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…
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.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Ursa Resources and the developer of Battlement Mesa have dropped a zoning change proposal necessary for Ursa to pursue…operating a wastewater injection well near the community’s water intake on the Colorado River.
Battlement Mesa Co. is cutting by about half the size of a proposed zone district that would allow injection wells as a special use. The move eliminates the northern portion of what had been a 37-acre proposed district. That northern portion included a well-pad location where Ursa has approvals to drill for natural gas and had hoped to operate the injection well.
The revised zone district proposal still would encompass another location to the southwest where Ursa has begun the process of seeking approvals for an oil and gas pad that also could hold an injection well if local and state approvals are obtained.
The Garfield County Planning Commission was to have considered the original zone district proposal Wednesday night, but instead agreed to consider the revised application March 8.
Ursa had encountered considerable opposition to its original planned location for the injection well, which would have been about 600 feet from the water intake.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had objected to that location because of concerns that leaks from the well and associated storage tanks could threaten the water supply. That agency’s opposition was a primary factor in Garfield County planning staff also recommending that the Planning Commission and county commissioners reject the zoning change.
On Tuesday, Kent Kuster, an environmental specialist for CDPHE, wrote to the county that in a recent meeting with Ursa representatives his agency was made aware of an alternative injection well location to the west of Ursa’s originally envisioned site. Kuster wrote that the potential location would “reduce the associated risk to the public water supply,” is more protective of that supply and may warrant further local discussion.
Battlement Mesa is an unincorporated community of several thousand people. Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens said the group’s members don’t want an injection well anywhere within Battlement Mesa. But the group had been particularly alarmed by the idea of an injection well in the vicinity of the water intake.
In a news release Wednesday, Devanney called the change in Ursa’s plans a victory for residents.
“It was clear that public opinion was against the idea of creating an injection well zone in our community, especially one so close to our drinking water supply,” Devanney said. “Although we may see this proposal resurface in another form, tonight residents of Battlement Mesa can take comfort knowing their water is safe — for now.”
Matt Honeycutt, Ursa’s operations superintendent, declined to say much Wednesday night about the revision in the injection well plans.
“Ultimately it’s to make a better project,” he said.
Don Simpson, Ursa’s vice president of business development, said earlier Wednesday, “We think we’ve come up with a better plan. We’re always looking at different locations, better locations.”
Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co., which as the landowner is the applicant for the zoning change, said a number of considerations played into its decision to revise its proposal, from public input, to its own research and additional due diligence.
One member of the Planning Commission, Greg McKennis, sought unsuccessfully Wednesday night to postpone further consideration of the zoning application for 60 to 90 days to give Battlement Mesa residents a chance to fully learn what’s now being proposed and be able to better comment on it.
“This is a big change and we have no idea what those impacts will be,” he said. “… It’s vital that that community … has more than a couple weeks to do what they need to do to review this,” he said.
However, the applicants had a right to request another hearing sooner unless they waived it, which they weren’t willing to do.
“This timing becomes critical down the road to remove trucks off the road for our development plan,” Honeycutt told the commission.
Ursa says having an injection well will eliminate the need to truck away wastewater from drilling. It currently has approvals to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in Battlement Mesa and now is seeking approvals for three more well pads there.
Battlement Mesa Partners, requesting the zoning change for Ursa Resources’ natural gas operations, asked commissioners before a packed hearing room for time to amend the proposal…
The hearing was moved to the March 8 Planning Commission meeting. The Planning Commission staff last week recommended rejecting the proposal in large part because it is close to the community’s water intake.
“I think it would be in the board’s best interest to allow for a continuance so that we can make changes to our application,” said Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co. “A continuance would allow us to bring you more complete information on the request.”
Among the biggest changes would be to change the size of the area requested for rezoning to allow wells to dispose of wastewater from the fracking process. Drilling within the Planned Unit Development already has been approved by Garfield County and the state.
According to Schmela, the revised application will reduce the area of the project by nearly half. The previous proposal sought to rezone 37 acres along the north end of the community by the Colorado River. An updated application will reduce that area by 50 percent, stated Schmela.
Not only will the new application reduce the size of the injection zone, but it will also move the well away from the Colorado River and water treatment intake.
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.
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.
The Environmental Working Group study, peer-reviewed and published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, found the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in grease-resistant wrappers -– including pizza box liners, sandwich and pastry packaging — from chains including Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, Taco Time, Chipotle and Quiznos. The chemicals can leach into food, potentially reaching consumers, the study authors said, urging companies to find safe alternative packaging.
Scientists from California and the Environmental Protection Agency collaborated in the research with final testing done at an EPA lab.
“We don’t have definitive answers for how much harm these chemicals are causing, but there are many reasons to be concerned,” EWG chemist Dave Andrews said.
“These fast food companies need to look at their supply chains. They need to evaluate alternatives and move away from this concerning class of chemicals because of the potential for human health impact and the fact that the chemicals do not break down in the environment,” Andrews said.
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.
The Merino Town Board learned during its regular meeting Monday night that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Hazardous Waste Group had some pretty stringent criteria for granting the town a permit to build and operate the “brine pits” needed for the new water treatment system. There was no way, the trustees said, they could afford what the state was proposing.
The reverse osmosis system Merino plans to use results in effluent containing all of the contaminants that have been filtered out of the water. That effluent is pumped into a series of ponds in rotating order. Once one pond is filled, the effluent is directed to another pond while the first pond evaporates out and the dried waste is removed and sent to a landfill. Because the dried waste is considered hazardous, Merino has to be able to remediate the pond site, should it ever be abandoned.
The CDPHE had proposed that the town set aside $10,000 a year for ten years to go toward that eventual reclamation. But even the $100,000 that would result was less than one-third of what Merino’s consulting firm, Rocky Mountain Water Solutions of Broomfield, estimated it would cost to remediate the abandoned brine ponds. Town officials said Monday night they had been told CDPHE thought that estimate was high, but didn’t indicate what they thought a more accurate number might be.
The funds to be set aside would have to come from revenue generated by the town’s water enterprise fund. Water rates were recently increased in anticipation of building the new water treatment facility. And town officials said they have no idea what it’s going to cost to run the new system; they have estimates based on other towns’ experiences, but conditions and estimates vary widely.
The problem is, regardless what the real number is, it’s doubtful Merino can afford it, and the town certainly couldn’t afford the $100,000 over ten years the state agency was suggesting.
Boyd Hanzon, Merino’s contact at RMWS, said Monday night that CDPHE was setting up a conference call for Tuesday morning to discuss the reclamation amount. Hanzon was told, if the state sticks to its $100,000 goal, all bets were off.
“We’d have to start over with engineering fees, consultant fees, the whole thing,” said Trustee Dan Wiebers. “Would they go for, say, $5,000 a year for ten years and then stop? Would they let us just run the things for a year or two until we know how much it’s going to cost?”
Hanzon said those all were questions the trustees needed to ask during the conference call.
“So, basically, the future of this project hinges on this one phone call,” Wiebers said.
“I think they’ll be pretty reasonable,” Hanzon said, “but it could be a very stressful call.”
By Tuesday afternoon, the stress levels has subsided markedly. Reached at his office, Hanzon said the CDPHE officials had tentatively agreed to an amount Merino’s trustees thought they could live with, but he wasn’t prepared to say what that amount is yet.
“I’ll be working on getting that finalized. We should know something in about a week,” he said.
Once this issue is settled, Hanzon said, Merino will be able to move ahead almost immediately in awarding contracts to begin building the system.