#Colorado Springs gets serious as storm clouds pile up — The Pueblo Chieftain

The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County -- photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal
The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A proposed agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs related to the Southern Delivery System took a year to pound out and centers on Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater.

Last April, Pueblo County commissioners were moving toward a compliance hearing for the 1041 permit that allowed Colorado Springs to build its $825 million pipeline project from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

At the time, Colorado Springs claimed it had spent $243 million on stormwater projects from 2004-14, but Pueblo County officials were skeptical.

A memo to commissioners from staff called the Colorado Springs accounting “conflicting and inconsistent.”

That launched a more thorough investigation that has taken as many turns as Fountain Creek itself toward reaching a final agreement.

Newly elected Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers last summer proposed spending $19 million annually on a year-to-year basis to make up for the Colorado Springs City Council’s decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise in 2009. For just three years, the enterprise had generated about $15.2 million annually.

But a scathing EPA audit released in November revealed Colorado Springs had failed to meet even the minimum conditions of its state stormwater permit, opening the door for more mitigation.

“It elevated our status by showing that what people in Pueblo had been saying for years was true,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

In January, Suthers offered Pueblo City Council and commissioners a 10-year, $19 million plan, which was met with little interest.

Council’s resolution asked for $500 million over 10 years, and commissioners questioned how projects would be verified. In early March, Suthers went public with Colorado Springs’ proposal to put a minimum of $460 million into projects over the next 20 years. He indicated that Colorado Springs Utilities was anxious to get SDS on line by April 27 to assure that warranties on water pumping and treatment are in place after testing concludes.

Later in the same week, on March 11, commissioners wrote to the Bureau of Reclamation updating 1041 permit compliance in anticipation of beginning SDS operations. Stormwater management on Fountain Creek was the major unresolved issue that could keep SDS from being turned on.

A month later, Pueblo County had obtained what commissioners and lawyers say are enforceable provisions to make sure Colorado Springs complies.

“This is a contract,” Hart said. “It has specific actions Colorado Springs has to meet, and gives us a seat at the table.”

Hart said the proposed IGA provides an additional layer of enforcement, on top of the 1041 provisions, which remain in place, and the federal Department of Justice enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

The proposed IGA also benefits Colorado Springs because it provides evidence of tangible steps toward compliance with the federal law, Hart said.

“Fixing the stormwater issues that we inherited stemming from the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise has been a top priority for me and the (Colorado Springs) City Council,” Suthers said in a statement released Monday. “Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not optional — it is something that we must do to protect our waterways, serve our downstream neighbors and meet the legal requirements of a federal permit.”

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Protecting Pueblo from Fountain Creek flooding will take projects in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and everywhere in between.

A proposed intergovernmental agreement for Southern Delivery System between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County will kick-start projects in all areas, Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

“This agreement allows the communities to get moving and tackle projects,” Hart said. “Lots of elements have value to all of the communities.”

Commissioners will hear public comments on the proposed agreement at a work session on Monday with a possible vote scheduled for April 25. There’s a lot to take in.

Last year, the county hired Wright Water Engineers to document the issues on Fountain Creek in the most comprehensive study to date. The Wright study connected the dots between Colorado Springs growth and deteriorating conditions on Fountain Creek, finding that 370,000 tons of sediment annually are stranded between Colorado Springs and the confluence with the Arkansas River each year.

That build-up is decreasing the ability of levees installed nearly 30 years ago to protect Pueblo.

“One of the best recommendations tions we had was to retain Wright Water Engineers,” said Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “I don’t think we’d be here without the work they did.”

One of Wright’s findings was that projects up and down Fountain Creek are needed to correct problems and protect Pueblo.

That includes the 71 projects within Colorado Springs that are covered under a $460 million, 20year commitment in the proposed IGA. Of those, 61 benefit Pueblo, so it was important for Pueblo to have a place at the table to determine timing of the projects, Hart said.

Under the proposed agreement, Pueblo’s engineers would be able to annually review progress of the projects, which over time will make up about two-thirds of the total Colorado Springs stormwater budget.

The 2013 sediment transport study by the U.S. Geological Survey showed there is some benefit to Pueblo from detention ponds in Colorado Springs. Those are among the first structures to be built under the proposed agreement. Work already has started on one in Sand Creek.

That study also showed the biggest benefit to Pueblo, both for controlling high flows and trapping sediment, would be a large dam between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

“To build a dam, we have to get going now.

We need to know where it goes and what it looks like,” Hart said.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is prepared to start working on those issues, but lacks funds. The IGA would provide $20 million from Colorado Springs in the next nine months to begin work on the dam question.

Those would be the first of five $10 million annual payments that were earlier negotiated by Pueblo County as part of its 1041 permit for SDS.

The district’s budget includes $2.5 million this year to continue a study of whether one or several dams could be built and to evaluate the relative cost effectiveness of alternatives.

The proposed agreement is important because the money might otherwise not start arriving until January 2017 at the soonest, and possibly even later if SDS were to be delayed in court, Hart said.

It also provides $125,000 for routine administrative tasks of the Fountain Creek district as a patch until more permanent funds are lined up.

Finally, work on the Pueblo levee system along Fountain Creek is the most important way to protect Pueblo in the short term, according to the Wright report.

The city of Pueblo has the primary responsibility for maintaining the levees and the new agreement would add $3 million over the next three years for that purpose. Pueblo would have to match those funds.
Pueblo County already is holding about $1.8 million, so Pueblo’s share would be $1.2 million, or $400,000 annually to leverage $6 million or more in improvements.

“We know $50 million isn’t going to be enough to build a dam,” Hart said. “We’re counting on the communities to bring in other grants or other funding for all the other projects as well.”

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The cost of deferred maintenance came into sharp focus Monday when Pueblo County and the city of Colorado Springs announced a 20-year, $460million deal to correct the Springs’ neglected flood-control system and pave the way for good relations over activating Springs Utilities’ $825million water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.

The agreement will cost the city an average of $23 million a year — 53 percent more than the $15.2 million raised by the city’s previous Stormwater Enterprise fee. The fee, adopted in 2007, was abolished in 2009 to comply with Issue 300, a ballot measure mounted by anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce as a way to end the “rain tax.” That action infuriated Pueblo County, which issued a construction permit in April 2009 for the Southern Delivery System pipeline in part on spending made possible by the stormwater fee.

Now, the city will pay considerably more.

“This IGA requires Colorado Springs to commit much more than [the Stormwater Enterprise] for stormwater mitigation to address the past practices of overlooking the stormwater problems and to address future issues,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace said in a release.

Mayor John Suthers told City Council on Monday it’s the city’s problem “regardless of the level of public support.” Besides opposing the enterprise in 2009, voters in 2014 rejected a regional drainage authority and fees, a measure opposed by former Mayor Steve Bach.

“This is not a problem that those of us in this room created,” Suthers said. “I’m not going to point fingers. But the fact of the matter is, it’s a problem we inherited. It’s a problem we have to deal with.”

He also noted that while city general funds and Springs Utilities rates will fund the agreement, nothing precludes developing a different funding source, such as fees or special taxes. Suthers also pointed out the IGA will “go a long way” toward resolving negotiations with the Justice Department over the city’s 2013 and 2015 Clean Water Act violations, which could bring fines and/or a court decree mandating levels of spending.

As outlined by Pueblo County, the intergovernmental agreement’s terms:

• Colorado Springs will spend $460 million during the next 20 years on 71 stormwater projects.

• If those projects aren’t finished by 2035, the IGA renews for five years at another $26 million per year.

• Pueblo County will play a “significant role” in timing, prioritization, selection and verification of mandated projects under a “strong mechanism for enforcement.”

• Utilities will pay the city of Pueblo $3 million ($1 million a year for three years) to protect its levees, in addition to $2.2 million already paid for that. But the money must be spent in the year in which it’s given, said David Robbins, outside attorney representing the Springs.

• Utilities also will make a one-time $125,000 payment to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District to help fund operations and studies, including whether to dam Fountain Creek.

• Utilities’ previously agreed-to payments to the Fountain district of $50 million over five years will be accelerated; the first payment of $9.6 million is due within 30 days of IGA approval. Then, four equal payments of $10 million will be made annually starting in January 2017. The money will fund erosion and flood control.

While the IGA’s funding is subject to annual appropriations in compliance with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the IGA is guaranteed by the Utilities enterprise, which can commit to a multi-year agreement, a city spokeswoman says.

Council and Pueblo County commissioners are expected to approve the IGA in coming weeks in advance of the April 27 scheduled activation of SDS.

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

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