growing more of its own crop. In 2001, 105,000 acres of dry beans were harvested in Colorado, nearly tripling the acres harvested in 2011 and 2013.
Members of the regional stormwater task force cheered Tuesday when the Colorado Springs City Council voted 7-2 to approve a contract for a stormwater funding program that was two years in the making.
With a sigh of relief following the vote, council member Jan Martin said the city has been trying to find a way to pay for millions of dollars in stormwater, flood control and drainage projects needs for a decade…
The contract and proposed November ballot language that would create a regional stormwater authority still needs to be approved by the other parties in the intergovernmental agreement: the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and Manitou Springs. All have indicated they will OK the contract.
The contract – the result of dozens of public meetings, community surveys and hours of public discussion – outlines the terms and duties of a Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority, a governmental agency that would plan regional flood control projects.
Voters are expected to be asked to OK an annual stormwater fee, which would be roughly $92 a year for a home with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface. If approved, a regional authority expects to collect about $39.2 million a year for 20 years. Most of the money would be spent on new construction projects, and maintenance and operations of existing flood control projects. A pot of money – about 10 percent of the fees collected – would be set aside for flooding emergencies.
An 11-member board would oversee the planning of the regional stormwater projects, and Colorado Springs would have six seats on the board.
But not everyone is happy. Mayor Steve Bach plans to hold a press conference Wednesday to detail his objections to the contract. He says it binds the city to a list of projects and does not give the city flexibility in cases of flooding emergencies. The contract infringes upon the city’s ability to manage its affairs, he said.
The stormwater contract requires that money collected from property owners in each city be spent in their city over a five-year rolling average, except for the emergency fund. Bach said spending the emergency pot of money will be decided by the authority’s board, which could reject a Colorado Springs project, he said.
“(The emergency fund) will not be returned to each city over a five-year rolling average,” he said. “Is it fair for third-party bureaucracy to have no responsibility to return it if we have an emergency in our city?”[…]
Bach also raised concerns about the proposed ballot language. He said it doesn’t detail the amount of the fees that will be assessed on each property.
“We need to be straight with the voters,” Bach said…
El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, a member of the stormwater task force, noted that Colorado Springs is guaranteed a majority of the seats on the board, and said it is disingenuous for Bach to suggest that Colorado Springs, which has 80 percent of the flood control needs, would get short shrift.
Colorado Springs City Council approved, 7-2, an intergovernmental agreement Tuesday that is expected to lead to a vote on a regional drainage authority for El Paso County.
“I supported a regional process (when a stormwater task force started meeting). It made sense at the time and it still makes sense,” said Keith King, council president. “Let’s put it in the hands of the voters.”
Most council members said the agreement is not perfect, but supported the opportunity to ask voters for approval of the authority. Helen Collins said there are too many taxes already and Don Knight said it does not protect Colorado Springs adequately in voting against the agreement.
The authority would raise $39 million in 2016 and is expected grow over the next 20 years to meet a backlog of more than $700 million in stormwater projects and to maintain them. Money would be spent proportionally in the participating communities.
While council OK’d the agreement, El Paso County Commissioners will have to place the issue on the November ballot, which they could do as early as next week. The IGA also must pass muster with Manitou Springs, Fountain and Green Mountain Falls.
It’s important to Pueblo County because Colorado Springs City Council abolished its short-lived stormwater authority in 2009. The authority was one of the premises of the Southern Delivery System, including Pueblo County’s 1041 land-use permit and the Bureau of Reclamation’s contract for use of Pueblo Dam and Lake Pueblo.
Colorado Springs Utilities pledged to avoid worsening flooding on Fountain Creek as a result of SDS in permit hearings.
“Down-streamers like me have watched the stormwater issue for some time and we’re excited something is being done,” said Dennis Hisey, an El Paso County commissioner from Fountain who sits on the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
“This is a collaborative process such as I have never seen,” said Amy Lathen, a commissioner who has worked with the El Paso County stormwater task force since 2012. “We will not take a step without full agreement on the IGA.”
Council spent nearly three hours wading through the agreement’s details, with Assistant City Attorney Tom Florczak, former Pueblo city attorney, leading the panel through changes Mayor Steve Bach wanted.
Bach met Monday and Tuesday with the council and county to negotiate changes, which was portrayed in contrasting ways by his chief of staff, Steve Cox, and Lathen.
Cox maintained that Bach had little time to review the document.
Lathen said Bach had made public, misleading statements about the agreement, particularly in portraying the assessment to property owners as a tax, rather than a fee.
During the council meeting there also was some discussion about how costs would be divided among authority members and an emergency fund. Bach wants to make sure Colorado Springs’ needs are met, and some council members were wary that Colorado Springs would bankroll payments owed by smaller communities.
“We could have a huge storm that messes up the Fountain River through Pueblo,” King said. “Do we need to treat this as an insurance policy?”
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has closely followed the negotiations over the proposed El Paso County stormwater initiative and is crossing his fingers that political bickering won’t keep the issue from the November ballot.
Pace has talked about Colorado Springs’ floodwaters for years and says the stormwater initiative is directly tied to the $1 billion Southern Delivery System, a regional project that brings Arkansas River water stored in Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.
Stormwater management in Colorado Springs has been on Pueblo’s radar since Colorado Springs Utilities committed to Pueblo and Pueblo County that it would be in compliance with stormwater responsibilities before 2016 – when the water is due to start flowing north.
When the permits for SDS were inked, Colorado Springs had a stormwater fee in place and a list of projects designed to head off floodwaters going south, Pace said. But the fee ended in 2011 and left Pueblo officials wondering if the promised flood control projects would be built.
“We know there will be more water in Fountain Creek because of SDS,” Pace said. “Part of the SDS permit was a guarantee of no increase in stormwater flows.”
Pace said if Colorado Springs’ stormwater issues are not resolved, Pueblo could take Utilities to court and challenge the SDS permits that were based on stormwater controls. No one wants to go down that path, he said.
“The fact that Colorado Springs and El Paso County are moving in this direction is a very positive step,” he said.
Colorado Springs City Council is expected to vote on the proposed regional stormwater contract, called an intergovernmental agreement, for the creation of the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority at its Tuesday meeting. El Paso Board of County Commissioners will consider the contract and ballot language at its Aug. 19 meeting.
The authority, if approved by voters in November, would collect about $39 million a year for the next 20 years to pay for flood control projects in the Fountain Creek Watershed, 928 square miles with a perimeter of 160 miles. Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs also are considering joining the authority.
Mayor Steve Bach has raised concerns about the proposed contract, saying that it is too restrictive when it comes to the city planning stormwater projects within the city limits. He also worries that the city would not be able to quickly respond to a flood emergency.
“We have to be careful not to put ourselves in a straight jacket,” Bach said. “What if priorities change in a few years? Colorado Springs can’t change its priorities without a supermajority of the (stormwater) board.”
Bach sent a letter to the council July 31 outlining his concerns, which include the need for Colorado Springs to have seven seats on the 11-member governing board. He said he hoped the council would consider his concerns and adjust the contract before approving it.
“I would like to support the IGA,” Bach said. “But if it is so onerous and interferes with the business of the city, I may be forced to oppose the ballot initiative.”
The council appears ready to approve the contract without the mayor’s changes.
Council president Keith King said the stormwater task force designed a regional program so that flood control projects could be planned together among the four cities and county. It would defeat the purpose of a regional project if it were to change the contract to allow Colorado Springs to act on its own.
“I’m afraid we are probably at an impasse,” King said.
Last weekend, the stormwater task force conducted a phone survey asking potential voters whether it would matter to them if Bach did not support the stormwater initiative. The results, however, are “being kept close to the vest,” said Rachel Beck, a task force member.
Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said a conflict between the mayor and council could affect voters. Some, she said, equate the bickering to distrust.
“People want us to work together,” she said.
Gaebler said she believes Bach has the city’s best interests in mind with his proposed changes to the stormwater contract. But his proposal comes too late, she said.
“This task force has been meeting for two years,” she said. “Ever since I’ve been on council, every month an invitation was sent to (the city attorney) and the staff and no one ever attended.”
Richard Skorman, business owner and member of the stormwater task force, said he doesn’t expect the recent strife to influence voters.
“No one should beat themselves up for bringing up issues at the last minute,” Skorman said. “I think everyone at the table wants the same thing.”
Skorman said Bach’s request for seven seats on the board seems reasonable, given that Colorado Springs will contribute roughly 80 percent in fees and need 80 percent of the flood control projects.
“All of those things are important,” he said. “But the biggest goal is for us to finally address flooding problems. There seems to be unanimous support for that.”