PUC OKs Black Hills water transfer to help Pueblo Riverwalk — @ChieftainNews

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com
Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

Here’s an excerpt from the The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Wednesday morning to keep the water in the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo by approving the transfer of Black Hills Energy’s water rights for its old Downtown power station to the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the city of Pueblo.

The transfer guarantees there will be an adequate flow of water in the HARP channel. The utility is giving the water rights to the Pueblo water board and all the gates and channels to the city…

In its response to Vaad and Epel, Black Hills officials said the water rights that were used to cool the old Power Stations 5&6 were so limited that the best use was to give them to the Pueblo water board to help support HARP.

CDPHE and @EPA hope the Lower Ark is allowed to join their lawsuit

Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013
Report: Remediation Scenarios for Attenuating Peak Flows and Reducing Sediment Transport in Fountain Creek, Colorado, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Voczkiewicz):

The state and federal agencies told a judge Thursday that they support the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s request to have a courtroom voice in a clean-water lawsuit against Colorado Springs.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are suing the city, which discharges pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries.

The Lower Ark district wants to join the case as an intervenor to protect the district’s interest during the litigation…

Senior Judge Richard Matsch is presiding over the case in U.S. District Court in Denver and will decide whether to grant Lower Ark’s request.

The EPA and the state health-environment department filed the lawsuit Nov. 9. It alleges that Colorado Springs’ storm sewer system is violating federal and state clean water laws.

The city denies it is violating the laws. Mayor John Suthers recently pointed to additional expenditures the city is making as an example of its commitment to correct storm water problems.

The storm water contains pollutants, including E. coli, that flow into the river from creek tributaries.

The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce, including Rocky Ford melons, are grown.

In Thursday’s court filing reviewed by The Pueblo Chieftain, the EPA and the department told Matsch they agree with Lower Ark that it should have a voice in court because the district wants the river water to have adequate quality.

To achieve that, the agencies and the district want Colorado Springs to reduce the amount of polluted discharges.

The environmental agencies contend Colorado Springs mischaracterizes the lawsuit as being focused on past issues, but it in fact “seeks to remedy current and ongoing violations.”

The environmental agencies disagree with Colorado Springs’ arguments that the district has no legal right to become an intervenor and that intervention will unduly complicate the litigation.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The lawsuit goes on to ask a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.

Widefield aquifer pollution update

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

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Nat Stein):

‘It’s amazing, really, how it worked out,” says Roy Heald.

Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation District (SWSD), is referring to perhaps the only piece of good news in the ongoing story of water contamination in communities south of Colorado Springs.

“We got into planning [the Southern Delivery System] two decades ago for redundancy, thinking we’d use it if anything happened, and then it comes online not three weeks before we really needed it,” he says.

In May, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory lowering what’s considered a safe amount of perfluorinated chemicals — a highly prevalent but unregulated toxin that’s been linked to low birth weights, heart disease and cancer. Wells drawing from the Widefield aquifer, which supplies around 80,000 people’s drinking water, then tested at nearly 20 times the EPA’s recommended threshold in some cases.

Right away, SWSD took mitigating steps by instigating watering restrictions, fast-tracking an infrastructure project to boost connectivity between service areas and negotiating more access to surface water through the newly operational SDS pipeline. By September, all groundwater wells were shut off. But all that came at a price.

“The exact cost is hard to pin down at this point because we’ve still got bills coming in,” Heald says, “but yeah, this was a huge unanticipated expense.” To get an idea, consider groundwater typically accounts for half the district’s total water supply. Forgoing cheap groundwater in favor of more expensive surface water, even if just for the last four months of the year, cost SWSD around $1 million in 2016, when it expected to spend $100,000. The district has deferred other capital projects, prioritized new ones and diminished its cash reserve, meaning it needs money.

But from whom?

At the very least, the Security, Widefield and Fountain water districts are all expecting some portion of the $4.3 million the Air Force pledged over the summer after Peterson Air Force Base admitted a chemical-laden fire retardant used for decades on base could be the source of contamination.

Air Force spokesman Steve Brady gave the Indy a rundown of how the money’s being spent: Homes on private well water will get reverse osmosis systems installed; NORAD and Security Mobile Home Parks will get granular activated carbon systems, as will Stratmoor Hills, Fountain and Widefield public water systems; First United Pentecostal Church will tap into Security water; SWSD will construct new piping to hook into Colorado Springs Utilities; the Fountain Valley Shopping Center, private homes that don’t agree to take ownership of a filtration system once installed and the Venetucci farmhouse will continue getting bottled water.

The Air Force’s pledge has been messaged as a “good neighbor” gesture and not a signal of responsibility, meaning that for now, available funds are finite. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center is working to confirm or deny the possibility that contaminants came from Peterson Air Force Base while public health officials (and private litigants) continue to investigate other possible polluters.

A damning outcome of those inquiries could warrant additional compensation, but until then, affected parties will have to just deal on their own.

“I know we’ll get some share of that $4.3 million, but whatever it is won’t be enough to cover our costs,” says Heald, whose district hasn’t received a check from the Air Force yet. “There could be grants available at the state level, but those are in the thousands or tens of thousands range. We’re looking at millions. I’ve talked to our congressional representatives but I don’t know about federal sources. Maybe folks will have other ideas, because whatever the source, our ratepayers didn’t cause this so they shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

Security residents will start seeing higher water bills immediately. Rates were already scheduled to rise in 2017 before this situation arose, but now the hike could be steeper. Unless some new windfall comes through before the next rate study gets underway in the fall, you can guess what direction rates will continue to go. Still, a typical water bill in Security during 2016 was $36 —about half of a typical Colorado Springs bill.

Fountain is in a similar, though not identical, position. “We don’t need to use groundwater in the wintertime — that’s been the standard for years,” Utilities Director Curtis Mitchell tells the Indy, explaining that groundwater only ever flowed through taps during peak demand over the summer. Ahead of that time this year, Mitchell has negotiated extra surface water through a capacity swap with Colorado Springs Utilities. Groundwater will only enter the equation once filtration systems are installed and working reliably.

Widefield has been off well water since November, according to department manager Brandon Bernard, who says four pilot projects are underway to find the best technology for filtering out PFCs. He’s aiming to get a small treatment facility built by May and another, bigger one “in the near future.” (Because Widefield isn’t an SDS partner, it has limited surface water, hence the primary focus is on treating well water.)

“All of the capital costs to pilot and build the treatment will be taken from cash reserves,” Bernard wrote by email. “The only costs the customers will incur through rates will be to cover operation and maintenance of these facilities. … We aren’t sure how much of the $4.3 million is portioned for WWSD and have not heard when we will receive it.”

Fountain and Security’s increased reliance on SDS may cost their customers, but it provides some relief to Colorado Springs — primary investor, owner and operator of the $825 million pipeline. As partners, Fountain and Security already contributed their share of construction costs, but moving more water through it offsets operational costs.

“We’re running at really low levels right now, so there’s plenty of room in the pipe for our partners,” says Colorado Springs Utilities spokesman Steve Berry. “The bottom line is we’re one big community here in El Paso County, so we’re happy to be flexible for them, but it also takes some of the financial burden [of running SDS] off our customers.”

The costs of getting SDS up and running have been factored into CSU’s rates over the past five years, Berry says, so Phase 1 is pretty much paid for. Phase 2, including new storage construction and reservoir resurfacing, has yet to be reflected in customers’ water bills. Other capital improvement projects like maintaining aging pipes elsewhere in CSU’s raw water system, replacing main lines under downtown and modernizing storage tanks and treatment facilities are coming later.

So whatever reprieve Colorado Springs water users get will be overshadowed by other expenses. “Unfortunately, base rates typically don’t go down — they either stay constant or they increase,” says Berry, who emphasizes that partners’ usage won’t compromise CSU’s access to water. CSU still has precious “first-use” water rights and plenty of redundancy built into its overall system. “But to have a high-quality, reliable water source requires a hefty investment,” Berry adds.

Reliable is the key word there, as demonstrated by the crises playing out in Security, Widefield and Fountain, and communities across the country where drinking water is compromised. Part of the trend is having better detection instruments and part is better science showing potential harm, Heald observes. But, he says, what remains constant is America’s “leap before you look” approach to regulating toxins in our environment — chemicals get introduced to the market before anyone really knows what risk they pose.

Heald offers this summation: “You don’t know what you don’t know, but when you do know, you know it’s going to cost more.”

Colorado Springs denies Fountain Creek pollution in first salvo against @EPA, CDPHE

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

The city of Colorado Springs, in response to a lawsuit that seeks court action against the city for discharging pollutants into tributaries of the Arkansas River, denies it is violating clean water laws.

The city’s denial is its first response in court to a lawsuit that claims discharges of pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries violate the laws. The discharges are from Colorado Springs’ stormwater system.

“The City has complied with the law,” states the response filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Denver.

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 9 against Colorado Springs by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the city “to develop, implement, and enforce” its stormwater management program as specified in permits the government has issued in past years.

Colorado Springs asserted in Monday’s filing that it “has at all times been in compliance” with permits issued by the state agency to govern the discharges and the stormwater system.

The city contends it should not be subjected to court orders or monetary penalties that the environmental agencies want a judge to impose.

Colorado Springs also contends that allegations in the lawsuit misrepresent the facts of issues in dispute.

Black Hills says giving water rights to Pueblo best option — The Pueblo Chieftain

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com
Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

Black Hills Energy believes the best use of its limited water rights for the old Power Stations 5&6 is to donate that water — and the equipment that carries it — to the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the city of Pueblo.

The utility makes that argument in a Dec. 20 filing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Black Hills was ready to carry out that water transfer last month when Commissioners Joshua Epel and Glenn Vaad stopped the process and asked that Black Hills explain why it wasn’t attempting to sell the water rights instead of donating them.

Vaad said the sale of the water could be used to lower costs for Black Hills ratepayers.

In practical terms, the Black Hills water is used to help fill the channels of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, so having the water sent elsewhere would pose a major problem to the Pueblo attraction.

Commissioner Frances Koncilja, a Denver attorney but Pueblo native, disagreed with Epel’s and Vaad’s interim order and said her colleagues were meddling with a win-win agreement for the Pueblo utility, but the order was issued.

In its Dec. 20 response, Black Hills officials explain that the limited amount of water it has rights to for cooling the old power station has such limited uses that selling them seemed impractical while donating them to the city and the water board was a better option.

“Our donation of the water rights . . . will provide an immediate benefit to the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the city of Pueblo and the community at large, because it will be a significant contribution towards the continued viability of the hub of Pueblo’s Downtown and a key tourist attraction — the HARP,” the brief says.

What the commission will do next is less certain. Epel, who’d been chairman for six years, resigned from the commission effective Jan. 3 and Vaad announced he would retire. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday nominated Jeff Ackerman and Wendy Moser to the commission for terms effective Monday, but both have to be confirmed by the Senate.

State Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, was one of a group of Southern Colorado lawmakers who backed Koncilja’s appointment to the commission earlier this year and in December, he said he would urge Hickenlooper name her chairman.

Dredging of Fountain Creek will improve flood carrying capacity — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

The Pueblo Levee Dredging and Maintenance Project, which will run through April, is being undertaken to improve the flood carrying capacity of Fountain Creek from the confluence with the Arkansas River upstream to the East Eighth Street bridge.

The work also will see the removal of undesirable vegetation on the east levee embankment (stream side only), on the east bank of the creek and on a portion of the west bank of the creek.

The work is being handled by Sun Construction, which has contracted with the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

After the dredging of the creek, the bed material will be hauled by trucks to disposal sites. The work also will include the demolition of two of the abandoned railroad bridge piers.

Truck and equipment access to the creek will be from two staging areas on city property — one at the location off South Joplin Avenue near the abandoned railroad bridge and the second at the west end of East 11th Street.

During the project, the contractor will manage vehicle traffic interactions on public streets and with traffic on the river trail adjacent to the levee. Currently, the bike trail on the east side of the river is closed.

Removal of vegetation on the east and west banks will be limited to non-native, “invasive species” and will not include desirable species such as willows and cottonwoods.

Removed vegetation on the east levee and invasive species will be treated with a herbicide to hinder regrowth.

The removal of vegetation is expected to occur between April and August.

The city will benefit from the delivery of about 55,000 cubic yards of material that will be trucked to sites near Lake Minnequa and near Plaza Verde Park.

While the dredging and demolition will continue through April, the operation will be suspended during the period of higher creek flows — until approximately August and concluding by the end of December.

Colorado Springs hopes to prevent Lower Ark joining EPA and CDPHE lawsuit

Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

Colorado Springs is opposing an Arkansas River water district’s request to join a lawsuit that seeks to stop the city from discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries of the river.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District wants a voice against Colorado Springs by being allowed to take part in the litigation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health jointly filed the lawsuit Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver against Colorado Springs. The lawsuit claims that the city’s discharges of polluted stormwater into the tributaries violate state and federal clean water laws.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Colorado Springs “to take all steps necessary to redress or mitigate the impact of its violations.”

The lawsuit also seeks a court order to require the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The lawsuit goes on to ask a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.

Water runoff from streets, parking lots and other surfaces picks up pollutants that drain into the stormwater sewage system, which discharges it into the creeks.

Pollutants include accumulated debris, chemicals and sediment. They “can adversely affect water quality, erode stream banks, destroy needed habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and make it more difficult and expensive for downstream users to effectively use the water,” the lawsuit states

The water district on Dec. 9 asked Senior Judge Richard Matsch for permission to become an intervenor to protect the district’s interests to have clean and usable water from the river.

The city on Dec. 22 filed arguments opposing the district’s request. The city contends that the district has no legal right to intervene.

The district — as well as Pueblo officials — has long been a critic of Colorado Springs for sending polluted and sediment-filled stormwater, including dangerous E. coli bacteria, into the river and for not controlling flooding the water causes.

The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, where considerable produce, including Rocky Ford melons, are grown.

Colorado Springs officials have negotiated a deal with Pueblo County for the city to spend $460 million over 20 years on Fountain Creek flood control.

The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs reported last Friday that Mayor John Suthers cited that commitment as an example of how his administration is working to resolve the complaints of its downstream neighbors.

In its court filing opposing allowing the district to become a participant in the litigation, the city said the case will be greatly complicated and costs of litigating it will increase. The city also said that the EPA and state environment department will adequately represent the district’s interests.

Attorney Peter Nichols, representing the district, sees it differently, according to The Gazette: “The question is whether the city is already putting a lot of political pressure on the state and EPA to back off. The district is concerned they might be successful with that pressure, and water quality wouldn’t be improved in Fountain Creek,” Nichols said.

The newspaper reported that district Executive Director Jay Winner said Colorado Springs repeatedly had broken promises about the stormwater problems.