Fountain Creek: Pueblo County Commissioners direct staff to draft motion to join @EPA, CDPHE lawsuit

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Pueblo County – having already received a commitment of $460 million in stormwater projects from Colorado Springs over 20 years – now wants to join in a federal and state lawsuit citing Colorado Springs for violating its federal stormwater permit…

Wednesday, Pueblo County commissioners decided to try to join in the lawsuit, following a December effort by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to also become a plaintiff. The motion to include the Lower Ark, as it is known, hasn’t been decided.

The Lower Ark, representing Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, has seen Colorado Springs break stormwater promises repeatedly, said district Executive Director Jay Winner.

Pueblo County commissioners echoed such complaints, saying the city doesn’t adequately fund its stormwater management program, maintain the infrastructure or reduce discharge of pollutants.

In addition to the $460 million stormwater pact, the city has increased stormwater funding to $19 million a year, including $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities. That’s up from $5 million in 2015.

Pueblo County and Lower Ark both cite increased E. coli levels, erosion, sedimentation and flooding.

The county’s action was another blow for Mayor John Suthers, who has committed to rectifying the city’s stormwater problems since he took office in June 2015…

Said Pueblo County Commission spokeswoman Paris Carmichael: “This isn’t about picking a fight with Colorado Springs. This is about giving the citizens of Pueblo County a voice.”

The county had threatened last year to withhold a permit essential for completion of the $825 million Southern Delivery System, a massive water project delivering Arkansas River water to Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West.

So Suthers and other city officials worked with Pueblo city and county officials to hammer out the $460 million intergovernmental agreement, which facilitated release of the permit.

Meanwhile, Suthers also got to work reorganizing the city’s Stormwater Division, bringing in new director Richard Mulledy, who had worked in Pueblo; ratcheting up its staff from 28 to an eventual 66; and releasing an inch-thick new Stormwater Program Implementation Plan on Nov. 2, one week before the EPA filed suit.

The mayor now is asking voters to approve an April 4 ballot measure that would let the city retain $6 million in excess sales tax revenues to further improve the stormwater system. The city’s extra tax money is expected to top out at $9 million or more, with any amount above the $6 million request being refunded to residents if the ballot issue passes.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

The Pueblo County commissioners on Wednesday asked staff to file a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment against Colorado Springs.

Pueblo County wants to join the case to protect its interest during the litigation.

“We did it primarily to make sure we have a seat at the table,” said Pueblo County Commission Chairman Terry Hart.

“It’s one of those issues that whenever any kind of conversation is going on that concerns Fountain Creek or the water volume or quality that’s in the creek, we feel it affects the citizens in our community.”

[…]

Hart and fellow Commissioners Sal Pace and Garrison Ortiz said although there are pros and cons in entering the lawsuit, representing Pueblo County citizens is the most important issue.

“I feel that we have an obligation as a board, as elected officials and as leaders in Pueblo County to ensure that we are doing absolutely everything we can to protect our infrastructure, quality of water and the health and welfare of our citizens,” Ortiz said.

Pace said he greatly cherishes the relationship the county has developed with Colorado Springs through negotiations over the Southern Delivery System’s 1041 permit agreement and hopes this will not do anything to damage it…

Suthers’ office issued a statement from the mayor when contacted Wednesday.

“In light of the fact that Pueblo County is well aware of the outstanding stormwater program Colorado Springs is putting together and that we are meeting and exceeding our commitments under the intergovernmental agreement between our entities, I am very disappointed in their decision to seek to intervene in the EPA lawsuit. Intervention by parties without regulatory authority will only serve to make the litigation more complex, more lengthy, more expensive for all parties and possibly more unproductive.”

[…]

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also wants to join the case as an intervenor to protect the district’s interest during the litigation.

The district filed the same motion in November. A federal judge has yet to make a decision on if the district can join the suit…

Pueblo City Council President Steve Nawrocki said the city manager will ask Council on Monday to give him direction on the issue…

WHAT IT MEANS

By intervening in the lawsuit Pueblo County hopes to:

Support the EPA and CDPHE in its regulatory mission.

Ensure that stormwater control infrastructure within Colorado Springs is properly operated and maintained.

Ensure that there are no conflicts or inconsistencies between the stormwater intergovernmental agreement recently entered by the county and Colorado Springs and any remedy, judgment or settlement entered in this case.

Require Colorado Springs to become, and then remain, compliant with the Clean Water Act, the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, stormwater regulations and the conditions of Colorado Springs’ MS4 permit, and protect against future violations.

Work with Colorado Springs to develop, implement and enforce its’ Stormwater Management Program as required by the MS4 permit.

Prohibit Colorado Springs from discharging stormwater that is not in compliance with its MS4 permit or its SMP.

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