President Barack Obama created the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in 2013.
The 242,000-acre monument takes in the Rio Grande Gorge and spreads out across the sagebrush and grasslands of the Taos Plateau before stopping at the Colorado state line.
Now, a Conejos County group is saying he didn’t go far enough.
Conejos County Clean Water has begun a push to expand the monument into Colorado on the rolling hills and mesas that line the west bank of the Rio Grande.
Although the group faces concerns from the San Luis Valley’s water managers and outright opposition from a local commissioner, it believes the expansion would protect many of the land’s current uses and boost tourism.
“More people are inclined to see it and more inclined to visit,” said Michael Armenta, a project coordinator for the group.
Armenta said neighboring Taos County, N.M., did see an uptick in its lodging tax since the creation of the monument.
The monument, as it does in New Mexico, would exist only on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
“All private lands would remain private,” Armenta said.
But the group hopes to see the monument take in the Punche Valley, the Pinon Hills and Flat Top Mesa.
And they hope to see similar allowances on this side of the state line that allow for hunting, grazing and the harvest of firewood and pinyon nuts.
If the same prohibitions on the monument are extended to the expansion, oil and gas development and mining would be barred from taking place.
Jim O’Donnell, a Pueblo native, lives in Taos and worked on the establishment of the monument in New Mexico.
He now works for the Friends of the Rio Grande del Norte and has explored much of the monument gathering information for the monument’s management plan.
He’s also banged around some of the areas targeted for expansion in Conejos County.
“The landscape is just an extension,” he said. “It’s so similar.”
Those similarities include large expanses of grasslands with pinyon and juniper forests on high points.
Likewise, both sides of the state line include important corridors for wildlife heading between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains.
And both sides of the state line include evidence of prehistoric use in the form of rock art, as well as use by the Hispanic land grant communities that nearly surround the monument.
But Conejos County Clean Water and its allies will have work to do to reach a designation.
Armenta said the group has gathered 350 letters of support, including the backing of three towns in the county.
It has yet to reach out to the state’s congressional delegation.
Moreover, the idea faces staunch opposition from at least one Conejos County commissioner.
“I am 100 percent against it,” Commissioner John Sandoval said.
Sandoval believes there are enough restrictions already on the county’s 501,000 acres of federal land.
He also is uneasy with the process leading to monument designation, noting that during the original push to create the monument, officials at the Department of Interior failed to reach out to Conejos County even though it bordered the monument.
Water managers in the San Luis Valley have also taken notice of the push to expand the monument.
Although the presidential proclamation that established the monument in New Mexico specifically ruled out any reservation of water, valley ocials are not taking for granted that it will be included in any expansion.
“If you declare a national monument, you carry with it the implication of a reservation of water sufficient to fulfill the monument,” David Robbins, an attorney with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said.
He addressed the district’s board Tuesday about a draft letter to the area’s congressional delegation regarding the proposed expansion.
Both Robbins and the district have played a significant role in preserving the primacy of local control over water in the establishment of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and the creation of national park status for the Great Sand Dunes.
The district also pushed Congress to create the Rio Grande Natural Area, which lines a 33-mile stretch of the river that includes the area targeted for monument expansion.
Robbins suggested the district might be able to cooperate if any potential monument designation would pull back from the Rio Grande and the Conejos rivers, both of which carry requirements to deliver water downstream under the Rio Grande Compact.
But for the time being, the district will keep its concerns clear.
“I think we need to step up and say there are these problems if the monument is proposed to intersect or intertwine with either the Rio Grande or the Conejos, then the water interests in the valley should certainly be willing to oppose the monument in that form,” Robbins said.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
If you notice an unexplained large spike in water use or want to find a way to lower your water bill, it may be time for a free water audit. It’s a personalized consultation on your water use. Our auditors will also install new showerheads and faucet aerators. Sign up today!
From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):
Snowpack through the first quarter of the water year (October- September) was above normal for nearly the entire state and well above normal in the San Juan Mountains. A cool and wet December helped to alleviate abnormally dry conditions over the majority of the state. Long-term forecast favor the state for continued above average snow accumulation over the coming months; and with 45% of the snow accumulation season still remaining, water providers have no immediate concerns:
The 2015 calendar year was the warmest on record globally, the second warmest on record nationally and the 3rd warmest on record in Colorado. Colorado ended the year 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 100 year average for temperature. January to-date has been below average for temperature statewide.
Statewide SNOTEL water year-to-date precipitation is 104% of normal. Both November and December saw above average precipitation statewide, with nearly all basins receiving above average precipitation in both November and December. The Yampa/ White basin is the exception to this, but as of January 19th was at 98% of normal snowpack.
Reservoir Storage statewide is at above normal at 110%. The Arkansas basin has the highest storage levels in the state; the Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels, just slightly below normal. However, the Rio Grande levels are the highest they have been since 2009.
The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) is near or above average across the majority of the state, with the southern half of the state faring better than the northern. At this time of year the index reflects reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts. January 1st forecasts were normal to above normal in all basins, except the Yampa/White. Still, forecasts within the Yampa/ White ranged from a maximum of 103% on the Laramie River near Woods, to a minimum of 80% on the Little Snake River near Dixon.
El Niño conditions remain strong and should continue through spring. A recent large westerly wind anomaly may help keep the El Nino going and even cause a second peak. Assuming conditions persist as expected precipitation chances will be increased in March and April.
Long term projections indicate a transition to La Nina conditions later this year. While La Nina conditions typically result in lower precipitation especially across the southern portion of the state; the first year following large El Nino events, like we are currently experiencing, is more often associated with good snow accumulation totals than not.
Colorado Drought Monitor January 19, 2016.
Statewide snowpack map January 25, 2016 via the NRCS.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:
In 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the release of a biological control agent, the tamarisk beetle (Diorhabda spp.), to naturally control tamarisk populations and provide a less costly, and potentially more effective, means of removal compared with mechanical and chemical methods. The invasive plant tamarisk (Tamarix spp.; saltcedar) occupies hundreds of thousands of acres of river floodplains and terraces across the western half of the North American continent. Its abundance varies, but can include dense monocultures, and can alter some physical and ecological processes associated with riparian ecosystems.
The tamarisk beetle now occupies hundreds of miles of rivers throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) and is spreading into the Lower Basin. The efficacy of the beetle is evident, with many areas repeatedly experiencing tamarisk defoliation.
While many welcome the beetle as a management tool, others are concerned by the ecosystem implications of widespread defoliation of a dominant woody species. As an example, defoliation may possibly affect the nesting success of the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus).
In January 2015, the Tamarisk Coalition convened a panel of experts to discuss and present information on probable ecological trajectories in the face of widespread beetle presence and to consider opportunities for restoration and management of riparian systems in the Colorado River Basin (CRB). An in-depth description of the panel discussion follows.
The panel concluded that as the tamarisk beetle moves into the Lower Colorado River Basin (LCRB), the selection of management actions to support a transition to a healthy riparian system will depend on the unique suite of characteristics of each sub-basin and the goals of basin managers.
The panel emphasized the importance of basin-specific planning, the necessity of monitoring and inventorying to inform management, and that adaptive management practices will be essential for success relative to varying goals. The panel developed a framework to assist managers in selecting appropriate management strategies and identified future research needed to further inform restoration approaches and management decisions.
Silverton’s elected leaders will not decide this week on whether to approve a draft letter to Colorado’s governor supporting Superfund cleanup for the area’s leaching, abandoned mines…
Lawyers representing the two groups have been working to finalize language in the letter in the best interest of the community. Specifically, leaders want to clarify boundaries of any federal cleanup sites, reimbursement for costs incurred by the town and assurances any impacts will be mitigated.
“The talks are proceeding slower than we had hoped and while we have made good progress, the team is not ready to present a package to the county commissioners and town board this week,” said Mark Eddy, spokesman for the town and county. “There are still important details to be worked out.”
On Tuesday night, the group working on the letter will present to the town council members and county commissioners and the public will have an opportunity to ask questions and comment…
“The team is continuing its discussions with the state and EPA and everyone is working hard to try make the timeline so if there is a decision to move forward the site can be considered for listing by the EPA in March,” Eddy said.
Shareholders overflowing with questions; date moved to Feb. 11-12
The Fort Lyon Canal has delayed its meeting on issues surrounding a plan by Arkansas River Farms to dry up 6,700 acres of irrigated farms.
“We were getting too many letters that said people didn’t have enough time to prepare,” said Dale Mauch, a Fort Lyon board member.
The meeting was scheduled for Thursday and Friday, but now has been moved to Feb. 11-12, beginning at 9 a.m. each day at St. Mary’s School in Las Animas.
So far, about 29 Fort Lyon shareholders have indicated they want more information and intend to ask questions about the project, which was unveiled at the canal company’s annual meeting in December. Their issues center around revegetation plans, the use of seep ditches to return water to the Arkansas River and how much water would be left in shared laterals, Mauch said.
Karl Nyquist, Bill Grasmick and other Arkansas River Farms officials met with Fort Lyon shareholders in December to work through those issues before filing a change of use application in water court.
Arkansas River Farms, an affiliate of C&A Companies and Resource Land Holdings, bought 14,600 acres of Fort Lyon farms from Pure Cycle Corp. for $53 million in August. Its plan is to install sprinklers on 5,700 acres of Fort Lyon ground, flood irrigate 2,700 acres and dry up the remainder. The water from the dryup would be used to augment wells further downstream.
C&A is the parent company of GP Resources, which announced a plan in 2011 to pipe treated water from the Lamar Canal to the Front Range.
That plan has been put on hold in favor of new plans for a large dairy in Prowers County continue. Right now, the company is growing feed for a dairy in Kansas.
From email from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):
The nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) today approved new rules that amplify the role of local governments in siting large oil and gas facilities near communities and further bridge the regulatory roles between state regulators and local jurisdictions.
The regulations address two recommendations from the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force. Specifically, the rules will:
Provide earlier notice to local governments and opportunity for local officials to work with operators on the location of large oil and gas facilities adjacent to communities.
Require additional mitigation measures and best management practices at these locations to address the potential impacts of oil and gas development activities.
Require operators to share information with municipalities about future oil and gas development plans to encourage discussion and improve planning for both parties.
Monday’s decision followed extensive public involvement, including three and a half days of testimony on the proposed rules dating to late last year, three stakeholder meetings in October and 11 statewide outreach meetings over the summer that included 39 local governments as well as several citizen and industry groups.
“I appreciate the hard work of the COGCC staff and Commission to develop rules that implement the intent of the Task Force recommendations,” said Bernie Buescher, a Task Force member who supported the recommendations that led to the new rules. “The consultation and information sharing provisions reflect the desires of the Task Force to create more collaboration and communication between local governments and operators on large facilities near communities.”
“The new rules provide meaningful opportunity for operators and local governments to negotiate siting issues early in the permitting process,” said Kirby Wynn, Oil and Gas liaison for Garfield County and representative for a coalition of Western Slope local governments at the rulemaking. “This was an extremely challenging rulemaking with diverse, entrenched, opinions. COGCC is to be commended for finding balance between the needs of local governments to consult with industry on well pad locations while providing sensible time limits for that consultation to occur.”
“Going into this rulemaking, there were many expectations about its purpose, but the discussions among local and state governments, industry, and citizens have increased understanding on all sides of how local and state authority can be exercised in a complementary fashion to protect the public from oil and gas-related impacts,” said Barbara Green, an attorney specializing in local government issues and a participant in the rulemaking.
The new rules are tied to recommendations (Nos. 17 and 20) of the Governor’s Oil and Task Force. On February 24, 2015 a two-thirds majority of the Task Force approved nine recommendations. Two of those required action by other agencies and two required action of the General Assembly. Five others required action by the COGCC, but only two of those five required a rulemaking process by the Commission.
The rules approved Monday are the latest activity in a years-long effort at COGCC to strengthen its oversight of oil and gas development in Colorado. Since 2011, the COGCC and the administration of Governor John Hickenlooper has crafted rules to lengthen distances between drilling and neighborhoods, reduce the effects of light, noise and odors, protect groundwater, cut emissions, disclose hydraulic fracturing chemicals, increase spill reporting, significantly elevate penalties for operators violating Commission rules and toughen requirements for operating in floodplains.
The Commission has also significantly expanded oversight staff, increased ease of access and volume of data available to the public, intensified collaboration with local governments, sponsored ongoing studies to increase understanding of impacts to air and water and adopted several formal policies to address health and safety issues brought about by new technologies and increased energy development in Colorado.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission left several sides of the debate – including environmental and industry interests – dissatisfied with certain results, suggesting that the process struck a compromise…
Under the rule-making that concluded Monday, operators are required to consult and register with local governments when building large facilities.
Perhaps the biggest issue was defining a large-scale facility. The definition for large facilities was connected to “urban mitigation areas,” which include areas within 1,000 feet of at least 22 homes, a school or a hospital.
Commissioners set the trigger for operators to consult with local governments in urban mitigation areas at eight new wells, or 4,000 new or existing storage barrels, not including water storage. The motion passed on a 5-4 vote.
No operations in La Plata County would fall under the definition, according to the La Plata County Energy Council. The county has only two urban mitigation areas, which were built after natural gas wells were drilled.
Some counties, including La Plata, pushed for counties to be included in the mandate to register with local governments, as opposed to just requiring registration with towns and cities. The COGCC ultimately included counties in the registration process.
But La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, a Democrat, who co-chaired the governor’s task force, said counties are left with a limited voice.
“It doesn’t require companies to provide counties with the same information they will be required to provide municipalities,” Lachelt said. “This is an erosion of local control.”
Having dedicated six months to the task force, Lachelt was disappointed with the end result. She said the commission fell short of providing better protections for communities.
“This process did not achieve those goals,” Lachelt said. “We have much work to do in Colorado to protect communities and local control.”
Not all of La Plata’s three county commissioners, however, are concerned. Republican Brad Blake believes counties have had and continue to have a strong voice.
“I’m not thrilled with the outcome, or sad with the outcome, because I think we still have the authority to look into these issues,” Blake said.
He and the La Plata County Energy Council were disappointed that the county joined an alliance of several Front Range governments – led by Boulder – in calling for stricter rules. They wanted La Plata to represent its own interests.
“La Plata entered into rule making with counties that they have absolutely nothing in common with,” said Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council.
She also pointed out that there are existing memorandums of understanding with operators and a quarterly notification process in La Plata County.
“La Plata County operators have been the leaders in sharing information and participating in local land-use codes and complying with COGCC regulations for decades,” Zeller said.
Meanwhile, anti-fracking interests have proposed a slew of ballot proposals for this year, including banning fracking altogether and mandating larger setbacks of wells.
“It’s not just the wells or the drilling, or the noise and lights and traffic 24 hours a day,” said Shawndra Barry, with the newly-formed League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans. “It is being disenfranchised with no due process.”
A contentious state rule-making process intended to give local governments more say in the siting of large oil and gas facilities in their communities ended Monday as divided as it began almost a year and a half ago…
But on the heart of the matter — how big a proposed oil and gas facility must be to trigger local government involvement — commissioners were split, just like the many industry representatives, environmental groups, local government officials and members of the public who testified during the marathon, day-long hearing.
Commissioners voted 5-4 in favor of defining “large scale” as eight new wells or 4,000 barrels of new or existing storage, not including water.
Tripping either threshold gives local governments a say on where the well pads can be sited and provides nearby residents with more stringent protections regarding noise, emissions, fire control, etc. — but only when the proposed facility falls within an urban mitigation area.
Urban mitigation areas, as defined by state law, are areas where oil and gas operations are within 1,000 feet of 22 or more homes or a large facility such as a school or hospital.
Whether the new rules, which will go into effect 20 days after publication by the secretary of state, are enough to head off future conflict remains to be seen.
Industry representatives and advocates of local control expressed disappointment immediately after the commission’s vote.
“We’re disappointed that the COGCC chose to go beyond the original task force recommendations, especially in these economic times with oil prices the way that they are and jobs suffering,” Colorado Petroleum Council executive director Tracee Bentley said.
“But we do very much appreciate the process that COGCC staff ran. It was a very thorough and very well-vetted process,” she said. “We’ll continue like we always have, to work with local governments and stakeholders.”
Oil and gas companies had advocated for a much higher 12-well or 9,600-barrel storage threshold.
Allied Local Governments — a pro-local control consortium representing Brighton, Broomfield, Erie, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland, and Boulder and La Plata counties — hoped the commission would err on the side of requiring more communication, triggering local input at 2,000 barrels of on-site storage including water, and 45,000 feet of well-bore length.
At the beginning of Monday’s hearing, the COGCC staff proposed 90,000 feet of well-bore length and 2,000 barrels of storage, not including water.
Larimer County resident Katherine Hall, who testified in favor of local control, said she would not be surprised if a citizen-initiated measure ended up on November’s ballot.
“The final outcome of the rule making does not go far enough to ease the concerns of Colorado citizens,” Hall said.
A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.
Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…
So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.
Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”
Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”
“These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”
The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):
Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.
The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.
Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.
On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.
“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”
Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.
But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.
He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.
Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.
Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.
On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.
Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.
Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.
And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…
Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.
While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.
Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.
Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.
At stake is the city’s own water permit.
The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.
When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.
“It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”
Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.
“I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”
The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.
“We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”
The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.
Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.
Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.
Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.
Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.
Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.
“We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.
As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”