I’ll be at the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention today. Follow along on Twitter, hash tag #cwcac2016 (@CoyoteGulch).
The convention is all about implementing the Colorado Water Plan.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
History shows massive projects take willpower
Here’s a little-mentioned fact: 97 percent of Colorado Springs residents and businesses paid their stormwater bills in 2009. It generated about $15.8 million.
City Council decided Ballot Issue 300 — Doug Bruce’s “Rain Tax” — called for the elimination of the stormwater enterprise. Against legal opinion, council voted to end it twice: Once to phase it out over two years and again to end it immediately.
At the same time, council decided without a vote of the public to build an $825 million water delivery line that has the potential to increase already damaging flows on Fountain Creek — a project where the full potential will not be needed for years, according to statements recently made in Pueblo by Colorado Springs Utilities officials.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers came to Pueblo this week, shaking his head over the short-sightedness of past politicians, and assuring Pueblo City Council and county commissioners that this would not happen again.
“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told the Pueblo City Council. “This is a long-term, sustainable solution.”
Suthers and the Colorado Springs City Council are offering at least $19 million annually, including a $3 million contribution from Utilities. He said that could be cemented in place with a new agreement with Pueblo County. If the economy doesn’t tank again, it could be more.
Suthers said. “Let’s set up a program that cannot be ripped away by voters.”
Pledged against that figure are “excess revenues” paid by Colorado Springs Utilities to the city each year.
The type of payments labeled as “gifts and subsidies” in the actual wording of Ballot Issue 300 in 2009.
The stormwater enterprise established in 2005 was created like most, if not all, of the stormwater enterprises in Colorado, by a vote of the City Council. Pueblo’s had been created in 2003 in the same manner and was the first in the Arkansas River watershed.
Considered under state law to be a fee, not a tax, stormwater charges in Denver and Littleton had survived Supreme Court challenges.
“Council and I agreed we have to be better neighbors than in the past,” Suthers told Pueblo County commissioners.
As proof, he offered that a new police substation and fire station were delayed so that $8 million could be added to another $8 million in retiring bond payments to fund stormwater.
Suthers indicated it would not be possible to raise the $50 million demanded in a Pueblo City Council resolution.
However, by contrast, Colorado Springs Utilities raised $825 million in five years through selling bonds to build the Southern Delivery System water pipeline.
The recently revised figure represents a savings of $156 million over the initial cost projections in 2010. Water customers pay off the bill through monthly fees.
Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico, who chairs the Utilities board, told commissioners the savings can’t be used to pay for stormwater because the money was never actually collected.
As Pueblo Board of Water Works President Nick Gradisar pointed out last week, SDS was not put up to a vote of the people, but approved by the same City Council that rejected stormwater. When it was first considered, it would have meant 12 percent rate increases for five years. Later, those were reduced by managing gas and electric rates as well as lower costs.
Additionally, SDS Project Director John Fredell assured Pueblo County commissioners the full impact of SDS would not be felt for years, as only about 5 million gallons per day would run through it after it is first turned on, compared with 50 million gallons per day at full capacity.