Pueblo Board of Water Works board OKs $35.79M budget

Pueblo photo via Sangres.com
Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Replenishing the water development fund, beginning work to convert Bessemer Ditch shares and continuing to swap out old meters for automated equipment are major projects envisioned by the Pueblo Board of Water Works in its 2015 budget.

The board Tuesday approved a $35.79 million budget that will mean a 3.25 percent increase for Pueblo Water customers. The increase also will be applied to all multiyear water leases.

No one protested the hike at a public hearing Tuesday.

The rate hike is an average $1.16 increase in the monthly billing for residential customers with a 1-inch meter.

“When looking at the Front Range cities’ average monthly bills, the board has the lowest cost of water for major water utilities,” said Executive Director Terry Book.

Contributions to the water development fund are expected to top $1 million this year, with some of the revenue from the $5.5 million Xcel Comanche plant lease providing the money.

The fund is used for onetime projects such as the acquisition of water rights and large infrastructure projects. Contributions had been on hold since the 2009 purchase of Bessemer Ditch shares and revenues used to service debt.

Engineering and legal work on the Bessemer Ditch shares should begin with the anticipated filing of a change case in water court next year. The shares, which are being leased back to farmers, must be converted before the water can be used for municipal purposes.

The water rights were purchased partly as a defensive measure to prevent El Paso County communities from obtaining them. The water may not be needed until future growth occurs and the purchase agreements provided a 20-year leaseback option.

Pueblo Water has replaced about 80 percent of its water meters with automated equipment. It will replace about 4,000 more for about $1 million next year.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.

The NIDIS November 2014 newsletter “Dry Times” is hot off the presses

Cover of November 2014 Dry Times from NIDIS
Cover of November 2014 Dry Times from NIDIS

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

If you’re the boss, how much water would you give to the farms that grow your food? To the lakes and streams where the fish and animals live? To the power plants that make the electricity that runs your television?

And what happens if the next year, you only have half as much water to hand out?

Some Boulder, Colorado, kids answered these questions through a water budgeting game meteorologist Lisa Darby developed in collaboration with the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) in Lincoln, Nebraska. The kids were part of an August day camp program at a local non-profit, the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence.

The game covered where our water comes from, how it’s used, and what might happen if a drought occurs. (Guess what uses the second biggest proportion of household water in Denver? Toilets!)

Highlight video of Come Hell or High Water the 2014 @SCWConference with @COWatershed

Colorado Springs voters might decide stormwater funding — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Colorado Springs Chief of Staff Steve Cox presented a capital improvement and stormwater funding plan to the City Council on Monday that he’s hoping will go to voters in April.

He’s asking that the City Council put a question on the ballot seeking voter approval to issue $160 million in sales and use tax revenue bonds to pay for street improvement, parks, public safety and stormwater projects. The plan would not increase taxes or fees, he said. Instead, the bonds would be paid back from the city’s general fund.

“This bonding proposal will allow the city to accelerate spending on key capital improvement projects,” Cox said.

The plan would allow the city to spend $15 million a year to improve streets, $8 million a year on flood control projects, $4 million a year on public safety equipment and structures and $2 million a year on parks. The projects would be completed in five years and paid for over the next 20 years, city officials said.

Cox said it is a way to address the city’s highest priority needs.

“It’s not meant to solve the problem,” he said to the City Council. “But it is meant to make headway.”

The council will decide in December whether to put the question on the April ballot.

The council had endorsed a regional stormwater funding plan that went to voters Nov. 4 and would have created a partnership with El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Fountain to plan and fund flood control projects. It would have assessed a fee on every property owner in those four communities and most of El Paso County. Voters turned down the plan.

Cox said this bonding plan would provide $145 million and pay for about 70 capital improvement projects that have been on the high-priority list, including bridge rehabilitation on Fillmore over Monument Creek, citywide tree trimming, emergency generators, and improvement on the Fountain Creek channel.

“The executive branch sees this as an intermediate, half-decade action plan to get us moving on high-priority, backlogged CIP (capital improvement projects) in all four function areas,” Cox said.

Council member Jan Martin called the plan a temporary fix. The backlog of flood control projects has been estimated at $700 million.

“What is the longer-term solution?” she asked Cox.

Cox said the long-term plan is still to be developed. The city has identified a backlog of capital improvement projects that total $1.3 billion.

“The longer solution is obviously going to involve property tax increases or sales tax increases,” he said.

Council member Merv Bennett called the plan a step in the right direction. Bennett was on the hot seat this month when he faced the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board members, who accused the city of Colorado Springs of violating the Clean Water Act because of its lack of permanent stormwater and flood control programs. The board sent Colorado Springs a letter Nov. 19 of its intent to sue over the matter.

“I appreciate you putting these issues together,” Bennett told Cox. “But I hope everyone doesn’t believe this solves the problem.”

Cox would not comment on the potential lawsuit, but he said the city has been working on flood control issues beyond spending. It recently updated its drainage criteria manual, which has stricter, rules for developers issues that affect water quality and water flow.

In 1999, Colorado Springs voters approved the Springs Community Improvements Program, which was the sale of $88 million in municipal bonds to pay for 29 capital improvement projects. The projects were completed in 2004 and the debt, paid for from the general fund of about $7.9 million a year, is scheduled to be paid off in 2016.

“With the SCIP bonds retiring in 2015 and 2016, the cash flow currently dedicated to those bond payments can be re-purposed to the proposed bond payments,” a handout from Cox to the City Council said. Under the proposal, the city would spend $11 million a year out of the general fund to pay back the bonds – about $3 million more than the current bond payments.

Council member Don Knight said it’s a finance plan that raises concerns.

“This year’s (2015) budget includes $1.5 million from reserve to balance the budget,” he said. “Now this is another $3 million liability on us. We are increasing the debt payment by $3 million instead of staying at $7.9 million.”

The city would take the $3 million from its Capital Improvement Project fund, said Kara Skinner, the city’s CFO. “That would still leave $8.1 million in the general fund CIP budget for other pay-as-you-go CIP projects and emergency projects,” she said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

The November 2014 Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership newsletter is hot off the presses

Uncompahgre River watershed
Uncompahgre River watershed

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

UWP completes first mine remediation project at Michael Breen Mine

The unpredictable early fall weather made UWP’s first mine remediation project at the high elevation Michael Breen Mine on Engineer Pass road very uncertain. But, we crossed our fingers for a glorious fall and forged ahead. First, Jack Pftersh of Alpine Archaelogical Consultants, LLC in Montrose completed site recordation and assessment of a historic ore load-out structure, just as the first snow blanketed the high country at the end of September. An expedited review of his report by the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) gave us the green light to proceed with stabilization of the load-out. Meanwhile, Jeff Litteral of Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) finalized agreements and plans to construct a diversion ditch for a draining adit, install a culvert and stabilize the structure. The remediation work began in early October. The weather turned warm and dry and all major tasks were completed by Halloween.

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here.

That half-decade leading up to a successful wilderness bill was American democracy at possibly its sausage-making best — George Sibley

Trappers Lake
Trappers Lake

From the Summit Daily News (George Sibley):

Westerners celebrated two birthdays worth noting toward the end of summer, but most paid attention to only one, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The other was the 50th anniversary of the start of construction of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in Colorado, which eventually moved a lot of water from the Colorado River Basin to the Arkansas River Basin.

I mention them together because it fits my sense of irony. The Fry-Ark Project, a heavy-duty tampering with natural hydrology in Colorado’s wild headwaters, was about as antithetical to the spirit of the Wilderness Act as one could imagine. Yet had the U.S. Congress not passed the 1962 act creating the project, a Wilderness Act would almost certainly not have been passed as early as 1964. And the West Slope headwaters of the Colorado River tributaries might not have today’s black-and-white division: official designated wildernesses cheek-and-jowl with the intrusive water-collection systems designed for East Slope cities.

I mention this to counter the triumphalist history we heard this summer about what a slam-dunk the “wilderness revolution” was 50 years ago, somehow expressing the will of the vast majority of the people as it gained nearly unanimous votes in Congress, et cetera. That’s is true enough on the surface, but it sweeps under the rug the half-decade of contentious horse trading that went on inside Congress, and between Congress and the executive departments, as the nation began to negotiate a transition from an “Old West” of aggressive public-land resource development, to an urbanized and industrialized “New West” that would preserve for posterity and recreation the remaining public areas still “untrammeled” by human development and use.

That half-decade leading up to a successful wilderness bill was American democracy at possibly its sausage-making best. It was Congress and executive leaders doing what Congress and executive leaders today seem to have forgotten how to do: After all the bloviating and harrumphing and bullying, they sat down to arm-wrestle their way to compromises that were acceptable enough to all parties. The full story of that process in the early 1960s is too large and complex to relate here; but at the end of it the Old West got more water projects, and the New West got a Wilderness Act.

By the time all that negotiating was completed, the wilderness bill that passed was no longer really “revolutionary”; it was a reasonable evolution of existing public-land law. A new public-land designation was created, but the Old West extractive industries (on which the New West was built) were given 25 years to explore for developable resources in proposed wilderness areas, historic grazing rights were grandfathered in, and the president had executive authority to permit water projects in wilderness areas.

The hardcore wilderness advocates screamed that these compromises would kill the wilderness ideal, but this is hard to substantiate today. That quarter-century of development is long finished, and more than a hundred million acres of the nation’s land are now under wilderness protection. Of course, that’s not enough for some and too much for others. New wilderness will probably be added incrementally, but only if Congress relearns the lost art of working through conflicts to acceptable compromises.

I find that, 50 years later, my own ambivalence about the Wilderness Act is unchanged. On the one hand, I favor almost anything that makes us slow down and think about our presence on our public lands. But I remain bothered by the “First World” piety that infused the wilderness movement from the start — saving what’s left of Nature from ourselves (and everyone else). How is it not a class movement, by and for the beneficiaries of the richest, most resource-intensive “lifestyles” ever?

$25 million in improvements in store for the #SouthPlatte River through Denver

From Confluence Denver:

On the South Platte River in Denver, numerous projects known collectively as River Vision are underway, aiming to improve both recreation and ecology. While the river remains a work in progress, it’s unrecognizable compared to the mess it was 50 years ago.

Once again, the South Platte River is entering a new era.

With $24.5 million worth of improvement projects underway in Denver, the once-forgotten waterway is blazing a trail for urban river restoration. The South Platte also represents one of the biggest economic opportunities for the city, according to Mayor Michael Hancock, with the riverfront poised for a boom on both the north and south sides of town.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.