John Fredell, project director for Southern Delivery System, last week tried to build a case that the EPA’s enforcement action on the failure of Colorado Springs to maintain stormwater control is unrelated to SDS.
He told the Pueblo Board of Water Works that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS only applies to ensuring new development won’t increase Fountain Creek flows.
“It’s not all lumped into SDS,” Fredell said, trying to convince the water board of his position.
But a review of the history leading up to the county’s 1041 permit shows he is wrong.
The first sentence of condition No. 23 in the 1041 permit indeed mimics the incremental approach taken by the Bureau of Reclamation, holding Colorado Springs liable for new development as a result of SDS. That’s exactly the point Fredell made.
Further on in the condition, however, it states:
“Regulations shall comprehensively address peak flow conditions, runoff volumes, and flood hazards, incorporating at a minimum all relevant components of existing regulations of Colorado Springs.”
It also calls for maintaining all structures and complying with stormwater permits, things the EPA says Colorado Springs has not done.
Presumably, those regulations would not apply only to new growth, but to the entire city of 186 square miles that already exists — 20 percent of the Fountain Creek watershed.
Beyond that, Fountain Creek was always a big part of SDS.
Stormwater permits and the need to control flows into Fountain Creek are mentioned in the 2004 intergovernmental agreement that was used to get support for SDS from the city of Pueblo and the Pueblo Board of Water Works. On its face, Colorado Springs’ lapsed performance appears to put it in violation of the IGA.
When the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force began meeting in 2006, many conversations mentioned the increased flows that would occur when SDS was in operation. Planning for more flows was added to an ongoing effort to deal with flows that already had increased as Colorado Springs grew from the 1970s on.
The demise of Colorado Springs’ stormwater enterprise was foreseen by Pueblo County’s attorney in comments in 2008 as the environmental impact statement for SDS was being prepared by Reclamation.
Reclamation did not consider the possibility, saying comments about stormwater were unrelated to the federal permit in its responses. The record of decision that approved SDS made the assumption the stormwater enterprise would stay in place before and after the project was built.
So Pueblo County put additional assurances that Colorado Springs would be responsible for controlling water going into Fountain Creek. It also required the city to pay $50 million to a district that had not yet been created.
The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District was formed by the state Legislature in 2009 to improve Fountain Creek and administer those funds, and has taken Utilities to task over the timing of payments.
The county’s 1041 regulations also were written and adopted when a stormwater enterprise that generated $15.8 million in revenue annually already was in place.
Who said this?
“The City of Colorado Springs is moving forward to address long-term stormwater management.”
No, it wasn’t Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett talking to the Pueblo Board of Water Works last week. The above quote came from Mayor Lionel Rivera during a presentation by Colorado Springs Utilities officials to the Pueblo City Council on July 11, 2005.
They were there to assure Pueblo that Colorado Springs was dead serious when it came to living up to the conditions of an Intergovernmental Agreement signed a year earlier. An agreement that would eventually pave the way for the construction of the Southern Delivery System.
More than a decade later, Colorado Springs Utilities and political leaders are back in town trying to head off a rising tide of outrage in Pueblo County that has been bubbling up the last two months. In November, Colorado Springs learned it faces Environmental Protection Agency enforcement action for failing to meet the minimum requirements of its state stormwater discharge permit.
“They come down here and tell us what they think we want to hear, and then they do nothing,” said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District General Manager Jay Winner. “How many times are we going to let that happen?”
Last week, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard what Colorado Springs had to say for itself. This week, Pueblo County commissioners and Pueblo City Council will get more of the same.
On Monday, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and others is scheduled to meet with commissioners at 1:30 p.m. and with City Council at 7 p.m.
What Colorado Springs is offering involves more than lip service. There are real dollars on the table.
The city will double the size of its stormwater staff by the end of 2017, and a new stormwater director will be on board within a month. About $12 million a year will be spent on capital projects to begin to address a $535 million backlog, and $7 million for maintenance. There is another $1.5 million from other city departments directed toward maintenance.
There will be 70 actions to meet the deficiencies outlined in the EPA audit, Utilities reported.
Several slides in the Colorado Springs presentation show before and after photos of neglected drainage ditches that were highlighted in the EPA audit.
Not everyone’s convinced this is a step forward.
“Those trees in the drainage ditches must have been growing for two years to reach that size,” Winner said. “When you look at the numbers they’re throwing around, you have to wonder what happened during the seven years they didn’t have a stormwater enterprise. Are they just playing catch-up, or is this a real improvement?”
That’s been a common pattern, a review of documents about stormwater collected over the past 11 years reveals.
For instance, the progress report of stormwater improvements given to Pueblo City Council in 2007 are identical to a list of unfinished business presented to Colorado Springs City Council in 2009 as it was demolishing the stormwater enterprise after it had been operating for two years on a $15.8 million annual budget. The list of most critical projects then totaled about $40 million and none of them had been touched.
The total backlog was about $500 million.
Although the Lower Ark district, then-Rep. Sal Pace, county commissioners and other local officials pressured Colorado Springs on stormwater, there was little action for two years. The city adopted a new strong-mayor form of government and its council membership completely turned over in a four-year period. At one point, the city failed to send an elected representative to meetings of Fountain Creek district for six months in 2011.
Finally, in 2012, the city’s attorney advised then-Mayor Steve Bach that, in his legal opinion, Colorado Springs ought to be spending at least $13 million annually to control stormwater. Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners answered by forming a regional stormwater task force, which Bach opposed on the grounds that Colorado Springs should manage its own storm systems, ultimately dooming regional stormwater control.
By 2014, the $500 million project list was scrapped after a stormwater task force decided it was old and outdated — largely because of new damage from the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 and to a smaller degree, the Black Forest Fire in 2013.
In a new study, CH2MHill came up with 239 projects totaling almost $535 million in Colorado Springs, carefully weeding out obsolete and duplicated projects. Of those, 44 totaling $160 million were called high priority, which indicated there are public health or safety issues evident, according to the engineers’ report.
The regional cost, which included all needed work on Fountain Creek and its tributaries in El Paso County, was $723 million.
Later in 2014, El Paso County voters rejected a proposal by the task force to raise $40 million annually with a regional drainage district to address all those issues.
The huge backlog was mentioned at both the water board and Lower Ark meetings, with some trying to do the math at how long it would take to address the problems if the $12 million annual capital expenditure stays in place — say 40 or 50 years.
But Colorado Springs backs away from saying those lists will ever be completed or that they even mean anything.
At the Lower Ark meeting last week, Colorado Springs Utilities consultant Mark Pifher called the $534 million figure a “wish list,” insisting that projects with the highest priority would be tackled first. Utilities board Chairman Andy Pico told the water board that work will start soon on the highest priority projects.
Meanwhile, Colorado Springs has found the $841 million needed to build SDS, a project that will supply the city with the water it needs for the next 40 years, completing all major construction in just five years.
“They’ve done what they wanted to do, while doing the minimum to comply with their obligations to Pueblo,” Winner said. “How much longer are we going to put up with that?”