Fountain Creek: #Colorado Springs budget calls for reestablishment of stormwater enterprise

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers pitched a sweeping vision Friday of bolstering the city’s short-staffed police force by 100 officers and modernizing its aging and increasingly-decrepit vehicle fleet.

It hinges, however, on voters agreeing to resurrect the city’s controversial and defunct stormwater enterprise fee in November.

Calling it “basic to our financial viability,” Suthers pitched the fee’s return during his annual summit with City Council – framing it as a means to restore several flagging or aging city services while offering Colorado Springs a powerful bargaining chip in battling a federal lawsuit over years of neglected stormwater needs.

“We have a legal obligation (to fund stormwater projects),” Suthers said. “The question is whether we’re going to fund it at the expense of other things, or are we going to fund it separately.”

Even if a fee is approved by voters in November, the outcome would not be legally binding. But, it would provide a political mandate for future Colorado Springs leaders and lawmakers to follow, Suthers said.

From KRDO.com (Mike Carter):

“Every other large city in America has a stormwater enterprise where they charge a fee to property owners and that money is what’s used for stormwater,” said Mayor Suthers.

It’s a plan that was rejected by springs voters in 2009, but as the city continues its legal battle with the EPA and the state health department, city council members like Bill Murray say continuing to fund stormwater improvements through the city’s general fund simply won’t work.

“It’s taken a big bite out of our general fund. And I’m sure that the citizens, once they’re given the opportunity, to understand it’s either the EPA or us, that they’ll select us because we actually have the solution and they don’t,” Murray said.

The city pays $17 million a year out of its general fund for storm water obligations.

“And that means we have less money available for police officers,” Suthers said. “We need as many as a hundred additional police officers probably over the next 5 to 10 years.”

Suthers says snowplow equipment also comes out of the general fund, leaving the city strapped for cash in three crucial areas.

The stormwater fee based under the previous stormwater enterprise was based in part on a percentage of total impervious area on a property—think sidewalks and driveways. But the city says that can change over time and what used to be a front law under one homeowner change to a concrete driveway under another.

“And so you would have a residential, a tiered residential structure and it would be based on the size of the lot would equate to a specific monthly fee,” said Springs Public Works Director Travis Easton.

Lower Ark pens letter to @EPA chief Pruitt in support of lawsuit

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

The lower district recently submitted a letter to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, reminding him that far from “picking on” Colorado Springs — as Lamborn and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers contend — the “EPA is carrying out its statutory responsibility to enforce the Clean Water Act against a permittee that district has sought for nearly a decade to get to live up to its stormwater obligations.”

The dispatch comes on the heels of letters sent by the Pueblo County commissioners to members of the state’s federal congressional delegation, urging the EPA to follow through on its suit, which was filed in conjunction with the state in U.S. District Court in November 2016.

Signed by Lynden Gill, the lower district’s board chair, the letter goes on to highlight efforts, dating back to at least 2008, in getting Colorado Springs to comply with its stormwater permit. Those efforts extended to the lower district filing a notice of intent to file a citizen’s suit pursuant to the Clean Water Act in November 2014.

The lower district, along with Pueblo County, became parties of interest along with the EPA and the state in the lawsuit charging Colorado Springs with illegally discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

“In short,” the letter continues, “the lower district appreciates EPA’s enforcement action against the city, action the lower district had felt compelled to undertake on its own before EPA sued the city, and can now jointly pursue with EPA and the State of Colorado.”

The letter concludes with a plea for EPA not to abandon the lower district but pursue enforcement of Colorado Springs’ stormwater violations.

Jay Winner, general manager of the lower district, expressed hope the letter will serve its purpose…

Winner said that while the EPA may choose to withdraw from the lawsuit, it cannot halt it.

“That’s why Pueblo County, the lower district and the state intervened — because if they withdraw, we’re still in,” Winner said.

Bob Rawlings retrospective — Chris Woodka

Bob Rawlings. Photo credit The High Country News

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The speech was delivered late last month at a water forum in Colorado Springs.

To say that Bob Rawlings cared about water in the Arkansas Valley would be a gross understatement. Toward the end of his life, it was his driving passion. As the water reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain and the editor directing water coverage for all of my 31 years at The Chieftain, no one knew this better than I did.

Your reaction to how Mr. Rawlings cared about water would color your interpretation of his concern. I often found that respect for him grew as I traveled east of Pueblo, where people could see first-hand the effects of drying up agriculture in the Lower Arkansas Valley. I saw his reach up here in El Paso County when I attended meetings and listened to people cuss and discuss the publisher of The Pueblo Chieftain. And, I saw more than one public figure or water developer leave his office disappointed, maybe frightful, but still respectful, after Mr. Rawlings chewed them out for not caring about the Arkansas Valley and its water as deeply as he did.

A few of you in this room probably wished, at one time or another, that Robert Hoag Rawlings would just get out of the way. But he never would. And I would suggest that water projects as a whole benefitted from his constant “interference.”

I also observed the subtle shift in Mr. Rawlings’ attitudes on water throughout the years.

When I arrived at The Chieftain in 1985, Mr. Rawlings cared about water like a farmer cares about his crops.

Water was something to be nurtured and its uses in the Arkansas Valley protected. When I came on the scene, water sales in Otero and Crowley counties were under way and a plan to take water out of the San Luis Valley was hatching. Mr. Rawlings believed the land would bloom if we could only weed out the interlopers.

One feature of his newspaper he loved dearly was the rain gauge, which would measure how much moisture different parts of town received from the same cloudburst. He even read a gauge at his own home and called in the results to a clerk for many years. Heaven help the editor who omitted the rain report after even the lightest sprinkle hit Pueblo.

After a heavy deluge, Mr. Rawlings would walk into the newsroom and ask, “So, was that what my father (who was a Las Animas banker) used to call a million-dollar rain?” He expected an answer, so we’d scramble to call all the farmers we knew to come up with one.

Which leads to the next shift. Mr. Rawlings cared about water like a homeowner assesses his property value in relation to what’s happening in the neighborhood. Water was a valuable asset.

He insisted, fairly often, that we continue to tell the story of what happened to Crowley County when the water was sold and separated from the land. He didn’t want his readers, or the state’s leaders, to forget about the value of water. We dreamed up a lot of ways to bring that point home.

Rocky Ford Ditch

During the 1990s, Mr, Rawlings reached the height of his power, I believe. He could pick up a phone on any given afternoon and get as much done as the state Legislature could accomplish in a week. When he learned that the lion’s share of the Rocky Ford Ditch was sold to Aurora, he saw the loss of farm income and referred to Aurora’s purchases as “the death knell” of the Arkansas Valley.

That’s when he went to war.

In the final years, he viewed water as a resource to be protected, and he would go to any lengths to meet that objective.

Mr. Rawlings helped to form the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, although he’d later shake his head at how that board executed its duties. When the Lower Ark District started making deals with Aurora, he took to the road one morning to confront a roomful of people in Lamar who disagreed with him and later that same day repeated the exercise in Rocky Ford, even as three members of Congress looked on.

He gave emotional speeches before federal panels. He’d use his presses to drum up community support for his views on water transfers and projects. He hired water lawyers, hoping to put himself on equal footing with the big water interests.

“They’re not smarter than us,” he’d bellow at his editorial board. “They just have more smart people.”

A staunch Republican for all of his life, he courted the favor of Democratic senators and congressmen, and even the Sierra Club, when his views of water preservation aligned with theirs. He’d politely tell even Republicans to take a hike if the disagreement was about water.

I am still not sure if I was privileged to spend so much of my journalism career pursuing water stories, or whether I was afflicted with some sort of curse all those years.

But I learned a lot about water because of Mr. Rawlings, and I will miss his drive and determination.

Chris Woodka is a former Chieftain managing editor for production who won numerous awards for his water reporting. He is the Issues Management Program Coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

For a treat read Matt Jenkins profile of Bob Rawlings (and Chris Woodka) from The High Country News.

Chris Woodka. Photo credit The High Country News

R.I.P. Robert Hoag Rawlings

Bob Rawlings. Photo credit The High Country News.

Here’s the obit from The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

Almost immediately after taking over the reins of the newspapers from his late uncle, Frank Hoag Jr., in 1980, he began using the editorial pages to advocate for Pueblo and Southeastern Colorado. He fought to protect institutions such as Colorado State University-Pueblo and the Colorado State Fair, but was best known for his battle to protect the quantity and quality of water that flows into Pueblo from Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

Unleashing his newsroom and his editorial writers, Rawlings’ Chieftain published thousands of stories on the topic of water, and won numerous state and regional awards for its reporting and editorials. As a direct result of Rawlings’ efforts, Northern Colorado communities that tried to buy water rights from the Arkansas River Valley were thwarted or forced to accept numerous conditions such as financial payments to government and revegetation of lands dried up.

Also, thanks mostly to Rawlings, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District was approved by voters to likewise fight to protect the area’s water.

It also is safe to say that many significant projects — such as the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, several multi-million dollar school bond issues, and the acquisition of university status for the University of Southern Colorado, now Colorado State University-Pueblo — might not have taken place without the constant advocacy for and support of Rawlings and The Chieftain.

When Pueblo needed a new main library, voters approved a large, efficient and modernized project. But Rawlings donated an additional $4 million to the project, and the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library on Abriendo Avenue became one of the community’s most dazzling landmarks. The architectural wonder is one of many projects throughout the community that have been made possible thanks to Rawlings’ generosity.

Always fascinated by politics, he became friends to governors, U.S. senators and members of Congress — as long as they supported Pueblo and Southeastern Colorado. He worked closely with innumerable City Council members, county commissioners and school board members, pushing them constantly to make his beloved Pueblo even better.

Click here to view the Chieftain Rawlings photo gallery.

More about Bob Rawlings from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Fountain Creek: Pueblo County and Lower Ark join @EPA/CDPHE lawsuit

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Pueblo County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District can intervene in the suit, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled Thursday.

A year ago, Pueblo County commissioners signed off on an intergovernmental stormwater agreement with Colorado Springs, ensuring that the city will spend $460 million over 20 years to provide 71 stormwater projects aimed at minimizing Fountain Creek’s effects on downstream communities.

The creek flows downstream carrying excess sedimentation, E. coli contamination and other pollution, claims the Lower Ark, which represents the largely agricultural areas of Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.

County officials have echoed those concerns.

And the EPA, after conducting audits in 2013 and 2015 of the city’s stormwater system, found that the creek and its tributaries were eroded and widened, their waters combining with surface runoff to create excessive sedimentation and substandard water quality.

Federal officials upbraided the city for not demanding enough infrastructure from developers and for not maintaining the culverts and creeks snaking through the city.

The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on the EPA’s behalf, and by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is a serious concern for Mayor John Suthers, who has made the city’s long-neglected stormwater infrastructure a top priority.

In addition to the agreement with Pueblo County, he has more than doubled the stormwater division’s staff, added a new manager and overseen the Nov. 2 release of an inch-thick Stormwater Program Implementation Plan.

The EPA and state filed suit one week later, on Nov. 9.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

Pueblo County was granted a motion Thursday that allows the county to join in a federal/state lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs.

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

Pueblo County filed the motion to intervene last week. The lawsuit was 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.

The Lower Ark district filed the same motion in November.

The lawsuit claims there is harm caused by discharges of pollutants down Fountain Creek into Pueblo and east to the Arkansas River’s other tributaries.

It also claims the city of Colorado Springs made numerous violations of their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit issued by the state.

Alleged violations by Colorado Springs include the failure to adequately fund its stormwater management program, to properly maintain its stormwater facilities and to reduce the discharge of pollutants to the maximum extent practicable.

Hart and fellow Commissioners Sal Pace and Garrison Ortiz have said they cherish the relationship the county has developed with Colorado Springs through negotiations over the Southern Delivery System’s 1041 permit agreement and hope this will not do anything to damage it.

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

[Roy] Vaughan’s information confirmed what the directors and audience already knew: the snowpack is super and the water supply in reservoirs way above average. Vaughan wasn’t sure the drought was broken, but Director Leroy Mauch said the breaking of the drought has been announced on the radio. As of January 11, 214,296 acre-feet were stored in the Pueblo Reservoir and 134,442 a/f of project water, 41,694 a/f of excess capacity water, 38,158 a/f of winter water. There are 110,931 a/f of project space in Pueblo and 38,928 a/f of project space in Twin and Turquoise. The collection system has been winterized. Mt. Elbert conduit is presently running 350 cubic feet per second. 205 cfs are moving from Twin to Pueblo. The Bureau intends to move an additional 40,000 a/f from the upper reservoirs. The movement of water will be adjusted according to the forecast and customers’ needs.

Manager Jay Winner is working on pilot programs. In one, some ponds will be sealed to prevent loss through seepage. “We have already shown how much water is lost through evaporation and seepage in present ponds,” said Winner. The base line is established. Another pilot program will test the feasibility of trading water pollution downstream. This may lead to a solution of the problem of certain naturally-occurring pollutants in this area, notably selenium.

Mark Holmberg’s study of hydrology and geospatial analylsis of water table changes in the Lower Arkansas Valley will produce poster-sized maps of the bedrock, alluvial plain and average water levels in the Arkansas River Valley from the Pueblo Reservoir to the Colorado-Kansas Line. His study revealed a drop in water level of approximately 3 percent, presenting figures from 2001, 2008 and 2015. The study is now in the editorial division for finishing touches and will soon be published.

Mike Weber of the LAVWCD gave an overview of conservation trusts. During the year, LAVWCD closed on three easements: Leonard Joseph Proctor, Rex Reyher and Stan Cline. LAVWCD also participated in four easements with the Palmer Land Trust. At the end of 2016, LAVWCD has closed a total of 56 conservation easements (not counting Palmer Land Trust work). LAVWCD now holds easements in the following counties: Bent, Crowley, Custer, Fremont, Huerfano, Otero, Prowers, Pueblo and Teller, and under the following eight ditches/canals: Bessemer, Catlin, Colorado, Fort Bent, Fort Lyon, Highline, Holbrook and Otero.

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.