Pueblo County is caught between enforcing water quality upstream and supporting a variance for the City of Pueblo

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo city and county officials are at odds over water quality regulations that could add millions of dollars to city sewer expenses.

The rift was great enough that the Pueblo Area Council of Governments backed down from a vote Thursday to support a variance for selenium and sulfates the city is seeking from the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

PACOG delayed its vote one month, after putting it off in December as well, in order to allow Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart to participate in debate.

Hart, along with Commissioners Sal Pace and Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, raised concerns that the county’s ability to insist on standards from upstream communities in El Paso County under the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System would be compromised if they agreed to support a variance for Pueblo.

“Commissioner Hart is not here, and he wants to have a say,” McFadyen said. “In our future, we will have water quality issues in this county and we need to be consistent.”

That means the city will have to go into a state pre-hearing on Feb. 4 without support from other local governments. The variance itself will be considered by the state in April.

Pueblo City Manager Sam Azad said sewer fees could double or triple if the city is forced to meet numeric standards.

The reach of the Arkansas River below the Pueblo wastewater treatment plant has naturally high levels of selenium and sulfates. If numeric standards are enforced, no additional releases would be allowed.

Pueblo would have to pay up to $92 million and $9 million annually to seal its wastewater lines from collecting groundwater and to treat water released from the plant to remove all traces of contaminants, said Wastewater Director Gene Michael.

Sealing the lines from collecting groundwater, $35 million of the total, would actually increase selenium because existing treatment removes some of it from water that’s released. The disposal of waste from reverse-osmosis treatment would compound environmental damage, Michael said.

“Let me be crystal clear, the county is not in favor of spending $92 million,” Pace said.

One of the conditions of the delay was to give environmental attorneys John Barth of the county and Gabe Racz of the city time to work out a way to gain county support for the resolution without jeopardizing future SDS deliberations.

While Pace said that agreement was close, the city disagreed.

“It’s unlikely John Barth and the city would agree to anything,” said Dan Kogovsek, city attorney.

After an hour of discussion, City Council President Steve Nawrocki agreed to back off a vote until the February meeting in hopes of getting unanimous support from PACOG before the April state rule-making hearing. Pace and McFadyen promised the vote would not be delayed again.

More water pollution coverage here. More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here. More wastewater coverage here. More stormwater coverage here. More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

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