[Stormwater enforcement actions represent] a 10-fold increase over 2015 and a dramatic uptick from a time when the city largely ignored violations of its own stormwater regulations. And this could just be a start — the city is also looking at a new program that would give it even more muscle against violators.
The ramp-up is due in part to Mayor John Suthers’ response to pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Those agencies issued two highly critical reports of the city’s stormwater maintenance and regulation enforcement in recent years, and on Nov. 9 the EPA filed a lawsuit alleging the city’s lax approach violates its MS4 permit and the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit could bring multi-million-dollar civil penalties and federal monitoring.
In early 2007, City Council imposed stormwater fees on property owners, raising about $16 million a year for drainage projects and maintenance.
But in 2009, the Council defunded the program after voters approved a measure aimed at killing the fees. After that, the EPA lawsuit states, the city’s stormwater program limped along on an average of $1.6 million a year from 2011 to 2014.
Despite a scathing EPA report in 2013, then-Mayor Steve Bach did little, and even opposed a citizen-driven ballot measure for drainage that failed in 2014. Without more money, city officials have said, they couldn’t effectively track down violators.
That neglect had ramifications: In addition to possible EPA fines, uncontrolled drainage enraged officials in downstream Pueblo County, who in turn threatened agreements on Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System pipeline. So, earlier this year, Suthers and Council adopted a $460-million, 20-year stormwater program to fend off fines and cope with the city’s extensive drainage problems. One part of that program: oversight to verify compliance by contractors. Last year, the city’s stormwater staff numbered about 20. Today, it stands at 56, and another 10 will be added next year. Many of those are inspectors who troll for violators…
Though stormwater program manager Rich Mulledy says inspectors fan out over the city, most offenses were spotted on the city’s northeast side where development is brisk, records show…
Mulledy stresses the city would rather gain compliance than punish builders. He doesn’t like the word “crackdown” to describe the city’s approach in enforcing its MS4 permit, which requires erosion control for all projects larger than one acre.
“Just because of the number of houses being built, we’ve really stepped up,” he says, quickly adding that the industry has proven a willing partner. The city, he notes, has the authority to issue summonses that carry fines of $500 per day, but no fines have been levied so far.
“We’ve had compliance,” he says, “We’re committed from the city’s standpoint to make sure we’re doing the right thing to meet our permit going forward, and I feel the industry is supportive going forward. We have to meet the federal permit for sure, but we want to do the right thing and still have developers make progress and be able to do business.”
Builders and developers are all in, says Tim Seibert, president of the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs.
“Obviously, just like the mayor stated, we’re not pleased to hear the EPA has filed a lawsuit,” Seibert says. “We think there is a better solution. But at the end of the day, we want to be at the table and be sure we’re in compliance.”
Seibert says the HBA hosts monthly “Wet Wednesday” meetings at which its members are instructed in stormwater regulations, such as erosion control and best management practices.
“With the recent enforcement, we’ve stepped that up,” he adds. “We’ve made it more thorough. We’ve gotten a lot of cooperation from the city telling us, ‘These are the practices we need to see.’ I think that’s been very helpful for them to get in contact with guys in the field doing the implementation.”
The HBA also added a monthly meeting with Mulledy at which design standards are discussed. “We want to make sure we’re not getting ourselves in trouble, and we don’t want the city to get in trouble,” Seibert says.
He also says that as the city shapes its program to satisfy federal authorities, HBA members realize more enforcement is coming.
Mulledy won’t discuss details of the new program — still being worked out — but says it will clarify enforcement steps, and allow officials to “jump steps” if a violation poses an immediate threat to the city’s stormwater system or downstream. Currently being reviewed by stakeholders, the program will be introduced within a few months.
“In general,” Mulledy says, “it’s going to be more specific and give us more tools.”