Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District update

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Next year, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District could receive the first of five $10 million annual payments.

But the district still may be forced to pass the hat among El Paso and Pueblo County governments to scrape together its operating revenue.

“We’ve limped along for years,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart. “But the $50 million is not going to answer everything. We can’t use the $50 million to hold the district together, although it should pay its share.”

The $50 million is a commitment by Colorado Springs Utilities to Pueblo County under the 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System, an $841 million pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. The pipeline is scheduled to come online by early 2016, triggering the payment.

The money must be used for flood control projects on Fountain Creek that provide a “significant and not merely incidental” benefit to Pueblo.

On Friday, the board continued to contemplate its cash-flow problems.

Executive Director Larry Small has worked for just $2,500 monthly — half the salary of his predecessor — since 2011 has patched together the budget during that time. His own payment includes the use of project management fees as part of the austerity program.

Under the language of the 1041 permit, all of the $50 million is to be used for flood control to benefit Pueblo, so there is no cushion for general operations. The district intends to use that money to leverage other grants, which would be administered through its enterprise, not the general fund.

Meanwhile, the district has the ability to levee a 5-mill tax on El Paso and Pueblo counties. Each mill would raise more than $7 million, and voters in both counties would have to approve it.

The district put the brakes on its mill levy investigation in 2012 in order for El Paso County to consider forming a regional drainage authority. That failed to pass in a vote last November.

More coverage of the district from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Merely proving that water rights would be a relatively minor issue compared with the benefits of flood control on Fountain Creek is not enough.

“Negative comments will continue, but science is science,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said Friday. “I think we will still have concerns regardless of what the science shows.”

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday briefly discussed the progress of its study to assess water rights impacts of dams or retention ponds built on Fountain Creek. The study by engineer Duane Helton was released for review last week.

It shows there would have been minor impacts if projects were designed to allow 10,000 cubic feet per second of water to flow during certain storm events. In larger storm events, there would be almost no impact to water rights because the river call would be John Martin Reservoir storage. The report also describes steps to mitigate water rights that are injured.

The bigger political problem is to reassure doubters that it can be done.

State Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, earlier this month yanked his support for a dam on Fountain Creek after listening to opposition from some downstream farmers and counties.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable last year refused to advance a state grant until water rights issues were resolved.
Even the state Legislature failed to include Fountain Creek in a bill that allowed floodwater storage for three-five days depending on the size of the event.

“It helps to continue the conversation that junior water rights can be protected, and that will help us with the design (of flood control projects),” Hart said.

Melissa Esquibel, a member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board, said the results of the study need to be presented to a wider audience at a future meeting of that board in Rocky Ford.

Executive Director Larry Small noted that representatives from downstream ditch companies have been attending the technical meetings that were part of the study.

“We need to be proactive in sharing the information,” Esquibel said. “We have people from Otero all the way down to Prowers County. It would be a slightly different turnout.”

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