Stormwater: “I really hope the new mayor [John Suthers] puts a higher priority on this issue” — Jay Winner

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A move by Colorado Springs to try for federal money to cover costs from storm damage earlier this month got no crocodile tears from Pueblo officials.

“Don’t you think it’s disingenuous that we have the same problems downstream and Colorado Springs is not willing to pay for it?”

said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“I really hope the new mayor (John Suthers was elected Tuesday) puts a higher priority on this issue.”

Colorado Springs announced Monday it will seek reimbursement of up to 75 percent of its estimated damage of $8.2 million from heavy rain from May 3-12.

The initial assessment recorded $5 million damage from landslides or erosion, $2.9 million to parks and trails and $281,000 in sinkholes.

Greater amounts are anticipated as assessments of damage continue, according to a worksheet released by Colorado Springs.

Outgoing Mayor Steve Bach is requesting disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“They’ve got to have somebody fund stormwater,” Winner said.

The Lower Ark district is working toward a federal lawsuit that charges Colorado Springs has violated the federal Clean Water Act by failing to control stormwater after its City Council abolished a stormwater enterprise and fee in 2009. The lack of a stable source of funding for controlling periodic storms is a sore point.

“I’d bet that when they show us an accounting of stormwater payments, they include the federal money that they were unwilling to provide,” Winner said.

That, in fact, is what Bach did in 2013, when he sent Pueblo County commissioners a letter claiming $46 million in stormwater expenditures. Much of the money was from federal grants for multiyear projects.

“I have to commend Colorado Springs for their ability to get federal money,” Winner said. “I do wish the city of Pueblo was as good at getting money.”

Pueblo, which has a stormwater enterprise and fee in place, is not planning on filing for FEMA money from the storm, but is still assessing damage on Fountain Creek.

“Pueblo would apply if the damage is greater than the normal scope of our stormwater repair budget,” said Pueblo City Manager Sam Azad. “We had damages at the airport from hail, but that is outside of what FEMA will cover.”

Pueblo has taken care of much worse problems on Fountain Creek on its own in the past, so it is unlikely the city would apply for assistance as Colorado Springs has done, Azad acknowledged.

El Paso County voters, including Colorado Springs, rejected a plan that would have established a regional stormwater district that would generate nearly $40 million in funding annually.

Stormwater also is an issue for Pueblo County commissioners, who are conducting an investigation now to determine if Colorado Springs is living up to its commitments under the county’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System.

Meanwhile, Fountain Creek has been flowing high and causing damage this week. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Fountain Creek churned again on Tuesday following a night-long rain over much of Southern Colorado.

By early afternoon, flows through Pueblo had peaked at 6,500 cubic feet per second, bringing with them debris such as large tractor tires, conduits and trees from the north.

At Avondale, east of Pueblo, the Arkansas River reached flood stage Tuesday evening. “Fountain Creek’s a mess,” said Van Truan of the local U.S. Corps of Engineers office.

“It’s such an active stream and has been for years.”

Rainfall in the region totaled anywhere from 1-3 inches, with the heaviest storms in El Paso County in the foothills west of Colorado Springs.

This is the second-wettest May on record, with 13 days left and more rain forecast through the weekend. “With the pattern we’re in, it’s possible this will be the wettest May ever,” said Mark Wankowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Pueblo Memorial Airport.

Fountain Creek washed out parts of the trail alongside the river, including at 13th Street where the creek has been temporarily diverted for Army Corps of Engineers work along the west bank to protect railroad tracks and an Interstate 25 interchange.

The trail has been closed from the trailhead at U.S. 50 east to Runyon Lake, the city of Pueblo announced in a press release. Some parts that have not washed out are covered with 3-4 inches of mud.

The creek also finished off structures in the flood plain at Belmont Stables on Overton Road. About five stables and a large metal pen were in danger from earlier high flows on Fountain Creek and now have been swept downstream. A swath about 25 yards wide has been cut in the past 10 days, in addition to land that disappeared earlier this month.

“It took it all,” said Cathy Todd, owner of Belmont Stables. The horses that were in the lower stables were all moved to higher ground.

Fountain Creek now is undercutting the bluffs on her property, she said. Fountain Creek shifted toward the east several years ago and began eroding the site, but it has accelerated with the rains in recent weeks.

Elsewhere in Pueblo County, the rain was making its presence known, but was manageable.

“I haven’t been over to the SDS scar; we’ve got our own problems on Turkey Creek to worry about Colorado Springs’ problems today,” said rancher Gary Walker, who is in a legal fight with Colorado Springs over the Southern Delivery System pipeline across his property.

“I was up at 1:30 a.m. releasing water so we wouldn’t have problems,” said Mike Hill, superintendent of the Bessemer Ditch. He said there were not any weather-related problems with the ditch from the storm.

More stormwater coverage here.

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