Fountain Creek: 150 KGAL of PFC-laden water released into #Colorado Springs sewer system by Peterson AFB

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.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The spill, which Air Force officials said they’re investigating, happened as the Air Force increasingly faces scrutiny as a source of groundwater contamination nationwide.

The surge of waste containing elevated perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — used at military airfields to douse fuel fires and linked by federal authorities to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, low birth weights and other health problems — flowed through a Colorado Springs Utilities wastewater treatment plant before crews could try to block it. Then it trickled into Fountain Creek.

“Even if we would have been able to head it off at the plant, we’re not equipped. I don’t know of any wastewater plants in the country equipped to remove PFCs,” utilities spokesman Steve Berry said. “We would not have been able to remove that chemical before it was discharged back into the environment from our effluent.”

Fountain Creek flows south toward Pueblo and into the Arkansas River.

Pueblo Board of Water Works spokesman Paul Fanning said Pueblo didn’t hear about the spill until reporters made inquiries Tuesday.

“We don’t use any groundwater or surface water from Fountain Creek. We use water from the Arkansas River taken upstream from where Fountain Creek flows in,” Fanning said. “But it is not a good thing to have those contaminants anywhere in our water. There are some reported health effects. It is in our interest to protect our public.”

[…]

The PFC-laced waste was held in a tank at a firefighter training area on the base, located at the southeastern edge of Colorado Springs. PFCs are a component in the aqueous film-forming foam used to extinguish fuel fires.

Air Force officials said in the statement that they discovered the spill Oct. 12 during an inspection. They notified Colorado Springs Utilities the next day. The tank was part of a system used to recirculate water to a firefighter training area…

In Colorado, government well test data show PFCs have contaminated groundwater throughout the Fountain Creek watershed, nearly as far south as Pueblo, at levels up to 20 times higher than that EPA health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion.

Public-water authorities in Fountain, Security and Widefield have scrambled to provide enough alternative water. Security has been purchasing millions of gallons of diverted Arkansas River water from Colorado Springs, installing new pipelines and minimizing pumping from contaminated municipal wells. Since Sept. 9, Security has not pumped any water from wells, water and sanitation district manager Roy Heald said. “This spill does not affect us immediately,” Heald said. “Our only concern would be the long-term effect on Fountain Creek and the Widefield Aquifer.”

Some parents south of Colorado Springs began paying for bottled water — to be safe. A contractor delivers emergency bottled water to at least 77 households.

The Air Force has contributed $4.3 million to help communities deal with the contamination.

Colorado Springs utilities crews will work with the military “to keep PFCs out of our system. That is the goal,” Berry said. “How do we protect our customers and our system from this chemical? That is the focus. It goes beyond the Air Force. It is any industrial process that may use that chemical.”

El Paso County Public Health “takes this discharge seriously and will coordinate with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment to collect water samples along Fountain Creek, if warranted,” spokeswoman Danielle Oller said.

CDPHE has been informed, agency spokesman Mark Salley said, adding: “It is under investigation by the Air Force, and the department is waiting for information. … The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing PFC contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder and Jakob Rodgers):

The release last week posed no threat to Colorado Springs drinking water.

The base said the release was discovered Oct. 12. The cause hasn’t been determined, but Fred Brooks, Peterson’s environmental chief, said the holding tank was designed to be difficult to discharge.

“It’s not a direct connection,” Brooks said. “This tank would have to have numerous valves switched to actually discharge.”

Was it intentional?

“That’s a possibility,” Brooks said…

An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of the discharge, said Col. Doug Schiess, who commands Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, in the statement.

Colorado Springs Utilities said the chemical-laden water passed through the utility’s Las Vegas Street sewage treatment plant and was released into Fountain Creek. The plant does not have the capacity to remove the chemical.

“There was no risk to the drinking water,” said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman. “This did not impact the drinking water, the finished water system, in any way. It went directly into the wastewater system.”

While Peterson notified Colorado Springs, base officials didn’t warn others downstream. Brooks said the base isn’t required to issue a wider notification, noting that the chemical is “unregulated” – a term used for substances that haven’t drawn enforceable drinking water standards…

Peterson had scheduled a public firefighting demonstration on Oct. 12, the day the discharge was discovered. The fire training exercise was canceled, with a spokesman at the base blaming the delay on a “bad valve”

Brooks, the base environmental officer, said two mechanical valves and an electric one must be switched to allow water to flow out of the tank, which held the outflow from fire training exercises dating back as far as 2013.

He said the water wasn’t tested for levels of the firefighting chemical.

A second tank on the base holding fire training residue wasn’t discharged.

The Air Force banned use of the foam outside fire emergencies last year and last month announced a plan to replace the product at all of its bases around the globe. Brooks said the foam at Peterson will be replaced in about two weeks.

The water contamination in Security, Widefield and Fountain has drawn a pair of lawsuits against the manufacturers of the firefighting foam alleging they sold it to the Air Force despite its toxic risks.

Although downstream, no drinking water supplied to Pueblo residents by the Pueblo Board of Water Works comes from Fountain Creek, said Paul Fanning, the agency’s spokesman. The Pueblo Reservoir does not pull from Fountain Creek.

The Widefield Water and Sanitation District is the only water system immediately downstream of the treatment plant now using the Widefield Aquifer, which leaches water from Fountain Creek, where the chemicals flowed.

Widefield officials have previously said they plan to shut off their wells by sometime in October.

Other communities have shut off their wells to the tainted aquifer.

All the water flowing to homes supplied by the Security and Fountain water systems now comes from the Pueblo Reservoir – meaning that last week’s spill should not affect those communities.

“The long-term effects would be concerning,” said Roy Heald, Security water district’s general manager. “But short-term immediate effects – there wouldn’t be any for us.”

The EPA said it wasn’t involved with the spill.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gave the Air Force a vote of confidence despite the chemical discharge.

“The Air Force has demonstrated its commitment to identifying and addressing (perfluorinated compound) contamination at Peterson Air Force Base and facilities nationwide,” the state agency said.

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

Choices are narrowing for water development along Eagle River — Aspen Daily News

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via the Aspen Daily News:

Two Front Range cities along with Western Slope parties and the Climax Molybdenum Co. hope to narrow their plans during the next 18 months for new or expanded reservoirs in the upper Eagle River watershed near Camp Hale.

One configuration of a possible new reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River, would force a minor tweaking of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area boundary.

That adjustment along with the presence of ecologically important wetlands along where Whitney Creek flows into Homestake Creek are among the many complexities that partners — including the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs — face as they consider how to satisfy their projected water needs.

Work underway this fall and expected to wrap up next year focuses on technical feasibility of individual projects. None alone is likely to meet the needs of all the partners.

Also at issue is money. One set of projects would cost $685 million, according to preliminary engineering estimates issued by Wilson Water Group and other consultants in April.

Aurora Water’s Kathy Kitzmann likens the investigation to being somewhere between the second and third leg around the bases.

“We’re not in the home stretch,” Kitzmann said at a recent meeting.

Still to be decided, as costs estimates are firmed up, is how badly Aurora, Colorado Springs and other water interests want the additional storage.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District has decided it only needs another several hundred-acre feet of yield.

John Currier, chief engineer for the river district, said that the less expensive studies have been done. Coming studies will be more expensive.

“I think we are to the point that the cost of investigations themselves are going to start driving the decisions, and I also think that the timing and need of the partners is helping drive those decisions,” Currier said.

At one time, the idea of pumping water eastward from Ruedi Reservoir was considered. That idea has been discarded as part of this investigation.

This exploration of water what-ifs is governed by a 1998 agreement, the Eagle River memorandum of understanding, or MOU.

The MOU envisioned water projects collaboratively constructed in ways that benefit parties on both Eastern and Western slopes, as well as Climax, the owner of the molybdenum mine that straddles the Continental Divide at Fremont Pass. Minimal environmental disruption is also a cornerstone of the agreement.

Long legal fight
The collaboration stems from a milestone water case. Aurora and Colorado Springs in 1967 completed a major water diversion that draws water from Homestake Creek and its tributaries.

Homestake Reservoir has a capacity of 43,500 acre-feet, or a little less than half of Ruedi, and is located partly in Pitkin County. The water is diverted via a 5.5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Lake near Leadville and into the Arkansas River.

Near Buena Vista that water is pumped 900 feet over the Mosquito Range into South Park for eventual distribution to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

But the cities left water rights on the table. In 1987, they returned to Eagle County with plans to divert water directly from the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980 that created Holy Cross left the legal door open for a new water diversion. The law specified that “this act shall not interfere with the construction, maintenance, and/or expansion of the Homestake Water Development Project of the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Holy Cross Wilderness.”

But Colorado had changed greatly from 1967 to 1987 and state laws adopted in the early 1970s gave Eagle County expanded land-use authority. County commissioners in 1988 used that authority to veto Homestake II.

That veto, which was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the denial of the Two Forks Dam southwest of Denver at about the same time, signaled that Colorado was in a new era of water politics.

Under Colorado water law, though, the two cities still owned substantial water rights in the Eagle River Basin. Guided by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, negotiations led to an agreement to develop projects to jointly benefit the former protagonists: 10,000 acre-feet of guaranteed dry-year yield for Western Slope users, 20,000 acre-feet of average-year yield for the cities, and 3,000 acre-feet for Climax.

Eagle Park Reservoir is an off-channel reservoir located on property formerly owned by the Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) at the Climax Mine in the upper Eagle River Basin, which was originally used to store mine tailings. As part of the mine reclamation process, Climax removed tailings deposits from the reservoir and converted the facility to a fresh water storage reservoir. In 1998, Eagle Park Reservoir Company (EPRC) purchased the reservoir from Climax and began using it for municipal, industrial, irrigation, and environmental water supply purposes. Photo via Leonard Rice Engineers.
Eagle Park Reservoir is an off-channel reservoir located on property formerly owned by the Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) at the Climax Mine in the upper Eagle River Basin, which was originally used to store mine tailings. As part of the mine reclamation process, Climax removed tailings deposits from the reservoir and converted the facility to a fresh water storage reservoir. In 1998, Eagle Park Reservoir Company (EPRC) purchased the reservoir from Climax and began using it for municipal, industrial, irrigation, and environmental water supply purposes. Photo via Leonard Rice Engineers.

Water supply options
Expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir is one option being studied.

Located near Fremont Pass at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Eagle River, it was originally created to hold mine tailings from Climax. In the 1990s it was gutted of tailings in order to hold water. A consortium of Vail Resorts, two-interrelated Vail-based water districts, and the Colorado River District combined to create a reservoir.

Aurora and Colorado Springs agreed to subordinate water rights in order to ensure firm yield for the Western Slope parties.

To expand the reservoir from the existing 3,300 acre-feet to 7,950 acre-feet could cost anywhere from $39.1 million to $70.8 million, depending upon how much work, if any, is needed to manage seepage beneath the existing dam. Test borings that began Sept. 12 will advance the design of the larger reservoir. Five possible configurations date from 1994.

Another option is to create a new relatively small dam on or adjacent to Homestake Creek, near its confluence with Whitney Creek. This is three miles off of Highway 24, between Camp Hale and Minturn.

Among the four possible configurations for this potential Whitney Creek Reservoir is a tunnel to deliver water from two creeks, Fall and Peterson, in the Gilman area.

A third option is restoration of a century-old dam at Minturn that was breached several years ago. Bolts Lake, however, would serve only Western Slope interests.

Still on the table is a new reservoir on a tributary to the Eagle River near Wolcott. That reservoir has been discussed occasionally for more than 30 years. However, like a Ruedi pumpback, it’s not part of the current discussion involving the Eagle River MOU partners.

Complex wetlands
Most problematic of the options is Whitney Creek. It would require relocation of a road and, in one of the configurations, water could back up into the existing wilderness area. For that to happen, Congress would have to tweak the wilderness boundary.

Wetlands displacement could also challenge a Whitney Reservoir. An investigation underway seeks to reveal whether those wetlands include areas classified as fens. Fens are peat-forming wetlands fed primarily by groundwater. As they may take thousands of years to develop, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifies that “every reasonable effort should be made to avoiding impact fens.”

“If fens are found, I expect a lengthy debate about the quantity and quality of fens required to be a fatal flaw,” said the river district’s Currier in a July memorandum. That determination will be made before drilling is authorized to determine whether a dam is possible.

Western Slope parties, said Currier in the memo, “believe an Eagle Park enlargement may ultimately become very attractive because the environmental and permitting issues are much, much simpler than a Whitney Creek alternative.”

Nearly all the alternatives being considered in the Eagle River Basin would require extensive pumping, as opposed to gravity-fed reservoir configurations. Water would have to be pumped 1,000 vertical feet into Eagle Park Reservoir, for example, then pumped again to get it across the Continental Divide.

A Whitney Creek Reservoir would require less, but still expensive pumping. Water in the reservoir would be received by gravity flow, but from there it would be pumped about seven miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Whether it can accommodate more water has yet to be determined, one of many dangling question marks.

Earlier, the parties had investigated the possibility of using an aquifer underlying Camp Hale as a reservoir. But drilling to determine the holding capacity proved maddening complex. Accounting for water depletions from pumping would have been very difficult. Further, operation of the system to prevent impact to other water users and instream flows would have been problematic. The idea was abandoned in 2013.

Currier, in his July report to the River District board of directors, outlined several questions that he said should provoke discussion among the Eagle River partners this fall: How much of the water outlined under the 1998 agreement does each party realistically need, and when? Are they ready to begin seeking permits after this new round of investigation to be completed next year?

Need for water?
This week, in response to questions from Aspen Journalism, the Eagle River MOU partners explained the need for the water to be developed between 2036 and 2050.

Both Aurora and Colorado Springs have added major projects in recent years. After the drought of 2002, a very-worried Aurora pushed rapidly for a massive reuse project along the South Platte River called Prairie Waters. It went on line in 2010 — far more rapidly than any project on the Eagle River could have been developed.

Colorado Springs last year began deliveries of water from Pueblo Reservoir via the Southern Delivery System, an idea first conceived in 1989. The Vail-based water districts also increased their storage capacity after 2002.

At a meeting in Georgetown in August, representatives of the two cities said they were unsure of the precise need for water.

Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, describes a “delicate balancing act” about what is “going to be most reliable and what is going to be most environmentally permittable and permissible.”

Brett Gracely, of Colorado Springs Utilities, said project costs are “still in the realm of other projects are we looking at.”

The 1998 agreement specified that costs of initial studies should be divided equally, four ways. As the project progresses, the costs are to be split according to percentage of yield that each party would gain.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

prairiewaterstreatment
Aurora Prairie Waters Project
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

Glenwood Springs still facing challenge to water rights for new whitewater parks

Looking up the Colorado River as it flows through Horseshoe Bend, just east of downtown Glenwood Springs. The site is one of three where Glenwood Springs seeks to build a whitewater park. The city is now in the process of obtaining a water right for the parks but has yet to reach agreements with Aurora and Colorado Springs about the proposed water rights.
Looking up the Colorado River as it flows through Horseshoe Bend, just east of downtown Glenwood Springs. The site is one of three where Glenwood Springs seeks to build a whitewater park. The city is now in the process of obtaining a water right for the parks but has yet to reach agreements with Aurora and Colorado Springs about the proposed water rights.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The city of Glenwood Springs is making progress toward securing a recreational water right for three potential whitewater parks on the Colorado River, but it has yet to come to terms with Aurora, Colorado Springs and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

In kayaking terms, it could be said the city has greased close to a dozen Class II and III rapids so far since it started its run through water court in 2013. And it’s recently made it cleanly through a Class IV hole called “Denver Water.” But it is now facing two gnarly Class V rapids called “Homestake” and “CWCB.”

Aurora and Colorado Springs are co-owners of the Homestake Project, which includes a reservoir on Homestake Creek in the upper Eagle River basin that holds 43,300 acre-feet of water.

The water is stored and then shipped through the Homestake Tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir and on to the two Front Range cities, which also hold conditional water rights in the Homestake Project that could allow for development of more water.

The two cities, acting jointly as Homestake Partners, have told the water court and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) that Glenwood Springs is claiming more water than it needs for a valid recreational experience.

And they say Glenwood Springs’ proposed water right for the parks would prevent the additional development of more water-supply projects in the upper Colorado River basin within Colorado.

“Glenwood’s proposed RICD [recreational in-channel diversion] would unilaterally foreclose development in the Colorado River basin above Glenwood, affecting users both in the basin and on the Front Range,” Aurora and Colorado Springs told the water court in June 2015. “This will result in further ‘buy and dry’ of agricultural water rights, and could in addition motivate West Slope users to make trans-basin diversions from other river basins, such as the Yampa and Gunnison.”

Looking up the Colorado River as it flows past the No Name rest stop on I-70. The site is one of three locations for potential whitewater parks that the city of Glenwood Springs is seeking a water right for.
Looking up the Colorado River as it flows past the No Name rest stop on I-70. The site is one of three locations for potential whitewater parks that the city of Glenwood Springs is seeking a water right for.

Seeking flow

Glenwood Springs has filed for a single water right tied to “three proposed boating parks” to be known as the No Name, Horseshoe Bend and Two Rivers whitewater parks. Each park would include two wave-producing structures.

The whitewater parks would be able to call for between 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, for 2,500 cfs between June 8 and July 23, and for 4,000 cfs for five days between June 30 and July 6.

The ability for Glenwood to call for 1,250 cfs doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in the case, as that’s the same amount of water that the Shoshone hydropower plant upstream of the proposed whitewater parks has been calling downriver since 1902.

But flows of 2,500 and 4,000 cfs are apparently a different matter.

“We see nothing substantiating that there is any demand for water-based recreational experiences beyond those that are already available in view of the current stream regimen,” wrote attorneys for Homestake in 2014.

Yet the city has so far managed to file signed stipulations in water court with Denver Water, Ute Water Conservancy District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Ute Water Conservancy District, Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Dept. of Transportation.

The most recent of those agreements approved in Div. 5 water court in Glenwood Springs was with CDOT on July 25 and with Denver Water on May 31.

The agreement with Denver Water includes a provision where Glenwood Springs will not oppose a future, and as yet undefined, project to develop an additional 20,000 acre-feet of diversions from the West Slope, as contemplated in the 2013 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, or CRCA, which Glenwood Springs signed.

“We’ve just agreed that we’re not going to have our water right impede that project once it’s defined and agreed to by the signatories of the CRCA,” said Mark Hamilton of Holland and Hart, the attorney representing Glenwood Springs in the case (2013CW3109).

Glenwood Springs has also reached conceptual agreements with the Colorado River District, West Divide Water Conservancy District and the town of Gypsum, but has yet to file signed stipulation agreements with the court.

Also in the case, but in support of Glenwood Springs’ application, are American Whitewater, Western Resource Advocates, and Grand County.

“We’ve made a really diligent specific effort to address a whole variety of concerns from a whole bunch of different people,” Hamilton said. “We’re making every effort to get there, but until Homestake and CWCB come to rest, we can’t assure anybody we still don’t need to have some kind of hearing in front of Judge Boyd.”

Judge James Boyd oversees water court proceedings in Div. 5 water court. The city’s application is still before the water court referee, who works with opposing parties to see if settlements can be reached before referring the case to the judge.

The referee has given the parties at least until Oct. 27 to see if agreements can be reached, but extensions of time are not usually hard to obtain.

Hamilton is set to meet on Sept. 8 with representatives from Aurora and Colorado Springs in another effort to reach an agreement. It will be the fourth such meeting since February.

Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager for Aurora Water and a member of the board of the Homestake Steering Committee, said last week he couldn’t discuss the ongoing settlement negotiations, but did say Aurora and Homestake Partners were working in good faith.

He also said, however, that the concerns already articulated by the two cities to the court and CWCB are still outstanding.

A view from the Pitkin County end of Homestake Reservoir, located on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River.
A view from the Pitkin County end of Homestake Reservoir, located on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River.

Carving out the MOU

Aurora and Colorado Springs are both parties to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which is tied to the Homestake Reservoir and Tunnel.

The 1998 agreement allows for a new water supply project in the upper Eagle River basin that would provide 10,000 acre-feet of water for a variety of West Slope entities and 20,000 acre-feet for Aurora and Colorado Springs.

Such a project is now being actively studied, and may include a new dam on lower Homestake Creek that would flood complex wetlands.

Hamilton put a clause in the draft water rights decree that Glenwood Springs “shall not use the RICD water rights as a basis to oppose” projects described in the Eagle River MOU.

“That’s something that we offered up without even having a settlement agreement with them,” Hamilton said. “It was my initial shot at trying to draft a ruling that I though would address their concerns. And so I would envision that any additional settlement terms would be laid on top of what we’ve already put in there.”

There is likely more than the Eagle River MOU of interest to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

In 2012, the two cities told the BLM and USFS, in comment letters regarding potential Wild and Scenic designation on a section of the Colorado River, that “as much as 86,400 acre feet of water supplies may be developed by completion of the Homestake Project” and that “Aurora and Colorado Springs plan to develop the remaining portions of Homestake Project.”

Looking up the Colorado River toward Glenwood Springs at Two Rivers Park, where the city of Glenwood may someday build a whitewater park. The city has been working since 2013 on securing a recreational water right for three such parks on the river.
Looking up the Colorado River toward Glenwood Springs at Two Rivers Park, where the city of Glenwood may someday build a whitewater park. The city has been working since 2013 on securing a recreational water right for three such parks on the river.

The CWCB

Even if an agreement can be worked out with Aurora and Colorado Springs, Glenwood Springs will still need to come to terms with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which recommended in June 2015 that the water court deny the city’s RICD filing.

The CWCB is charged by the state legislature with reviewing proposed RICDs and then making a recommendation to the water court.

When it came to Glenwood’s filing, the CWCB board of directors concluded in an 8-to-1 vote that it would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.

The state agency also directed its staff to oppose Glenwood’s filing in water court.

It’s not clear at this point how Judge Boyd might handle the recommendation-to-deny from the CWCB, or if Glenwood Springs might be able to get the CWCB to change its stance opposing the proposed water right.

“If we reach settlements with Homestake it’s possible that the CWCB would then reconsider and change its recommendations,” Hamilton said.

When it comes to reaching terms with Aurora and Colorado Springs, Hamilton said he remains “optimistic.”

“There is diligent ongoing discussion on all sides and good faith efforts being made,” he said. “And if it fails, it fails, and we’ll go to Judge Boyd and start setting deadlines and dealing with things more formally. But I think everybody is giving it a fair shot and seeing if we can get there shy of that.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, Sept. 5, 2016.

Fountain Creek stormwater mitigation update

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.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

While the [Fountain Creek Watershed Drainage, Flood Control and Greenway District] has limped along for seven years with more hopes than funding, now it’s flexing some muscle after an injection of $10 million from Colorado Springs Utilities. It was the first of five such payments through 2020 that are part of the city’s deal with Pueblo County for the city’s Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, completed in April.

But so much needs to be done that the money quickly will be absorbed into a long list of projects, leaving the district, again, penniless.

“What we’re going to find out is that $50 million is much less than what we need for that project list,” says district executive director Larry Small, former Springs vice mayor.

The district has conducted a host of studies over the years and done a few projects, including sediment reduction near the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River east of downtown Pueblo. Thus far, its projects have been largely funded through grants from such agencies as the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Now, with the Utilities money, it wants to take on the herculean task of trying to reshape the creek.

First up is a bank restoration project along the Masciantonio Trust farm just south of the El Paso County-Pueblo County line where, over the years, the creek’s rushing waters have carved away a massive amount of land, leaving sand bars behind and sending tons of sediment down the creek every year.

“The creek has seriously eroded the bank there,” Small says. “It’s taken 12 acres of farm land.”

The project’s engineering study was launched in July, and a construction contract will be awarded next year, he says, with a budget of $2.5 million.

It’s unclear if the project actually will restore those 12 acres, because that would require a huge amount of fill material, Small says.

“We are looking at an option to restore the creek to the 1955 channel,” he says, “but we have to figure out how to deal with the hole that would leave behind the wall we would have to build.”

The problem, he adds, is that Young’s Hollow flows into the creek at that point and can carry a water flow of up to 6,000 cubic feet per second during heavy storms, so the creek has to be equipped to handle that volume.

“This is a challenge,” he says.

Two more projects for the farm also are planned, he says, noting, “That whole 4-mile stretch is seriously eroded.”

Another project will assess stability and sediment along the entire 51 miles of the creek from Colorado Springs to its confluence with the Arkansas.

“That’s going to generate a project list where we need to do bank restoration,” Small says. Started in May this year, the study will wind up in March and be followed by an evaluation of flood control alternatives, which includes a dam.

That study, also started in May, will address how much land would be required, how a dam would function, what property the district would need to acquire and what permitting processes would be necessary, among other things.

This month, the district began compiling a drainage criteria manual, which will enable the board to evaluate development that takes place within the district and recommend requirements to the jurisdictions at issue, such as city of Fountain, city of Colorado Springs, Pueblo County or El Paso County.

So as Small says, the district has quickly picked up the pace this year.

“As I told some people recently, on May 31, I had one project, and on June 1, I had five projects,” he says.

The biggest single project undertaken by the district so far is dredging the levees east of Pueblo at a total cost of $5.25 million. Funded with additional money from Springs Utilities, Pueblo County and Pueblo’s stormwater enterprise fund, the project will be overseen by the Fountain Creek district, which also will loan $1.25 million to Pueblo to be repaid in 2018, Small says.

The project will begin this year — the district hopes to let the contract this fall — and be finished next year, if all parties sign off on the plan, which is expected, he says. The dredging will start at 18th Street and extend to the creek’s confluence with the river. The job will include removing vegetation and two railroad piers that act as debris traps.

The source of money for projects when the $50 million from Springs Utilities runs out isn’t clear. Small says the board, in coming years, will start researching a ballot measure for a property tax to fund the district. Even after all the projects are built, money will be needed for maintenance, he says.

The district covers all of El Paso and Pueblo counties. One mill would generate roughly $6.85 million from El Paso County taxpayers and $1.6 million from Pueblo County taxpayers, for a total of about $8.5 million a year. (Assessed value of property in El Paso County totals $6.85 billion, and in Pueblo County, $1.66 billion.)

About $8 million a year is a lot for a district that’s never spent more than $480,000 in any single year so far and relied on grants from various agencies and member contributions from Green Mountain Falls, Palmer Lake, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, El Paso County and Pueblo County.

Any infusion of cash, though, is subject to revenue limits imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, so in early 2015 the district created a companion agency, the Fountain Creek Watershed Water Activity Enterprise. The enterprise is exempt from TABOR revenue caps, Small says, as long as less than 10 percent of its funding comes from state and local grants. The $10 million annual payments for five years from Utilities are not considered grants, he says.

But the Utilities’ payments, while large, won’t fix all the creek’s problems, says Greg Lauer, Fountain city councilor and district board member.

“When you look at the substantial need for projects and maintenance, these numbers barely scratch the surface,” he says. Lauer predicts the board will begin discussing a tax measure next year, though it’s unlikely it would appear on the 2017 ballot.

For one thing, he notes, the board needs “legal clarification.” For example, would a tax measure approved by voters in El Paso County but not in Pueblo County result in the tax being applied only in El Paso County, or would it be considered defeated? Would a tax approved by a majority of voters, regardless of their place of residency, result in it being added to the tax rolls in both counties?

Regardless, Lauer says it’s hard to argue against ongoing funding when the board is reminded regularly by landowners along the creek about flood damage.

For now, though, the board is eager to get long-awaited projects underway with the money it has.

“We are so beyond excited,” Lauer says. “It’s been a long time coming.”

@CSUtilities working to update water supply system. It will take 250 years at current funding level.

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From KKTV.com (Dustin Cuzick):

Colorado Springs Utilities Officials respond to claims that water main breaks and sinkholes are becoming more common. They say they’re spending $13 million per-year to fix it.

When a huge sinkhole opened up in the middle of Montebello Drive on Sunday after a water main break, neighbors complained that it was the third in about the last year…

Colorado Springs Utilities officials admit there is a problem. They say that roughly 60% of the city’s 2000 miles of water pipes are at or near the end of their lifespan; many of them are cast-iron and were put in in the 1970’s.

That is why in 2005 they started a water main replacement project; a systematic plan to proactively replace aging water mains before they deteriorate completely.

Right now Colorado Springs Utilities spends $13 million on the program every year. With that money they are able to replace about 8-12 miles of pipeline. That would mean that to replace the entire system could take up to 250 years at the current pace…

Utilities officials say they are planning on asking for a utilities rate increase for the 2017 budget. They will present that proposed increase this fall to the utilities board and the Colorado Springs City Council.

That rate increase would not mean an increase in the program’s budget, officials say the increase would be needed just to maintain the current $13 million budget.

There is no word yet on how much that increase will be because C.S.U. is waiting for the results of a cost of service survey. Those results are expected to be in on Friday.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ellie Mulder):

About 4 percent of Colorado Springs’ water distribution pipes are more than 100 years old, but it’s the mid-century pipes that are causing problems around the city.

Cast- and ductile-iron pipes installed during the 1950s through the 1970s break more easily than older pipes because they have thinner walls and are more prone to corrosion, said Steve Berry, Colorado Springs Utilities spokesman.

Utilities is continually replacing as many of the problem pipes as possible…

Although crews try to “identify and prioritize areas that need attention,” Berry said, there is no way to track the city’s more than 2,000 miles of pipe. Over the past 20 years, national data has shown that these pipes have a higher failure rate, Berry said. Utilities has budgeted $13 million to upgrade water mains this year.

“It’s not an exact science, especially when you’re dealing with a system that’s as large as ours, and as spread out,” he said.

Repairs are not always straightforward, Berry said.

Simply shutting the water off is “much more complicated than it’s assumed,” he said. Then crews excavate the asphalt and assess the pipe’s condition. After it’s repaired or replaced, the line needs to be re-energized and re-pressurized, which occasionally causes a nearby segment to break.

Open house for #Colorado Springs’ new SDS pipeline draws 1,200 — The Colorado Springs Gazette

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

More than 1,200 people endured 90-degree temperatures Saturday in eastern Colorado Springs to learn more about Colorado Springs Utilities’ new Southern Delivery System.

During the SDS Waterfest at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant on Marksheffel Road, kids and adults interacted with community volunteers at hands-on educational booths. And most of those on hand were treated to a guided tour of the state-of-the art facility…

David Schara, 42, said he is a Colorado Springs native and has watched as CSU and city officials spent more than 20 years planning the Southern Delivery System which began piping water north out of Pueblo Reservoir in late April.

“It’s much needed,” David Schara said. “As the city grows, they had to do something.”

David Schara said he and others have been skeptical over the years since CSU introduced the SDS in the Colorado Springs Water Plan of 1996. According to Schara, the biggest concern was about the capacity of Pueblo Reservoir, which he said has been “pretty low at times.”

The Southern Delivery System cost $825 million. Forte said that presently the SDS takes care of about 5 percent of the Colorado Springs Utilities customers and produces about 5 million gallons of water each day.

During Saturday’s event, CSU handed out free water bottles and had refill stations throughout the event where visitors could rehydrate with water from the Pueblo Reservoir. The hands-on exhibits allowed kids to make snow, touch a cloud, shoot water from a fire hose, and learn more about how CSU uses water supplied by the SDS…

Forte said the Waterfest was designed to thank customers “for their patience” over the last couple of decades while the SDS became reality.

“Our citizen-owners have come out to see what we’ve been talking about for the last 20 years,” Forte said. “It’s just a fun day.”

#Colorado Springs: “Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not optional” — John Suthers

coloradospringsstormwaterimplementationplan072016cover

Click here to read the plan.

Here’s the release from the City of Colorado Springs:

The City of Colorado Springs today released the draft Stormwater Program Improvement Plan designed to dramatically improve the city’s infrastructure and meet federal requirements.

City Public Works Director Travis Easton provided this statement.

“Today the City of Colorado Springs has released a draft Stormwater Improvement Plan. This is significant for our stormwater program, our citizens, and our City. The draft Stormwater Program Improvement Plan reflects strong leadership by the Mayor and City Council. We began this effort last fall and we reached a preliminary draft in January. Today’s release includes updates through July 2016.

“The City’s Public Works Department would appreciate the public’s comments and suggestions for improvement of the plan over the next 60 days. We will take public input into account and release the Plan in final form shortly thereafter.

“Thank you in advance for helping to shape this plan, and being a part of the process.”

Individuals wishing to provide feedback on the plan can contact Richard Mulledy, the City’s Stormwater Division Manager at stormwater@springsgov.com or by mail to: Richard Mulledy, Stormwater Division Manager, City of Colorado Springs, 30 S. Nevada Avenue, Suite 401, Colorado Springs, CO 80901.

The City of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities have committed to investing a total of $460 million over 20 years, beginning this year. The commitments essentially replace the city Stormwater Enterprise that was defunded in 2009.

“Fixing the stormwater issues that we inherited stemming from the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise has been a top priority for me and the City Council,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. “Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not optional – it is something that we must do to protect our waterways, serve our downstream neighbors, and meet the legal requirements of a federal permit.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs this week released its draft stormwater plan, which was spurred earlier this year by negotiations with Pueblo County commissioners over permits for the Southern Delivery System.

The 305-page implementation plan mirrors the terms of an intergovernmental agreement, outlining at least $460 million in expenditures over the next 20 years and restructuring the city’s stormwater department. It was released Wednesday on the city’s website (http://coloradosprings.gov).

It’s important to Pueblo because work within Colorado Springs is expected to reduce damage along Fountain Creek.
Work already has started on some of the projects that are expected to benefit Pueblo County as well as Colorado Springs. A total of 61 of the 71 critical projects have downstream benefits to Pueblo and other communities, in a March assessment that included input from Wright Water Engineers, which has been hired by Pueblo County as consultant for Fountain Creek issues.

That list can change, depending on annual reviews of which work is needed, according to the IGA.

The plan also attempts to satisfy state and federal assessments that the existing stormwater services failed to meet minimum conditions of the city’s stormwater permits. An Environmental Protection Agency audit last year found Colorado Springs had made no progress on improving stormwater control in more than two years.

This year, Colorado Springs formed a new stormwater division and plans on doubling the size of its stormwater staff.

The plan includes a funding commitment of $20 million annually by the city and $3 million per year by Colorado Springs Utilities to upgrade creek crossings of utility lines.

The plan acknowledges that Colorado Springs significantly cut staff and failed to maintain adequate staffing levels after City Council eliminated the city’s stormwater enterprise in 2009. Pueblo County suffered significant damage, including the washout of part of Overton Road and excess debris in the Fountain Creek channel through Pueblo, during prolonged flows last May.

Other parts of the Pueblo County IGA expedited funding for flood control studies and projects by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, as well as providing an additional $3 million for dredging in Pueblo.

Library, Colorado Springs Utilities host water workshop for kids — @csgazette

Cloud in a bottle diagram via BestOfPicture.com
Cloud in a bottle diagram via BestOfPicture.com

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (William J. Dagendesh):

Landin kicked off the demonstration by explaining the value of water and asking where this resource comes from. “It comes from the sewer,” one boy blurted, to which the other children exclaimed with disgust.

Landin explained that Colorado Springs relies on precipitation from snow that falls west of the continental divide 100 miles away. A small portion comes from precipitation from the Arkansas River 40 miles away, she said, and that water travels through pipes down from the Rocky Mountains.

“Water falls to earth as rain, snow and precipitation,” Landin said. “Water later evaporates into the air, creates clouds and falls back to earth as fresh water.”

That’s when Landin discussed Utilities’ water treatment role. “Has anyone cooked spaghetti with unclean water?” Landin asked as children grimaced and shook their heads. “Of course not, that would taste yucky. This is why Utilities cleans up the water before you use it.”

Landin also conducted several water-related games to demonstrate how people receive and use water. In the water system relay, children rolled whiffle balls down half cylinder makeshift ramps to show that most of Colorado Springs’ water is imported from more than 100 miles away, and that the system infrastructure is vast and complex to ensure customers have quality water.

A vapor shower demonstrated that water is used in many ways and that everyone needs to use it wisely to ensure a sustainable future. The white vapor that spilled out of a bucket in a fun way emphasized that taking shorter showers is a great water-conserving idea.

The disappearing water trick game, “Where’s the Water?” emphasized that everyone must conserve and use water wisely. A chemistry experiment showed children how waste water can be restored to its usable state. Two volunteers stirred a chemically treated makeshift waste water-filled beaker only to watch the liquid return to its unclean state.

“It takes a lot to clean up waste water,” Landin said.

The cloud in a bottle and cloud cannon experiments showed that precipitation produces water and that everyone depends on nature for the amount of water available. The latter experiment, in which Landin shot wisps of cloud vapor into the crowd from a black plastic trash can cloud cannon, proved popular with youngsters…

Following the demonstrations, children received a Water Warriors Activity Book filled with water-related crossword puzzles, and fun money and water-saving tips. Energy and water conservation stickers reminded youngsters to take shorter showers and to turn off the water when brushing their teeth.
“This event is an experience kids can carry with them throughout life,” Landin said as children collected their activity books and stickers.

Citizens can learn more about water conservation during the Southern Delivery System Waterfest from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on July 23 at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, 977 Marksheffel Rd. During the event, guests will get to touch a cloud, create a snowball, cool off with a fire hose and participate in a water scavenger hunt.

Tours of the new water treatment plant also will be offered. Everyone is encouraged to wear flat, sturdy shoes and to bring a small item for inclusion in the SDS time capsule scheduled for burial at noon. To learn more visit sdswater.org.

@USBR Releases Finding of No Significant Impact for Pueblo Hydropower Project

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Patience Hurley):

The Bureau of Reclamation has completed the environmental study process and released the necessary documents for the Pueblo Hydropower Project to move forward.

“Final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) were completed to address a request from Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Board of Water Works of Pueblo, and Colorado Springs Utilities to develop hydropower at the federally-owned Pueblo Dam,” said Signe Snortland, Area Manager for Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office.

The next step for Reclamation is to enter into a contract called a Lease of Power Privilege. This contract authorizes the use of federal lands, facilities, and Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water to construct, operate, and maintain a 7 megawatt hydropower facility at the Pueblo Dam. The project utilizes a “run of river” design that harnesses water releases from Pueblo Dam to generate power and provide a clean, renewable source of energy.

“A hydropower plant and associated facilities will be constructed at the base of Pueblo Dam, utilize the dam’s north outlet works, and immediately return flows to the Arkansas River downstream of the dam,” said Snortland.

About 1.4 miles of new power and fiber-optic lines will also be constructed to connect the hydropower plant to the existing Black Hills Energy’s Pueblo Reservoir Substation. Construction is anticipated to begin in late 2016 with power generation anticipated in 2018.

The EA and FONSI are available online at: http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao/nepa/pueblo_hydropower.html

For additional information or to receive a printed copy of the EA/FONSI, please contact Terence Stroh at 970-962-4369 or TStroh@usbr.gov.

SDS opens the tap for Security — The Pueblo Chieftain

All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.
All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Security will be able to use increased capacity in the Southern Delivery System pipeline to deal with contaminated well water in the Fountain Creek aquifer.

Security Water District reached an agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities to increase the amount of water transported through SDS in order to eliminate perfluoralkyl substances, or PFASs, in drinking water.

“The start of SDS could not have come at a better time,” said Roy Heald, Security Water general manager. “We always said SDS was being built to improve reliability to the existing water systems and the situation with PFASs in drinking water underscores that.”

SDS went online in April.

The cause of the PFAS contamination is unknown, but it typically finds its way into water systems through manufacturing processes or deicing at airports.

When contaminants were first detected, Security stopped using some wells and initiated voluntary watering restrictions.

Security, located south of Colorado Springs, historically blended equal parts well water and surface water. The majority of customers are not affected by PFASs, but in some parts of the district increased use of groundwater normally would be needed to meet summer watering demands.
Security also gets some of its water from the Fountain Valley Conduit, which, like SDS, pumps water from Lake Pueblo to El Paso County.

“We are pleased to work with our longtime SDS partner Security Water to help resolve the water contamination issues,” said Dan Higgins, Colorado Springs Utilities chief water services officer. “SDS is already showing how critically important it was for all the communities who partnered to build it.”

Meanwhile, here’s a report about the public meeting held yesterday about the problem from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

More than 1,000 people south of Colorado Springs packed a high school Thursday night and buffeted government officials with questions and concerns about an invisible toxic chemical contaminating public water supplies…

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials repeated recommendations — especially for women and children, because they may be more vulnerable to the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — to switch to other water as a precaution.

“You may or may not be getting your tap water from an area of concern,” CDPHE water-quality official Tyson Ingals told residents. “We have about 60,000 people in the areas of concern. We estimate 10,000 to 15,000 may be receiving water with PFCs above the level of the heath advisory.”

What about schools? residents asked. How long have people here been drinking water tainted with PFCs? What about property values? Should pets be drinking different water? Could organically home-grown vegetables be tainted?

Local utility officials in Widefield, Security and Fountain — all partially dependent on municipal wells drawing from tainted groundwater — assured residents they are intensifying efforts to dilute supplies by mixing in cleaner water piped from Pueblo, 40 miles to the south. A CDPHE preliminary health assessment has found elevated cancer in the area, but officials emphasized no link to PFCs has been established…

Officials from El Paso County, the CDPHE and the military now are looking more closely at contamination in the Widefield-Security-Fountain area. Of 43 private wells tested recently, county officials have received results from 37 tests, with PFC levels in 26 exceeding the EPA limit, spokeswoman Danielle Oller said.

In Security, all 32 municipal wells are contaminated, and water officials ranked the wells based on levels of contamination. One well where the level was nearly 20 times higher than an EPA health advisory limit has been shut down. Security officials urged voluntary cutbacks in lawn watering to reduce the need to use contaminated groundwater.

Security Water and Sanitation District manager Roy Heald has divided the city into three zones and said about 25 percent of residents live in a zone receiving water from contaminated wells. The residents in two other zones “are supplied water mainly from surface water sources,” Heald said…

Next week, utility officials plan to begin re-plumbing, installing new pipelines, trying to blend in more water from Pueblo into that zone and other areas…

Air Force representatives at the forum, where residents filled an auditorium, adjacent cafeteria and stood in hallways at Mesa Ridge High School, said the Air Force will pay $4.3 million to set up temporary treatment systems — while local utilities address the long-term implications of contaminated groundwater and a possible fix. Military airfields are suspected as a source of PFC contamination, and a broad investigation is planned, with drilling in October at Peterson Air Force Base east of Colorado Springs.

“Our short-term to mid-term solution is to use more surface water, which is not affected by these contaminants. Our mid-term to long-term solution will be to treat the groundwater,” said Heald, who met with Air Force officials and will continue those discussions. Security also has requested financial help from the EPA, CDPHE and elected officials.

“Security Water is a relatively small water district, and the costs of managing this issue is expensive for our customers,” Heald said.

Security residents typically pay about $25 a month for their water.

Widefield officials said they’ll set up a free bottled water distribution station — limiting residents to 10 gallons a week. They’re relying as much as possible on water from Pueblo, although they may draw from contaminated wells to meet peak demands during summer as temperatures rise.

Fountain utility officials planned to notify residents about PFCs in notices mailed along with July water bills. Fountain normally draws from eight municipal wells, all now contaminated with PFCs above the EPA limit, and has shifted to water from Pueblo while contract engineers search for a solution.

Yet Ingals from CDPHE pointed out that these cities “cannot function on surface water alone. … There are groundwater wells that are being pumped. … The wells kick on and off at different intervals. … Because it is not predicable, we cannot tell you that it always is safe…

CDPHE experts in February began a preliminary assessment of cancer rates in the area south of Colorado Springs and on June 30 completed a report showing elevated cancer rates. The CDPHE team found lung cancer rates 66 percent higher than expected, bladder cancer up 17 percent and kidney cancer up 34 percent. CDPHE officials emphasized there’s no clear link to PFCs…

The assessment looked at births from 2010-14 and all cases of 11 types of cancer from 2000-2014 in 21 census tracts covering Security, Widefield and Fountain. CDPHE researchers compared these with birth and cancer data from the rest of El Paso County.

They found no spike in low birth weights in the areas where water is contaminated with PFCs. But there were a higher-than-expected rates of lung, kidney and bladder cancers.

“Of these types of cancer, only kidney cancer has been plausibly linked to PFC exposure in human and laboratory animal studies,” Van Dyke said.

The increases may be explained by higher rates of smoking and obesity in the area. Smoking and obesity, CDPHE officials said, may be factors explaining the increased kidney cancer.

More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Residents from across Security, Widefield and Fountain flocked to hear more than a dozen federal, state, local and military officials hold a town hall about the work being done to clean the water in the Widefield aquifer.

As the evening wore on, one question rose above the rest: Why must residents have to incur more costs for bottled water and home filters because of a problem that wasn’t their fault?

“Why does the consumer have to pay more?” one man asked, to applause. He received no answer…

Roughly 60,000 people are served by water districts pulling from the contaminated Widefield aquifer, most of whom are in Security, Widefield and Fountain, officials said Thursday.

However, the majority of those people receive clean surface water pumped in by the Pueblo Reservoir. About 10,000 to 15,000 people receive contaminated water from wells tapped into the aquifer – and even they sometimes receive clean surface water, depending on daily water usage, a state health official said.

In general, those affected homes are along the western portions of Security and Widefield. Fountain has switched to clean surface water…

Throughout the meeting, officials stressed they are doing all they can to fix the problem.

Within a month, the Widefield Water and Sanitation District plans to set up a water dispensing site, allowing residents along the western portions of Widefield to receive up to 10 gallons of water a week. It is also working on a construction project to pump in more surface water.

Security officials announced a deal Thursday with Colorado Springs Utilities to increase the amount of Southern Delivery System water it will receive.

The project, which could take three months to complete, will likely end the community’s reliance on well water until a more permanent solution can be implemented. It might, however, come at the cost of higher water rates next year, the district’s water manager said.

Fountain officials also are working on a treatment plant.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

#Colorado Springs helps districts with water contamination — KOAA.com

From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

The water districts are all connected through the Fountain Valley Authority and the Southern Delivery System project, which just went online last week. Right now, the SDS is coming in handy for Fountain, Security and Widefield.

Colorado Springs ratepayers turned Thursday’s public meeting about updates to the long-term Integrated Water Resource Plan into a Q&A session, asking what happens when neighboring districts are impacted by fracking, drought and contamination. Springs Utilities revealed to News 5 that the company is already helping in the efforts to deliver clean water to the three impacted communities after learning they had man-made compounds above the EPA’s new advisory level in their groundwater. “Right now, Springs Utilities staff is working with the staff of those entities to determine how they can use their allocations through the Fountain Valley Authority and SDS to augment their groundwater sources,” says CSU water resources manager Brett Gracely.

Colorado Springs shares the Widefield aquifer where the PFCs were found, but it has not used any water from it since the early 2000s. Now the other, smaller districts are scrambling to find other options. Springs citizens agree they should be good neighbors, but are still concerned about their own water. Ratepayer Dennis Moore says, “We’ve got to do something to help them, but how do we help them within our own resources without depleting our resources? It’s going to be interesting, so they’ve got to find a manageable way to do that.”

Instead of using its planned share of Pueblo Reservoir water through SDS and the FVA pipelines, Colorado Springs is letting the others siphon off a greater allotment, using other already established sources to provide water to its customers. Gracely says, “Because it’s a joint public health concern, it’s not well-defined, so we’ll do what we can in terms of in-kind services and our existing collaborations.”

As Colorado Springs continues to explore new options for retaining and delivering water for future generations, citizens agree that it is better to have extra as an insurance plan, since you never know when you will need it. “I remember back when, when people were fighting SDS and everything,” says Moore, “and now I’m beginning to see it’s a very good reason to have it.”

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

“The history of #Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects” — Mayor John Suthers

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Usually a water treatment plant just sits off to the side of a city, pumping along with little notice unless something goes wrong.

But more than 300 people gathered Friday at the Edward W. Bailey treatment plant on Colorado Springs’ east side to dedicate the Southern Delivery System.

A choir belted out “God Bless America” with its inspiration, Pikes Peak, as a backdrop. People who had worked on the project over its more than 20-year history reconnected. At the end, there was a grand toast with — what else? — a jigger of water from keepsake mini-jugs.

“The history of Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects,” Mayor John Suthers told the crowd. “Without those bold and ambitious water projects, Colorado Springs would be a city of only 20,000 or 30,000.”

Instead it has grown to 450,000, and with SDS makes it possible for the city to get bigger.

That made most of the people at the ceremony happy. Suthers and others praised the regional benefits of SDS, urging cooperation in areas such as economic development and transportation.

“Water has been our community’s greatest challenge and its greatest resource,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities. “Nothing happens without water.”

Forte detailed the history of the $825 million water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, explaining that planning dates back to 1996, when the idea crystallized in the Colorado Springs Water Plan. It was one of four alternatives in the document, but the only one that made it to the finish line.

It was a tortured run, however, filled with disputes in Lake, Chaffee, Fremont, Pueblo and Crowley counties. Forte nodded at the entanglements only briefly.

“There were lots of opportunity to build character and relationships,” he deadpanned as the crowd started chuckling.

Instead, he concentrated on the accomplishments that led to SDS, recognizing former officials such as Lionel Rivera, who was mayor of Colorado Springs when a deal was made in 2004 on Arkansas River flows through Pueblo. Seated next to Rivera was Randy Thurston, who pushed his fellow members on Pueblo City Council to approve the agreement. He enumerated the benefits of SDS to Colorado Springs’ partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

Forte also lamented that SDS required 470 permits, which was a good set-up line for Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who joked: “How many of you thought SDS stood for Still Doing Studies.”

On a serious note, Gardner praised the collaboration it took to build SDS, saying more projects like it are needed, citing their importance in Colorado’s Water Plan.

“If we do not invest in water projects, Colorado will see a shortfall of 500,000 acre-feet per year,” Gardner said. “That’s five times the supply of Colorado Springs.”

While the event maintained a festive spirit, some from Pueblo County who attended were more low-key in their assessment of SDS.

“Technologically, it’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Bill Alt, whose property on Fountain Creek is being destroyed because of increased flows from the north. “I’m not sure all the cooperation they were talking about is there. I’d have to say the stormwater agreement probably benefit everyone.”

Jane Rhodes, who also owns land on Fountain Creek, said there are still challenges ahead in dealing with Fountain Creek flooding.

“The first of the $50 million payments will come, and one of those projects is on my land,” Rhodes said. “I’m glad SDS is done so the projects can get started.”

From 9News.com (Maya Rodriquez):

Fifty million gallons: it’s the amount of water that will be flowing through a new water system every day.

It’s called the Southern Delivery System, or SDS. It is the largest water system built in the western U.S. so far in the 21st century.

The planning for it began 20 years ago. After nearly a billion dollars and more than 470 permits later, it’s now a reality in Colorado Springs.

“In the whole western United States, water is probably the most precious commodity that we have and all of us need to do what we can to steward water,” Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said.

That is where the system comes in – it is designed to treat water efficiently, as more and more people move to southern Colorado.

“This is all the piping that goes put to the finished water tank to be delivered to the customer,” said Operations Superintendent Chad Sell. “One of the most state of the art facilities in Colorado.”

The system serves more than a half million people in Colorado Springs, parts of Pueblo and the communities of Fountain and Security. Within 50 years, though, 900,000 people are expected to get their water from SDS.

“I think the long-term vision that put this in place means we’re good for the next 50 years,” said Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair Andy Pico. “We have water. Water in the West is critical.”

Even as they celebrate the opening of the SDS as it stands now, they’re already planning for a second phase that will eventually expand it to handle more water for more people.

Colorado Springs officials say the SDS project did not receive any state or federal dollars. The 830-million dollar project, which also came in more than $100 million under budget, is being funded through bonds and will be paid for by its water customers of today and the next 30 years.

From KRDO.com (Angelica Lombardi):

After more than 20 years of planning and construction, Colorado Springs Utilities dedicated the historic Southern Delivery System water project at the Edward W. Bailey water treatment plant Friday morning.

On April 28, history flowed out of this historic Southern Delivery System for the first time.

It took decades of planning and six years of construction and Friday morning the hard work was recognized.

“I’ve been involved in this project for 14-plus years. To see it complete with excellence and all the people who contributed. I was overwhelmed,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities…

“It’s amazing for Colorado Springs and our partners. It means water for the future. We call Southern Delivery ‘water for generations’ and what that means is our children and grandchildren will be able to have water in Colorado Springs for 50, 60-plus years from now,” said Forte.

The water is pumped out of the Pueblo Reservoir and makes its way through 50 miles of pipeline going through three pump stations and ending at Colorado Springs…

It took more than 470 permits to finalize the project.

SDS Facts

  • The Water Treatment Plant has approximately 200 miles of electrical wires and cables, enough to stretch from the Water Treatment Plant site nearly to the International Space Station or the Pueblo Reservoir four times.
  • The Water Treatment Plant used enough rebar to fill 54, 50-foot rail cars or a train half-a-mile
  • If the concrete masonry blocks used in construction of the Water Treatment Plant were stacked, they would be four-and-a-half times taller than Pikes Peak.
  • The raw water tank at the Water Treatment Plant has a capacity of 10 million gallons, enough to fill 200,000 bathtubs.
  • 5,401 truckloads of pipe to SDS projects
  • Net tons of steel used for pipe furnished was 37,810.
  • From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Some 400 to 500 people gathered at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, 977 N. Marksheffel Road, Friday morning to dedicate the Southern Delivery System pipeline project.

    The project, 20 years in the making,d represents the service, safety, commitment and excellence brought to bear by hundreds, even thousands, of people, said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte.

    He noted that the project adds another noteworthy item to Colorado Springs’ water history, which began in the late 1800s when city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer built the El Paso County Canal from Fountain Creek on what is now 33rd Street, Forte said.

    SDS, he noted, will provide water for generations to come.

    SDS first appeared in the city’s water master plan in 1996 and was geared to supply water to the 20,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch, which had been annexed into the city in 1988. Only a fraction of that property is built out, but SDS now is viewed as a crucial component of the city’s existing system to ensure redundancy. Most of the city’s water comes from transmountain systems built in the 1950s and 1980s. SDS brings water from Pueblo Reservoir.

    Although Rep. Doug Lamborn heralded the project for not requiring federal money, the Pueblo Dam and reservoir project was part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas project built in the 1960s and 1970s by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, along with a special district that collected property tax money in the region. SDS, obviously, wouldn’t have been possible without that reservoir on the Arkansas River.

    City Council President Merv Bennett demonstrated the span of time needed to plan and build SDS by noting 11 Councils have played key roles in the project. He recognized El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a former Council member, who he said laid the groundwork for relationships with Pueblo officials; former Mayor Lionel Rivera, who oversaw the project as both mayor and a Council member; Randy Thurston, former Pueblo City Council member; former Vice Mayor Larry Small, who now runs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which grew from SDS negotiations; and Margaret Radford, former Council member who now works for an SDS contractor, MWH Global.

    CSU Chair Andy Pico boasted that the project was originally envisioned to cause water rates to increase by 121 percent, but it has required increases to rates of only 52 percent. The $825 million project came in $160 million under budget.

    Mayor John Suthers also spoke. His role might have been one of the most pivotal, because he sorted out a mess created by his predecessor, Steve Bach, in terms of the city’s stormwater situation, which had become a nearly insurmountable barrier to the project.

    First, Suthers had to deal with federal and state clean-water regulators who have accused the city of failing to comply with the Clean Water Act for years before Suthers took office in June 2015. Those negotiations are ongoing. Second, Suthers had to find a quick solution to stormwater improvements to satisfy Pueblo County commissioners, who threatened to reopen the city’s SDS construction permit. (Bach opposed a ballot measure in 2014 that would have funded stormwater work.)

    Suthers finessed a deal in which the city agreed to spend $460 million in the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain the city’s drainage facilities. Pueblo officials accepted the deal, clearing the way for water to begin flowing through the SDS pipeline in late April, as scheduled. (Bach was invited to, but did not attend, Friday’s SDS dedication.)

    Suthers said the city would have remained a tourist town of 20,000 but for its water resources. “Our future is bright, and we are poised for continued success,” he said.

    In a surprise development, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., showed up and lauded the city for the project. “It can’t be said enough how important water infrastructure is to the state of Colorado,” he said. “It’s our past. It’s our present, and it’s our future. It’s my hope this [project] can be replicated throughout Colorado, because water will continue to drive our success.”

    Others who spoke included CSU’s Chief Water Officer Dan Higgins, and the project director since 2007, attorney John Fredell, who became the face of SDS in the past decade through contracting, negotiations with neighbors, legal wrangling and interviews with the media. About 470 permits were required for the project.

    As Forte said, “We never would have reached this point today without one person,” that being Fredell.

    When Fredell stepped to the dais, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that included elected officials, contractors, project partners, officials from surrounding towns and Pueblo, Utilities employees and citizens.

    Fredell, in turn, thanked Forte for his “trust and vision and leading every step of the way.”

    After the speeches, the crowd was invited to open gift boxes at each chair which contained a commemorative coin and a little glass of SDS water, used to toast the project.

    All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.
    All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.

    To take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch history of the Southern Delivery Click here and click here.

    Separate utilities board for #Colorado Springs?

    Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
    Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    When you pay that bill to Colorado Springs Utilities each month, you might not realize that Colorado Springs owns the four-utility organization, and it’s run by the City Council, which also functions as the Utilities Board.

    Mayor John Suthers, Council President Merv Bennett and Colorado Springs Forward, a powerful nonprofit, want to see an appointed board take over governance of the $1 billion-a-year public entity.

    Most City Council members don’t. They want either an elected board or no change at all. So Suthers and Colorado Springs Forward are pushing for a compromise – a hybrid board, with a majority of appointed members plus a few elected ones.

    What’s the best model to govern Utilities? Through the City Council, as is done now, a different elected board, an appointed board or a combination of both? And if members will be appointed, who should appoint them?

    Current Utilities Board members could recommend a switch to any of those new models, but they don’t decide whether a change actually gets made. That will be up to voters, the ratepayers themselves, who are expected to see a ballot proposal in April.

    The hybrid board

    This model is widely regarded as dysfunctional, and the Utilities Board voted unanimously May 25 to reject it as an option.

    “The hybrid governance model is rare, for good reason,” said Jeff Tarbert, consulting facilitator for the Utilities Board’s governance review. “Any model that has the consequence of creating unintended factions or creates confusion concerning where a board’s ultimate fiduciary duty lies makes effective governance more difficult.”

    Bennett said, “All the research we’ve done, in every instance, it (the hybrid model) created dysfunction. I could accept either (appointed or elected); I much prefer an appointed board.”

    Board member Keith King said he sat on the Colorado League of Charter Schools’ hybrid board for 14 years and watched as fighting factions formed.

    “In the end, it was a non-functioning board. A hybrid does not work well because people who are elected then are appointing people to the board. It makes for conflicts,” King said.

    The league structure was changed four years ago. Now all its members are elected, King said.

    Colorado Springs Forward leaders said in a statement to The Gazette they prefer the elected model: “While we see many advantages to the all-appointed option . we believe the hybrid of appointed and elected is the better alternative .”

    The status quo

    Some Utilities Board members believe they’re doing a fine job in that role even while serving on the City Council.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler.

    “They say they want people who would focus exclusively on Utilities. Tell me who that is. Give me a name. Those who are qualified are probably CEOs of other companies, and I don’t think they’re going to have any more time than I do.”

    That’s a reversal from Gaebler’s position six months ago, when she said serving Utilities and its committees took too much time. “I don’t think it’s fair to ask that much of a council that has a whole other role at $6,250 a year,” she said then.

    Gaebler’s previous viewpoint resonates with some of her colleagues. As council members, they have their hands full working on marijuana regulatory reforms, a new strategic plan, a review of the City Code and myriad landslide, land swap, planning, rezoning and other issues.

    The time crunch has become intense for a council facing contentious issues in a city of nearly a half million people while also supervising Utilities in the increasingly complex energy and water arena.

    But Gaebler and others say they can oversee Utilities if they’re given better resources.

    “The longer I look at it, the more I’m inclined to leave it with the City Council,” King said. “I’m not sure we’d be getting higher-qualified people running Utilities than what we’re already doing. If the council could have staff, the ability to do research, the ability to really govern . I think we would be able to govern it well.”

    Board member Bill Murray pointed to a J.D. Powers study that ranked Utilities No. 2 in the West among mid-size utilities for customer satisfaction as proof that ratepayers have no issue with Utilities’ governance.

    “In this particular case, the name of the game is control of the Utilities,” Murray said. “The mayor needs to control Utilities because he needs the money.”

    But while some board members say they provide good accountability for Utilities, critics say City Council members lack scientific knowledge to run the enterprise effectively.

    “This board – being elected and being politicians – they’re so easily swayed,” said Jacquie Ostrom, who served on Utilities’ Customer Advisory Group last year to help develop its Electric Integrated Resource Plan. “CSU works so hard to schmooze them and be their friend. We need to gain information and knowledge outside of CSU. . There’s just no way these politicians can bring the kind of expertise we need.”

    “In the past,” said board member Don Knight, “we’ve had board members who won’t believe a single word the staff tells them, and we’ve had board members who will never question the board. Whether appointed or elected, we need a board that will know when you have to dig deep and question, when something doesn’t seem right on the surface or is an incomplete solution.”

    Environmental activist John Crandall said competency is an issue, citing a previous City Council’s decision in 2011 to sign a $111.8 million contract for unproven coal-plant scrubber technology without putting the project out to bid.

    “My emphasis is on competency,” said Crandall. “That’s what I want to see on the board, and we’ve never had that. It’s a hell of a job.”

    Monument attorney Leslie Weise, a clean-air advocate, said City Council candidates aren’t asked about their qualifications to serve on the Utilities Board.

    “It’s almost an afterthought that you have this extra duty to run a $1 billion business that’s highly technical, regulated and complex,” Weise said. “From what I’ve observed, it’s not functioning.”

    Some ratepayers favor a governing board of experts in air quality, water quality, medical effects of air pollution and other specialties. That’s not the plan, though. Current members want a board of management experts, such as CEOs with business backgrounds.

    The appointed board

    A random check of municipal utilities about the size of the local department shows all have unpaid, appointed boards.

    “I come from a nonprofit environment, where all our boards are appointed,” Bennett said. “Personally, I think we can get better talent through an appointed board.”

    Said Suthers: “Utilities is getting more and more complex – the role of renewables, when to terminate coal-fired power. I would like to bring more expertise to the table. I would love to feel more comfortable with the Neumann Systems (scrubbers). You don’t get that kind of expertise in an elected board.”

    Lincoln Electric System in Nebraska has nine board members representing the utility’s service area. The City Council can recommend nominees, who are chosen by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

    The Knoxville (Tenn.) Utilities Board of seven commissioners nominates its own replacements, who then are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. The board also appoints a president and CEO.

    The public utility in Tacoma, Wash., has a five-member board appointed by the City Council.

    The five-member board for the Orlando, Fla., utility consists of the mayor, three Orlando residents and one from unincorporated Orange County.

    Orlando has a nominating board that vets candidates for appointments. When a seat opens, a few nominees are selected, and the sitting utilities board interviews them and chooses one.

    And the five-member utility board for Chattanooga, Tenn., is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.

    But even if the Colorado Springs City Council appointed the Utilities Board, most current members don’t favor that model.

    “I have not seen any appointments, whether by the mayor or fellow council members, that have not been approved for confirmation,” Knight said. “I don’t think we do a really good job of a complete vetting and getting the people’s input on it. The other concern I have, I’ve also seen nobody (appointed) ever get dismissed.

    “If I buy stock in any company, and I don’t like what the board of directors is doing, I can sell my stock. I can’t do that as a CSU ratepayer. The ultimate accountability is to the ratepayers, and those are the voters. When you’re appointed, you’re also beholden to the person who appointed you.”

    A new elected board

    Like Knight, most other current Utilities Board members say if any change is made, it should be to a separate elected board.

    Murray said he’d be willing to turn Utilities governance over to an elected board. “But that would be the only way I’d do it. . We’re very concerned about the appointment process because, historically, the mayor appoints, and you’ve never even seen who applied.”

    Utilities Board Chairman Andres Pico, who initially balked at the idea of shedding board responsibilities, now says he’s willing to consider that change, but only to an elected board, which ratepayers overwhelmingly preferred in a recent survey by Utilities.

    “With a company, the stockholders pick the board the majority of the time, and the board answers to the stockholders,” Pico said. “And that’s the same here: The citizens are the stockholders. I adamantly think an elected board is the way to go.”

    Colorado Springs Forward, whose PAC endorses and donates money to candidates, said it can’t support an all-elected board because that would set up “a situation where election politics and special-interest agendas will dominate the election process, creating a highly politicized board.”

    The Utilities Board expects to decide in July whether to recommend a change and, if so, what change or changes.

    Whether appointed or elected, Bennett said, a change is needed. “We need a City Council who gives 100 percent attention to the city and a Utilities board who gives 100 percent attention to Utilities.”

    “We’ve got a lot of capable people here in the city, and I think we can find the folks who can do the job,” said Councilman Larry Bagley, who is leaning in favor of an appointed board. “I don’t have any qualms about it being a separate board or different people doing it. I think it’ll work.”

    #Colorado Springs pays first $10M to Fountain Creek district — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Fountain Creek
    Fountain Creek

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities presented the first of five $10 million payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District this week.

    The check was actually for $9,578,817, in order to reflect prepayment of $600,000 and interest payments.

    The payment of $50 million to the district is a condition of the Pueblo County 1041 agreement with Pueblo County, reached in 2009 for the construction of the Southern Delivery System.

    The district has plans to spend about $2.5 million this year, as it continues studies of where the best sites for dams or detention ponds are located. The money could be used to leverage funds for large projects such as a dam.

    The second $10 million payment is due Jan. 15.

    The money is to be used for Fountain Creek flood control projects, including a possible dam, that have a primary, not incidental benefit to Pueblo.

    The release of the money was made possible by the settlement of stormwater control issues that arose after Colorado Springs abolished its stormwater enterprise in 2009. That agreement requires Colorado Springs to spend an additional $460 million to control stormwater in the city.

    The enterprise was in place when Pueblo County issued its 1041 permit in 2009, which allowed Colorado Springs Utilities to construct the 17-mile portion of the pipeline in Pueblo County.

    SDS is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West all benefit from the $825 million project.

    Meanwhile, Fountain Creek keeps knocking out Colorado Springs’ stormwater control projects. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Two projects meant to improve Fountain Creek through Pueblo have not held up well, but the city is not in a position to simply walk away from them.

    Both were kicked off with a great deal of fanfare in 2011 as part of a $1.5 million demonstration project, but neither was able to withstand high water that came in single events in 2011 and 2013 or in a prolonged deluge in 2015.

    Jeff Bailey, Pueblo’s stormwater director, gave a bleak assessment to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday of the side detention pond that was built behind the North Side Walmart and the sediment collector located just north of the confluence with the Arkansas River.

    He inherited both projects two years ago, and didn’t sound thrilled with either. But because of the investment put into the collector and the environmental implications of the detention pond, he is obligated to try to make them work.

    The pond was designed to collect water as it backs up from a full channel, then slowly release it as the water recedes.

    But the detention pond flooded in September 2011 before the project was completely finished. That scoured the ground too deeply, causing the pond to intercept groundwater. There wasn’t enough money to fill the pond, so the city — through an arrangement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works — must repay the evaporation costs each year.

    The floods in 2013 and 2015 damaged the east retaining wall of the pond and took out most of the service road to the north bank. Disaster funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be applied to repairing the embankment, but the money is slow in coming, Bailey explained.

    The Army Corps of Engineers won’t allow the city to disturb the wetlands that were created as part of the project. Finally, sediment has clogged the inlet/outlet pipe.

    “Because of all this stuff, it’s difficult to maintain,” Bailey said.

    The sediment collector was put in by Streamside Systems, and billed as a way to continuously dredge Fountain Creek by removing sediment as water washed over the large concrete structure. But differing opinions about where it should be placed and how it should be operating led to failure after it initially collected a pile of sand.

    The device relies on pumps to remove sediment laden water, then return the water to the exact point where it was taken out. But when it is turned off, sediment continues to fall into it.

    “It’s very labor intensive to clean out the collector and the pipes,” Bailey said.

    No sediment has been collected since July 2013, and the collector is buried under 3-4 feet of sand.
    “Since I came into stormwater, I’ve decided to give it one more college try and attempt to make it operational at low flows,” Bailey said. “We’re hoping to do it this winter. But we have to get it set up before we can turn it back on.”

    Bailey said collectors work in other places, and there’s still a chance Pueblo’s could be functional. He plans to install a concrete “forebay” that could be easily cleaned, and then perhaps it could begin collecting large amounts of sediment.

    During the initial installation, there were discussions about what to do with the sediment.

    “That’s a problem I’d love to have,” Bailey said.

    Some of the funding for the project could come from $3 million that Colorado Springs Utilities made available through its recent settlement with Pueblo County and $2.2 million that it paid earlier to settle dredging issues under the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System. Already, $350,000 has been spent on the sediment collector.

    Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, chairman of the Fountain Creek board, said that money also has to be used for such things as debris removal as well.

    “But some of the money could go for (the collector),” Hart said, “We’ve invested a lot of money in it already.”

    Glenwood Springs paddling toward whitewater parks, but rapids ahead

    Looking up the Colorado River from the mouth of the Roaring Fork River. One of three proposed whitewater parks would be built in the river just upstream of the pedestrian bridge.
    Looking up the Colorado River from the mouth of the Roaring Fork River. One of three proposed whitewater parks would be built in the river just upstream of the pedestrian bridge.

    By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    GLENWOOD SPRINGS — In its effort to secure water rights for three proposed whitewater parks on the Colorado River, the city of Glenwood Springs has reached formal or conceptual agreements with a list of opposing parties in the water court case, including Denver Water, but it’s still facing opposition from Aurora and Colorado Springs.

    “We have a number of parties that have already settled,” said Mark Hamilton, an attorney with Holland and Hart representing Glenwood. “And while there are still some significant question marks, we think the process so far has been productive and continues to be productive.”

    Since December 2013, the city has been seeking a recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) water right tied to three whitewater parks on the popular Grizzly-to-Two Rivers section of the Colorado River, at No Name, Horseshoe Bend and the upper end of Two Rivers Park.

    The two wave-forming structures in each of the three whitewater parks would operate under a common water right that could call for 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2,500 cfs of water for up to 41 days between April 30 and July 23, and 4,000 cfs on five consecutive days sometime between June 30 and July 6.

    The 1,250 cfs level is the same as the senior water right tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant, which is upstream from the three proposed whitewater parks. Glenwood officials have previously said, however, that 2,500 cfs is a better level for boating and floating than 1,250 cfs, and the city wants the flows of 4,000 cfs for five days around the Fourth of July to hold expert whitewater competitions.

    But Aurora and Colorado Springs, both as individual cities, and together as the Homestake Partners, have told the water court that Glenwood is seeking more water than it needs.

    “Glenwood has ignored the law limiting a RICD to the minimum flow necessary for a reasonable recreation experience, and instead has reverse-engineered its proposed RICD to tie up half the flow of the mainstem of the Colorado River,” the Front Range cities said in a June 2015 statement filed with the court.

    And the cities, which own conditional water rights upstream of Glenwood, said that the city’s proposed water right “would dramatically and adversely affect the future of water use in the Colorado River drainage, if not the entire state.”

    Hamilton has met twice this year with representatives of Aurora and Colorado Springs, most recently on April 22 in Denver, to see if a deal can be worked out on how much water is appropriate.

    “We’re talking,” said Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager at Aurora Water. “But, we’ll see where it goes.”

    “There are ongoing negotiations and discussions that seem to be productive at this time,” said Kevin Lusk, principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities. “Whether or not we can reach agreement, of course, is really up to how those discussions go.”

    A status conference with the water court referee is set for June 23. The referee could then decide to send the application up to James Boyd, the judge who hears Division 5 water court cases in Glenwood Springs, or the parties in the case could ask for more time to keep talking before heading to trial.

    “We are actively communicating with Colorado Springs and Aurora concerning the possible development of additional call reduction provisions in order to protect future yield to their systems,” Hamilton said. “And we remain hopeful that a stipulated decree may be able to be entered after completion of these ongoing negotiations.”

    Glenwood has recently worked out a “call reduction provision” with Denver Water.

    “There has been a lot of progress on our end with the RICD discussions,” said Travis Thompson, a senior media coordinator at Denver Water. “In fact, in the collaborative spirit of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA), Denver Water has agreed to allow Glenwood Springs to exceed 1,250 cfs under certain conditions.”

    In the CRCA, signed in 2013, Denver Water agreed not to oppose a future recreational water right application if it did not seek flows greater than 1,250 cfs. But given that Glenwood is also seeking 46 days at 2,500 cfs and five days at 4,000 cfs, above the relatively consistent flow of 1,250 cfs, Denver did file a statement of opposition in this case.

    Glenwood and Denver have now agreed that Glenwood would reduce its call for the whitewater parks to 1,250 cfs if continuing to call at a higher rate, such as 2,500 cfs, would limit a potential future water project that is described in the CRCA as providing 20,000 acre-feet to the East Slope.

    Staff at Denver Water approved such an agreement with Glenwood on March 9, according to Thompson, and Hamilton said a copy would soon be filed with the court.

    A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city is seeking non-consumptive recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) rights tied to six rock structures built in the river, two in each of the three parks.
    A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city is seeking non-consumptive recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) rights tied to six rock structures built in the river, two in each of the three parks.

    Other opposers

    Glenwood enjoys the support of three “opposers” in the case: American Whitewater, Western Resource Advocates and Grand County, as the entities have filed statements “of opposition in support,” which is an option in Colorado’s water courts.

    And Glenwood has now filed formal agreements in water court that it has reached with five other true opposers with a range of issues: Glenwood Springs Hot Springs & Lodge Pool, Inc., BLM, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Ute Water Conservancy District.

    The Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge & Pool is concerned about the project disrupting the deep Leadville limestone aquifer that provides its hot water.

    But they’ve reached an agreement with the city that allows them to review construction plans for the wave structures at the Two Rivers Park location and requires the city to monitor the resulting wave structures for five years to watch for scouring of the riverbed, among other provisions.

    And an agreement between Glenwood and the BLM was filed with the court in June 2015. It says that if the city needs to cross BLM property to create a whitewater park in Horseshoe Bend then the city will go through the required federal land use process.

    The city has also signed a memorandum of understanding with CDOT that moves issues coming from the use of land at the No Name rest area on I-70 out of water court and into a future potential land-use application.

    “One of the conditions is that the city will have to work with CDOT as they move forward with building the whitewater park, as the (No Name) location falls in CDOT right-of-way,” said Tracy Trulove, a communications manager for CDOT. The agreement has yet to be filed with the court.

    A graphic presented to the Glenwood Springs city council in December showing the size and timing of the city's water right application on the Colorado River. The large dark blue block at the bottom represents a seasonal base line flow of 1,250 cfs. The smaller block on top represents 46 days at 2,500, the narrow dark blue spike is 5 days at 4,000 cfs.
    A graphic presented to the Glenwood Springs city council in December showing the size and timing of the city's water right application on the Colorado River. The large dark blue block at the bottom represents a seasonal base line flow of 1,250 cfs. The smaller block on top represents 41 days at 2,500, the narrow dark blue spike is 5 days at 4,000 cfs.

    District support

    The city is also close to finalizing agreements with the Colorado River District, the town of Gypsum, and the West Divide Water Conservancy District, according to Hamilton.

    Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, which represents 15 West Slope counties, said staff at the district is now comfortable with proposed settlement language in the Glenwood case.

    And he said once the district’s initial goals in a RICD case are met, the district often stays in the case on the side of the applicants “in order to support the right of its constituents to use water for recreational purposes that will support and/or enhance the local economy.”

    “We anticipate that such participation may be necessary in the Glenwood Springs RICD case,” Fleming said.

    At the end of the list of opposers is the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency whose board of directors in June 2015 recommended against the proposed RICD after concluding it would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.

    “While we stand by our initial decision on this RICD, we’re encouraged that the applicants are actively seeking resolution with stakeholders and hope they will resolve the issues we raised,” James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said this week.

    Eklund said the CWCB staff will likely reconsider Glenwood’s proposal after it has reached agreements with other opposing parties in the case, and if staff is satisfied, bring the proposed decree back to the board.

    “Water for recreation in Glenwood Springs and around Colorado is essential and we want to make sure all RICDs strike the right legal, design, and safety balance,” Eklund said.

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

    History in the Making: SDS Starts Water Delivery [April 28]

    Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

    One of the largest water infrastructure projects completed in the U.S. this century started delivering water today to homes and businesses in Colorado Springs, Colo. The commencement of the Southern Delivery System (SDS) culminates decades of planning and nearly six years of construction.

    See video.

    “The Southern Delivery System is a critical water project that will enable the continued quality of life southern Coloradans enjoy. The water provided through SDS means future economic growth for our community,” said Jerry Forte, Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Springs Utilities.

    Not only does SDS meet the immediate and future water needs of Colorado Springs and its project partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West through 2040, it also increases system reliability should other parts of the water system need maintenance or repairs. The project will also help provide drought protection, a significant benefit in the arid west.

    Construction started in 2010 and concluded in 2016. Originally forecast to cost just under $1 billion, SDS is started on time and more than $160 million under budget costing $825 million.

    “On time and under budget are words rarely used to describe large infrastructure projects,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director. “We adopted a philosophy that ‘these are ratepayer dollars’ and managed the project with exceptional rigor. It was the responsible approach to spending hundreds of millions of dollars of public money.”

    Components of SDS
    SDS is a regional project that includes 50 miles of pipeline, three raw water pump stations, a water treatment plant (pictured above), and a finished water pump station. It will be capable, in its first phase, of delivering 50 million gallons of water per day and serving residents and businesses through 2040.

    Key permits and approvals for SDS required $50 million in mitigation payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed District, funding for sediment control, habitat improvements and other environmental mitigation measures. Additionally, Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, just this week, both approved an intergovernmental agreement requiring Colorado Springs to invest $460 million over 20 years to improve the management of stormwater that makes its way into Fountain Creek.

    Early on in the project, SDS program leaders agreed to spend at least 30 percent of construction dollars on local contractors. More than $585 million, or about 70 percent of the SDS budget, went to Colorado businesses.

    “SDS is one of the most important projects many of us will ever work on,” said Forte. “This is a legacy project – one that benefits so many people today, tomorrow and for generations to come. This is an amazing day for our organization and for southern Colorado.”

    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

    From the Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:

    Water has begun flowing into Colorado Springs through a new 50-mile pipeline from the Arkansas River.

    The city says the $825 million Southern Delivery System started operating Thursday.

    The system is designed to handle growth in the state’s second-largest city until 2040 and provide a backup for its current aging system.

    Pueblo West, Fountain and Security also get water from the pipeline.

    The project includes modifications to Pueblo Dam on the Arkansas River, three pumping stations and a treatment plant.

    Separately, Colorado Springs had to commit $460 million to reduce sediment in Fountain Creek. The sediment harms downstream communities in Pueblo County, and the county threatened to revoke a required permit for the pipeline if the issue wasn’t addressed.

    SDS: “It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully” — John Fredell

    Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    The $825 million Southern Delivery System’s treatment plant was ready to serve drinking water Wednesday, as a project 20 years in the making finally made its debut.

    The distribution system will be turned on Thursday to deliver water to Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain, and water will begin reaching those customers Friday. The SDS already supplies water to Pueblo West, which needed early assistance after a major water pipe in its system broke.

    “Things are going great, just like we’ve always planned,” SDS Project Manager John Fredell said Wednesday. “We’ve worked on a lot of these issues a long time to get ready.”

    The project hit a snag last year when Pueblo County, which had issued the essential SDS 1041 permit, began seriously pressuring Colorado Springs leaders.

    The county insisted on more city stormwater projects to protect downstream residents from excessive flows, sediment buildup and water quality degradation in Fountain Creek.

    The City Council signed an intergovernmental agreement April 20. It promises, among other things, to spend $460 million on 71 mutually beneficial stormwater projects over the next 20 years, with Colorado Springs Utilities guaranteeing any funds the city can’t provide.

    Pueblo County commissioners approved that pact Monday, enabling SDS to kick off its operations on Wednesday, the target date set years ago.

    “It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully,” Fredell acknowledged. “But I really did not fear that it wasn’t going to happen. It was just a matter of timing.”

    Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has spent much of his first year in office negotiating with Pueblo County and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the city’s long-time stormwater program deficiencies.

    Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities, called it “a great day.”

    “I look back at all the things we’ve seen our team experience,” Higgins said. “We’ve been through so much together. It’s just a fantastic experience for everybody that’s been involved.”

    As usual, Fredell credits his project team for a job well done.

    “I’m telling you, without all these great people putting out every ounce of energy they have, we couldn’t have done it,” Fredell said. “And to me that’s just so cool, to bring all these people together and they’re all pulling in the same direction.

    “To me, that’s the coolest thing. I feel like the whole team, we have stronger friendships now than when we started. How many teams can say that? To me, that’s absolutely incredible.”

    The project team determined in July 2009 that the SDS would start operating in April 2016.

    “I’ll feel better Friday,” admitted Kim Mutchler, who has worked on SDS for Utilities’ government and corporate affairs team. “There’s a lot going on between now and then.

    “I’m happy for these guys who have been on this project for so long. It’s just exciting to see (Utilities) board members and previous council members. We had a couple out there yesterday seeing (the plant) for the first time. It’s nice to see them excited.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The need for Colorado Springs to control stormwater on Fountain Creek was always tied to the Southern Delivery System, and the new agreement with Pueblo County is designed to cement the relationship.

    During the permitting process for SDS, stormwater control was mentioned in both the Bureau of Reclamation environmental impact statement and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

    Ever since Colorado Springs City Council abolished its stormwater enterprise in 2009, the city engaged in political gymnastics to assure Pueblo County it was doing enough.

    Monday’s completion of an intergovernmental agreement should represent an end to political bickering over stormwater, because it spells out very clearly what has to be done over the next 20 years.

    Commissioners were quick to point out Monday that the items contained in the agreement are not the only things Colorado Springs must do in relation to SDS under the 1041 permit. But they have to do these things:

    Fund stormwater control with at least $460 million over the next 20 years.

    The funding will go toward 71 projects on a set schedule that can be adjusted only if both parties agree.

    The amount of funding steps up from at least $20 million per year in the first five years to at least $26 million per year in the last five.

    While the money can be matched with other funds, Colorado Springs must come up with the minimum amount, but the sources are not specified. Annual reports are required.

    Colorado Springs also is required to resolve any conflicts with the IGA that might result from action by the Department of Justice, EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over the city’s failure to meet the terms of its municipal stormwater permit from 2013-15.

    A provision of the IGA requires Colorado Springs to notify Pueblo County of any variance to its drainage criteria manual. The failure to apply the document to new development was among deficiencies identified by the EPA in its audit of Colorado Springs’ stormwater permit.

    Regional cooperation on Fountain Creek.

    The IGA triggers the first two payments of $10 million each that were negotiated under the 1041 permit. Five annual payments of $10 million are required. The money must be used for a dam, detention ponds or other flood control structures that protect Pueblo from flows on Fountain Creek that have increased because of growth in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

    The first payment is actually $9,578,817, because of credits for payments already made and an “index” fee, which amounts to interest payments. It will come within 30 days.

    The second $10 million payment will be made Jan. 15.

    The payments go to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which was created by the state Legislature to improve Fountain Creek.

    Formed in 2009, the district grew out of discussions between the two counties. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace sponsored the legislation when he served as a state representative.

    The IGA also provides $125,000 to the district, which will be used in part to help fund a state study of a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek. The money is in addition to the $50 million required under the 1041 permit. The Fountain Creek board will determine exactly how the money is spent.

    Both Pueblo County and Colorado Springs agree to work with other governments to find a permanent source of funding for the Fountain Creek district.

    Colorado Springs also will pay $3 million over three years to the city of Pueblo for repairs to levees, dredging and removal of debris or vegetation in Fountain Creek.

    Pueblo is required to match the money, but can use about $1.8 million that Pueblo County is still holding from $2.2 million Colorado Springs was made to pay for dredging in Pueblo. Some of the money was spent on demonstration projects.

    The agreement also specifies that any disputes will be handled in the same way as disagreements in the 1041 permit. If not successful, legal action over the IGA would be handled in Pueblo District Court.

    Southern Delivery System to be turned on today after decades — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities plans to begin using the Southern Delivery System today, more than seven years after getting the green light from Pueblo County and the Bureau of Reclamation to build it. “We plan on 5 million gallons a day initially, but we may go less. It depends on how we use it,” said John Fredell, SDS project director. “On Thursday, the water we pump will be turned into our system.”

    SDS will be able to operate after an agreement was reached on Fountain Creek stormwater control on issues not explicitly covered in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit. The new agreement contains funding benchmarks that were not originally in place.

    Over the next 40 years, the amount of water pumped through SDS could increase to as much as 75 million gallons a day. Another 18 million gallons a day could be pumped to Pueblo West, which through a special agreement already is using SDS for its water supply.

    The treatment plant as built can treat up to 50 million gallons per day, but eventually could be expanded to treat up to 100 million gallons per day.

    As part of SDS, the city of Fountain can receive more of its water through the Fountain Valley Conduit, a line built from Pueblo Dam in the early 1980s as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

    The other partner in SDS is Security Water and Sanitation, which serves an unincorporated area south of Colorado Springs and has an immediate need for a new water source because of well contamination.

    Construction on the $825 million project began in 2011, one year after the Bureau of Reclamation approved the final contract for the use of Lake Pueblo as part of the project. In 2009, Reclamation issued a record of decision that allowed the project to be built.

    Also in 2009, Pueblo County commissioners approved a land-use permit under the 1974 HB1041, which lets cities or counties regulate projects that cross their boundaries.

    SDS includes a new connection built at Pueblo Dam, three pump stations, a water treatment plant and a treated water pump station. The North Outlet Works, Juniper Pump Station just northeast of Pueblo Dam and about 17 miles of buried 66inch diameter pipeline are the features of SDS in Pueblo County.

    The project grew out of water resources plans that began in the late 1980s, when Colorado Springs purchased controlling interest in the Colorado Canal system in Crowley County.

    In order to use the water, as well as provide redundancy for its other sources of water, Colorado Springs developed a Water Resource Plan in 1996. That plan identified other alternatives to bring water to Colorado Springs, including a route from a new reservoir at Buena Vista, a Fremont County pipeline and a line from Crowley County.

    By the early 2000s, the Buena Vista reservoir was eliminated by environmental protests, and Utilities ruled out Crowley County because of the expense of overcoming water quality issues. By 2008, Fremont County and Pueblo Dam were being seriously considered.

    The Pueblo Dam option was chosen in Reclamation’s record of decision as the route.

    In the second phase of SDS, which is anticipated to begin between 2020-25, two reservoirs would be built on Williams Creek east of Fountain. The upper reservoir would be terminal storage for the pipeline from Pueblo Dam, while the lower one would regulate return flows from Colorado Springs’ wastewater treatment plant into Fountain Creek.

    SDS is designed to serve a population of 900,000, about twice the current number living in Colorado Springs.

    The 1996 water resources plan came at a time when Colorado Springs’ population had increased from 70,000 in 1960 to 330,000 in 1996. Utilities already is working on a 50-year plan to meet its future water resource needs.

    More Coyote Gulch Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

    Pueblo County OKs stormwater deal with Colorado Springs — The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    It was called a historic day for Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.

    Pueblo County commissioners approved an agreement over the Southern Delivery System with its Front Range neighbors to the north during a meeting at the courthouse.

    The agreement is a clarification of the rules and responsibilities with regards of one of the issues with a 1041 permit dealing with the SDS project, mainly how to control stormwater, flooding and sediment transports along Fountain Creek.

    “We think it is historic,” Commissioner Terry Hart said. “This has been a growing process. It’s been a learning process as the growth of Colorado Springs has impacted more and more our downstream community.”

    In the agreement, Colorado Springs would pay more than $605 million to cover environmental damage for SDS should the intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County be approved.

    The proposed deal includes a guarantee to spend at least $460 million over the next 20 years to repair and build storm water structures in Colorado Springs in a way that benefits downstream communities, particularly the city of Pueblo.

    Colorado Springs approved the agreement last week.

    “We are thrilled that we reached this point,” Hart said.

    “A lot of folks see this as an ending to a process and it’s just the opposite. It’s just the beginning. It’s a more cooperative approach between the two communities.”

    Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain

    Mark Pifher and Dallas May join the Southeastern #Colorado Water board of directors

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Two new board members from opposite ends of the water spectrum joined the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday.

    Dallas May, 58, a farmer and rancher from the Lamar area, and Mark Pifher, 65, a former director of Aurora water, were appointed to the board by 10th Judicial District Chief Judge Deborah Eyler and sworn in Thursday.

    Eyler consults with district judges from the areas where appointments are made, because the Southeastern district covers a nine-county area. Terms are for four years.

    May is a fourth-generation farmer who owns water shares on the Fort Lyon Canal, Amity Canal, Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and other ditches in the area. He replaces Leonard Pruett, who served one term on the board.

    “I’ve been passive and always thought someone else would make the decision,” May said. “But given some of the controversial issues going on, I decided it was time to get involved.”

    May said he is most concerned with protecting the water rights of those who choose to continue farming.

    “My concern is that irrigation water does not depart the valley and leave it a wasteland,” May said.
    He also would like to see the completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the top priority project of the Southeastern district.

    “It’s ironic and absurd that Rocky Mountain snowmelt flows past us and we have to buy bottled water,” May said, regarding the need for the conduit. “It’s absurd that people try to buy it and pipe it into another water basin.”

    Pifher, 65, of Colorado Springs, replaces Harold Miskel on the board.

    Miskel, a retired Colorado Springs Utilities executive, had served since 2002.

    Pifher four years ago left Aurora water to work on the Southern Delivery System for Colorado Springs Utilities, retiring last year. He continues as a consultant on SDS and water quality issues. He is the former executive director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

    His expertise on state water issues and additional time on his hands since his retirement led him to apply.

    “I hope to continue the work already started by the district on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the use of water resources and the opportunities for storage,” Pifher said. “I will give a municipal point of view to the board.”

    Reappointed to the board were: Gibson Hazard of Colorado Springs, who has been on the board for 28 years; Kevin Karney, an Otero County rancher and commissioner, now in his eighth year; and Vera Ortegon of Pueblo, a former City Council and water board member, who has been on the board for 12 years.

    Officers were elected as well. Bill Long of Las Animas is president; Gary Bostrom, Colorado Springs, vice president; Ortegon, secretary; and Ann Nichols, Manitou Springs, treasurer.

    #Colorado Springs, three other cities one vote away from [improved] water-supply security — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    Here’s an in depth look at the new Southern Delivery System which is about to go online from Billie Stanton Anleu writing in The Colorado Springs Gazette. Click through and read the whole article and to check out the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

    The launch of the long-awaited SDS hinges on a vote by Pueblo County commissioners Monday to approve a stormwater deal with Colorado Springs, thus freeing the SDS 1041 permit the commissioners granted in 2009.

    The start of the SDS will culminate 20 years of planning, years of quarreling between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs, and six years of building 53 miles of huge pipelines, three pump stations and a 100-acre water treatment plant.

    The $825 million project will pump 5 million gallons of water a day – and up to 50 million when needed – to Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security.

    The project was a figment in 1996, when the Colorado Springs City Council approved a Water Resource Plan to explore how best to sate the thirst of a rapidly growing population.

    In July 2009, the council approved the SDS as the best of seven alternatives – just as the recession struck. So the project was used as “our own stimulus,” says SDS Program Director John Fredell.

    Workshops in Pueblo, El Paso and Fremont counties showed contractors how to work with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    The only Colorado company that could build the huge pipes, of 66- and 90-inch diameter, competed against out-of-state bidders but got more than $100 million in business with the SDS.

    And that firm wasn’t alone. A contract goal said 30 percent of business should go to Colorado firms. Contractors who failed to meet that threshold were penalized. And the goal was exceeded, Fredell said.

    More than 430 Colorado companies have worked on the SDS. Of the $711 million spent through December, $585 million worth of work has stayed in Colorado – about $287 million in El Paso County, $75 million in Pueblo County and $222 million elsewhere in the state.

    Meanwhile, what Fredell calls the toughest part of the whole project ensued.

    His team spent five years creating a 3,000-page Environmental Impact Statement and obtaining the 1041 permit from Pueblo County. It also had to get about 350 other permits, 200 of them major. Even the Federal Aviation Administration had to OK the plan, as the water treatment plant off of Colorado 94 is in the Colorado Springs Airport flight line.

    When construction commenced in 2010, the first challenge was connecting to the Pueblo Dam.

    Water flowing from the dam’s North Outlet Works into the Arkansas River was rechanneled so the square outlet channel could get a round pipe fitting to connect to the liner pipe through the dam to the river outlet, said Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities.

    A 0.3-mile pipe segment also was installed from the valve house to the Juniper Pump Station, to link Pueblo West to the SDS and carry water for the other users. Juniper is the first of three pump stations needed to move the water 53 miles uphill. El Paso County became home to the Williams Creek and Bradley pump stations.

    The water is being moved through massive pipes buried 85 feet beneath Interstate 25, Fountain Creek and two sets of railroad tracks. One mile of that stretch is a tunnel about 20 miles south of downtown Colorado Springs.

    The destination? The Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, named for “one of the real geniuses of the 1996 water master plan,” said City Council President Merv Bennett.

    That 100-acre plant can purify 50 million gallons of water a day, which then goes through a pump station for treated water and more pipelines to reach customers.

    The Bailey plant’s developed area could contain 77 football fields, said Kim Mutchler, of Utilities government and corporate affairs.

    Utilities water customers are paying for this project. But they’re paying a lot less than projected, as cost-cutting measures shaved the project’s predicted $985 million price tag.

    In 2009, Utilities predicted seven consecutive years of 12 percent water rate increases, followed by two years of 4 percent hikes. Instead, rates rose 12 percent in 2011 and 2012 and 10 percent in 2013 and 2014.

    The project is needed for many reasons, community leaders agree.

    Because Colorado’s second-biggest city isn’t near a major river, it has relied on water brought over the Continental Divide. But those pipelines are nearly 50 years old.

    With another 350,000 residents expected to move to El Paso County over the next 30 years – while industry and businesses need water, too – the Southern Delivery System is seen as a move to secure the city’s future.

    If water demand increases, SDS will add two reservoirs, increase the raw water delivery capacity, and expand the water treatment plant and pump stations to deliver more than 100 million gallons a day – double the maximum available starting Wednesday.

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

    Pueblo County’s stormwater control agreement with Colorado Springs fine-tuned — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette
    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The final agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs on Fountain Creek is fine-tuned to reflect some of the concerns expressed earlier this week in public hearings.

    “After we got feedback, there were a few minor adjustments,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday. “In general, citizens have liked the agreement. It gives both communities the chance to work together. The second thing we heard was: ‘Let’s work together and start doing projects.’ ”

    Pueblo County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the agreement Monday, capping a year of negotiations with Colorado Springs over the issue of stormwater control and the 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System pipeline to deliver water from Lake Pueblo to Springs.

    Colorado Springs City Council approved the deal on Wednesday, with the promise to spend at least $460 million on stormwater control in the city over the next 20 years.

    The agreement also triggers the $50 million in payments over the next five years for the Fountain Creek district, provides $125,000 in funds for the district’s general fund this year and adds $3 million for dredging and debris removal in Pueblo over the next three years.

    “We have two projects underway right now,” Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico told the Fountain Creek board.

    The agreement now recognizes that Colorado Springs’ obligations on Fountain Creek will continue for the lifetime of the project. Hart explained that the agreement now under consideration simply defines specific actions that will occur in the next 20 years. The 1041 agreement includes stormwater language that will continue to apply.

    Two other tweaks in the language clarified that the $20 million provided to the Fountain Creek district by Jan. 15 would be used to fund dams on Fountain Creek and that vegetation as well as sediment could be removed from Fountain Creek.

    The district board also learned that an additional $10 million in federal funds over the next five years could be available, although the grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service is only in the exploratory stages.

    It also pondered ways to permanently fund the district — a new commitment shared by Pueblo County and Colorado Springs in the proposed agreement. The members generally agreed a straight pro rata method based on population would be the fairest way. A formal vote could come in May.

    Until the district decides to use its statutory power for a mill levy, it will rely on voluntary contributions from member governments, which include Pueblo and El Paso counties, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Fountain and other incorporated cities in El Paso County.

    SDS: #Colorado Springs councillors OK stormwater agreement with Pueblo County

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

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    The City Council committed Colorado Springs on Wednesday to spend more than $460 million over 20 years on a stormwater projects pact with Pueblo County.

    The intergovernmental agreement, negotiated chiefly by Mayor John Suthers, is expected to resolve Fountain Creek stormwater problems for downstream residents and avert lawsuits threatened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Department of Justice and by Pueblo County.

    Further, the accord would allow Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System to start pumping water as scheduled on April 27.

    Pueblo County officials threatened to rescind that $825 million project’s 1041 permit, which they issued in April 2009, if the city didn’t ante up enough guaranteed funding for stormwater projects.

    The deal now hinges on a vote by Pueblo County’s three commissioners, set for 9 a.m. Monday.

    Any delay of the SDS would reduce the worth of warrants on equipment and work while leaving four partner communities – Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security – without the water deliveries they expect.

    The council, meeting in special session Wednesday, didn’t hesitate to approve the pact. Only Councilwoman Helen Collins, a steadfast foe of government spending, dissented in the 8-1 vote.

    The agreement calls for 71 stormwater projects to be completed by 2035. Engineers for Pueblo County and Colorado Springs chose the projects and will review them each year to allow for fluctuating priorities.

    The money will be spent in five-year increments, at a rate of $100 million the first five years followed by $110 million, $120 million and $130 million. Any private developers’ projects or other efforts would be in addition to the promised amounts.

    If the projects aren’t completed in time, the accord will be extended five years. And if Colorado Springs can’t come up with the money required, the city-owned Utilities will have to do so.

    The agreement was tweaked slightly Wednesday, on request of the Pueblo County commissioners, to increase one miscalculated payment to a water district by $332, to add the word “dam” to references to a study of water-control options, and to add “and vegetation” to a clause about removing debris from Pueblo’s city levees. A clause was added to note that after the agreement expires, both sides agree to coordinate and cooperate with one another, as they always will be upstream-downstream neighbors.

    “This is basically an investment in this city,” said water attorney David Robbins, a consulting lawyer for the council. “The stormwater facilities would have ultimately had to be built anyway. They benefit your citizens, not just the people downstream.”

    Asked about the option for a dam, Robbins said, “It has been studied, studied again, and another study may add to our knowledge, but doesn’t require this city to contribute any more money. The dam would require moving two railroads and an interstate highway. Just the facility relocation costs make it quite expensive.”

    Colorado Springs has failed to properly enforce drainage regulations, conduct adequate inspections, require enough infrastructure from developers or properly maintain and operate its stormwater controls, the EPA found during inspections in August.

    The downstream victim has been Pueblo County, which saw Fountain Creek sediment increase at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, degrading water quality and pushing water levels higher, Wright Water Engineers Inc. found during a study for the county last year.

    Sediment increased from 90 to 25,075 tons a year, while water yields rose from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found.

    As Colorado Springs development sprawls, the amount of impermeable pavement grows. So the city also is beefing up its long-underfunded Stormwater Division, increasing the staff of 28 to 58 full-time employees, mostly inspectors, and more than doubling the $3 million budget for compliance to about $7.1 million.

    The city and Utilities negotiated for nearly a year with Pueblo County, as Colorado Springs has beefed up its stormwater program to fix the problems and fend off the threats of lawsuits.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works would like to see up-front bonding and longer term for an intergovernmental agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.

    Still, it’s probably the best deal possible, the board agreed during comments on the proposed deal at Tuesday’s monthly meeting.

    In February, the board provided its input with a resolution recommending certain actions to Pueblo County commissioners.

    Colorado Springs City Council approved the deal Wednesday, while Pueblo County commissioners will meet on it Monday. It provides $460 million for stormwater projects over the next 20 years, triggers $50 million in payments over five years for Fountain Creek dams and adds $3 million to help dredge and maintain levees in Pueblo.

    “One of the things we encouraged Colorado Springs to do was bond the projects up front,” said Nick Gradisar, president of the water board. “It would be to everyone’s advantage to do the projects sooner rather than later.”

    Board member Tom Autobee said the agreement is comprehensive, but was uncertain about the 20-year timeline for improvements.

    “What I’d like to see is to extend it beyond 20 years for the life of the project,” Autobee said. “We need to look at that.”

    Board member Jim Gardner was assured by Gradisar that Pueblo County is guaranteed a voice in which projects are completed.

    “They have a priority list and can’t switch unless both sides agree, as I understand it,” Gradisar said.

    “This is a great opportunity to correct the issues,” said Mike Cafasso.

    “What we said got listened to,” added Kevin McCarthy. “I think this is the best deal we’re going to get.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs won’t need the full use of the Southern Delivery System for years, but some can’t wait for the $825 million water pipeline to be turned on.

    Pueblo County commissioners heard testimony supporting a proposed agreement with Colorado Springs designed to settle issues surrounding the City Council’s decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise after the county had incorporated it into conditions for a 1041 permit in 2009.

    “One in five people in Pueblo County live in Pueblo West and are impacted by SDS,” said Jerry Martin, chairman of the Pueblo West metro board. “With the newest break, we will depend on SDS for a very long time.”

    Pueblo West joined the SDS project as a costsaving alternative to a direct intake on the Arkansas River downstream of Pueblo Dam. It shared in the cost of permitting and building the pipeline.
    Last summer, it used SDS when its own pipeline broke.

    Pueblo West’s main supply comes from the South Outlet Works and crosses under the river. The new break is more severe, Martin explained.

    An agreement reached last summer allows Pueblo West to use SDS before it is fully operational, and settled some lingering legal issues related to Pueblo West’s partnership in SDS.

    Security Water and Sanitation District, located south of Colorado Springs, also needs SDS to go online before summer, said Roy Heald, general manager of the district.

    “Security has an immediate need for water because there are emerging contaminant in our wells,” Heald said.

    Seven of the district’s 25 wells into the Fountain Creek aquifer were found to be contaminated earlier this year. The solution is to blend water from the Arkansas River with the well water to dilute contaminants. Right now, Security gets enough water from the Fountain Valley Conduit to make its supply safe. But in summer, water demands will increase, Heald explained.

    Larry Small, the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, said the agreement paves the way for flood control projects seven years after the district was formed.

    Small was on City Council when the stormwater enterprise was abolished on a 5-4 vote. He voted against eliminating the fee that was then in place. He was hired to run the Fountain Creek district two years later. The district has representatives from both Pueblo and El Paso counties.
    The district was formed by the state Legislature out of concerns about the effect of El Paso County’s growth on Fountain Creek and the danger that is posed to Pueblo.

    The $460 million for Colorado Springs stormwater projects over the next 20 years is needed to slow down Fountain Creek, but that doesn’t mean Pueblo would be protected. There are at least 18 projects south of Colorado Springs involving either detention ponds or dams that the district wants to get started on.

    That process would get a kick start with $20 million in the next nine months if the agreement is approved by commissioners and Colorado Springs City Council in the next week. Three more payments of $10 million over the next three years would follow under terms of the 1041 agreement.

    “This agreement says that we’re not just going to put something in place, but that we’re going to monitor it,” Small told commissioners. “It’s a cooperative, collaborative process. We don’t have to rely on rumors and innuendo.”

    The city of Pueblo also would benefit from a potential $6 million in Fountain Creek dredging or levee maintenance projects that would cost the city only $1.2 million over the next three years. Pueblo Stormwater Director Jeff Bailey last week told The Pueblo Chieftain that the city has projects lined up, depending on how the funds are structured.

    A separate $255,000 project to dredge between Colorado 47 and the Eighth Street bridge already is in the works. It would be funded by Pueblo County, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Fountain Creek district and the state.

    For Colorado Springs, SDS is a 40-year solution to provide water both for future growth and redundancy for the major water infrastructure it already has in place. Earlier comments to commissioners from Colorado Springs officials indicated only about 5 million gallons per day initially would flow through the SDS pipeline to El Paso County. It has a capacity of 75 million gallons per day.

    Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said warranties on the project kick in when testing on SDS is completed at the end of this month, however, so Colorado Springs also would like to see the pipeline up and running by next week.

    Thousands of #Colorado Springs Utilities customers getting water quality notice

    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com
    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    About 47,000 Colorado Springs Utilities customers are being notified that a water quality standard has been exceeded at the Fountain Valley Authority’s water treatment plant.

    Those customers get a blend of water from Utilities and the FVA, but the exceedance of Total Organic Carbon does not pose a health threat, Utilities advises.

    Leaves, sticks, dirt and other substances washed into the Pueblo Reservoir, where the FVA gets its water, during heavy rains over the past two years.

    The excessive levels of TOC occurred temporarily in the first quarter of 2016, Utilities reports. Although the TOC exceeded standards, it “does not pose an immediate health risk and is not an emergency,” Utilities said in a news release.

    A standard is set for TOC because it can lead to formation of disinfection byproducts, which can have adverse health effects. Those byproducts include trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids.

    Both byproducts are below drinking water standards and thus pose no health risks, Utilities reports.

    The FVA also supplies water to Security, Widefield, Stratmoor Hills and Fountain through their water districts, which are responsible for alerting their customers.

    SDS: Pueblo County Commissioner’s public meeting recap #Colorado

    Riding high: A baby alligator rests on its mother's head to keep away from the water and attract some sun.The magical image was taken by was taken in St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Florida, in by John Moran via @MailOnline.
    Riding high: A baby alligator rests on its mother’s head to keep away from the water and attract some sun.The magical image was taken by was taken in St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Florida, in by John Moran via @MailOnline.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    It was like putting a dog collar on an alligator.

    Everyone in the room agreed it needed to be done, but some were nervous about getting bitten or how you’d take the darned thing for a walk. Yet, even the alligator celebrated the partnership.

    That was the tone for Monday’s work session of the Pueblo County commissioners to hear comments on a proposed stormwater agreement with Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs City Council and commissioners are anticipating finalizing the agreement next week.

    The deal would require Colorado Springs to spend $460 million over 20 years to slow down water in the city, pay the first $20 million in $50 million for Fountain Creek dams south of the city in nine months and pay $3 million to Pueblo for Fountain Creek dredging, among other provisions meant to protect Pueblo.

    Those payments are on top of 1041 permit conditions that must be met in order for the Southern Delivery System (a pipeline between Lake Pueblo and Springs) to be operated. The new agreement is needed because Colorado Springs City Council abolished the city’s stormwater enterprise in 2009.

    “(Colorado Springs) leadership has the best intentions, but how vulnerable are the funds?” asked Bill Alt, a Fountain Creek landowner. “It’s going to take years to have an effect on the Lower Fountain.”

    Alt, who lives just north of Pueblo, explained that Fountain Creek last year carved three new “canyons” on his property — as much as 60 feet wide, 25 feet deep and 1,800 feet long.

    “In the words of Yogi Berra, it’s deja vu over and over and over,” he said.

    Others joined his concerns, including Hector Arambulo and Frank Childress, who said Colorado Springs growth has made Fountain Creek’s problems more severe and voters have not supported past stormwater control efforts.

    Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s water attorney, said the county has multiple options for enforcing the agreement. The funding is guaranteed through Colorado Springs Utilities payments to the city, the contractual arrangement could be battled in Pueblo District Court, the 1041 permit is still enforceable and the federal government also is taking action to make sure Colorado Springs cleans up its act.

    “Could you stop SDS from flowing?” Alt asked.

    “The remedies under the 1041 are complicated,” Petros answered. “But suspension of deliveries is one of the remedies.”

    Several current and former public officials addressed the issue:

    John Singletary, former chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the agreement could trigger the type of cooperation the district has sought for years.

    “Did we get everything we wanted? Probably not,” Singletary said. “But finally, we’ve found a way Pueblo County and El Paso County can work together.”

    Mark Carmel, a member of the Pueblo West Metro District board speaking for himself, was less optimistic and said the deal should be made permanent, not just for the 20-year time span it covers.

    “What happens after 20 years?” Carmel said. “It’s not right that developers get profits while our people lose their property.”

    Larry Atencio, a Pueblo City member speaking for himself, said the deal should also include support for a dam on Fountain Creek if studies show it would be the best protection for Pueblo.

    Aurelio Sisneros, former Pueblo County treasurer and a past member of the Arkansas River Compact Administration, said a dam on Fountain Creek is the ultimate solution.

    Charles Garascia, who has lived in Pueblo for eight years, said the county needs to look into flood plains and flood insurance alternatives.

    Urging approval of the agreement were Jerry Martin, chairman of the Pueblo West board; Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District; and Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation.

    Martin and Heald said their communities need SDS now. Small said the funding provided in the agreement is crucial for its success.

    Tom Strand, a Colorado Springs City Council member, said the agreement would ensure cooperation on stormwater projects and eliminate further stormwater challenges as SDS moves ahead.

    “It’s a partnership I’m excited to be moving forward on,” Strand said.

    Commissioners avoided saying much about the comments made Monday and agreed to consider approval at their regular meeting next Monday.

    “We’re going to take careful consideration of all the comments and questions, as well as any others who want to weigh in,” Commissioner Terry Hart said.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Pueblo County leaders on Monday heard from residents who mostly favored a deal that would commit Colorado Springs to spend $460 million cleaning Fountain Creek.

    That deal, if finalized, would clear the way for Colorado Springs to turn on its $825 million Southern Delivery System to siphon up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water northward 50 miles from Pueblo’s reservoir.

    The deal also would give Pueblo $125,000 for an engineering study for a water supply project of its own: a possible dam along the creek to create another reservoir.

    Pueblo has threatened legal action against Colorado Springs’ fouling of Fountain Creek with sediment-laden stormwater runoff.

    The 27 or so Pueblo residents at Monday’s forum included nine who spoke in favor of a draft deal reached with Colorado Springs leaders this month. Two opposed it.

    Pueblo County commissioners decided to seek legal advice on the deal Wednesday before voting April 25 — two days before Colorado Springs engineers plan to switch on their new siphoning system.

    “Getting to this agreement has been an arduous journey,” Commissioner Buffie McFadyen said.

    Failure to filter sediment and contaminants out of stormwater runoff that ruined the creek “has been a decades-long problem,” McFadyen said. “It appears the city of Colorado Springs is actually recognizing its issues. I believe it is sincere.”

    Building a dam along a cleaner Fountain Creek “has been a suggestion by community members,” she said, adding that no location has been set and that opponents argue a dam would be a massive sediment trap.

    “Could it work? That’s what is so important about doing the engineering study.”

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    A tainted aquifer and busted water pipe are two more reasons the Southern Delivery System needs to be turned on April 27 as planned, water officials told Pueblo County commissioners Monday.

    Security has had to close seven of its more than 25 wells because of contamination in the Widefield aquifer, said Roy E. Heald, general manager of the Security Water District.

    Perfluorinated compounds, PFCs that could harm human health, were found in the aquifer in February by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Security has resorted to dilution, but the dilution must be stepped up as summer approaches, Heald said.

    “So it’s critical to have the Southern Delivery System turned on this month as scheduled,” he said.

    Pueblo West is relying on SDS water. Colorado Springs Utilities sprang to the rescue when a major Pueblo West water pipeline burst in February. Utilities bailed the town out last July, too, after a smaller water line broke.

    “This (break) may require us to stay on that (SDS) line for a very long time,” warned Jerry Martin, president of the Pueblo West Water Board.

    He, too, urged commissioners to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Colorado Springs so the $825 million water project can start pumping 5 million gallons of water a day from the Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Security, Fountain and Colorado Springs.

    The county threatened last year to revoke the project’s 1041 permit, which it issued to Utilities in April 2009.

    Back then, Colorado Springs still was using a stormwater enterprise fund to ameliorate problems on Fountain Creek that wreak havoc on downstream users. The then-City Council eradicated the fund that November, though, infuriating Pueblo County officials who had relied on those stormwater efforts when they signed over the permit.

    That permit wasn’t the only worry facing newly seated Mayor John Suthers last year, though.

    In October, the U.S. Department of Justice warned Colorado Springs that the EPA might file a lawsuit because of the city’s failure to properly provide, maintain and inspect stormwater controls. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment then echoed that threat.

    The city and Utilities have been negotiating for 10 months with Pueblo County, as the city has beefed up its stormwater program to fix the problems and fend off the threats of lawsuits.

    Colorado Springs proposed a pact last week that would provide $460 million in stormwater projects, maintenance and operations through the year 2035, money that would be spent over and above grants or other funds.

    So the county commissioners’ public hearing Monday was set to hear residents’ opinions on the agreement.

    Also urging approval was Larry Small, director of the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

    Calling it the best stormwater management plan he’s seen in 43 years, Small said: “This is better than efforts we were taking as a community to incrementally deal with (stormwater). This is better because it has measurable objectives. It has clearly defined projects, clearly defined funding and a clear funding source.”

    And the key element is a requirement that the city and county jointly reassess the projects and process every year, ensuring communication, collaboration and cooperation, he said.

    But some Pueblo residents remained skeptical.

    “What choices do you have if Colorado Springs reneges? You can go to court. They have more lawyers than they can use,” said resident Bill Alt.

    “The stormwater agreement manual says people with detention ponds must abide by these rules. They’ve had rules for years, and they haven’t been abided by. Are there any penalties for someone who violates it?”

    Commission water attorney Ray Petros cited four conditions that ensure compliance: Utilities’ guarantee to provide the money if the city fails to do so, contractural enforcement that can be upheld by Pueblo County District Court, potential permit suspension if obligations aren’t met, and the EPA and state health lawsuit threats that underscore the city’s need to comply.

    “So we think it’s enforceable,” Petros said.

    John Singletary said he’s comfortable with the pact.

    “Did we get everything we want? Probably not. But finally we can find a way that Colorado Springs, El Paso County and Pueblo County can work together,” Singletary said. “When I was on the Lower Arkansas (Water Conservancy District), it meant a lot to me to protect people downstream. I feel very comfortable with how this is drawn up.”

    The Colorado Springs City Council is expected to sign the accord during a special meeting Wednesday, and Pueblo County’s Board of County Commissioners is to vote Monday – two days before the SDS is scheduled to start operating.

    #Colorado Springs hoping to flip the switch on SDS, Pueblo County public meeting today

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

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    As water pressures mount, Colorado Springs engineers are about to switch on one of the West’s boldest new water projects: an $825 million pipeline to siphon up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water from Pueblo, 50 miles away.

    This highly contentious Southern Delivery System has been 27 years in the making. It resolves a core quandary for Colorado Springs (pop. 350,000), built on a high-and-dry, flood-prone plain away from rivers, with only two creeks to sustain people.

    The project will pull from [the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Pueblo Reservoir] — pumping water northward, uphill 1,500 feet — to support growth.

    But there’s a hitch. Pueblo is demanding that Colorado Springs first commit to pay another $460 million before turning on the system as scheduled April 27 to clean up the dirty runoff Colorado Springs sends to Pueblo in Fountain Creek.

    Colorado Springs leaders told The Denver Post last week they will agree, to avoid a legal war. Pueblo County officials, still reviewing a draft agreement, said they want to hear from residents Monday.

    “If Fountain and Monument creeks were our only sources of water, we would only be a town of 25,000 people,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said in an interview after a treatment plant for the siphoned water was dedicated.

    The SDS system “is an amazing engineering feat,” Suthers said. “It will take care of the future water needs of Colorado Springs for up to 50 years of growth.”

    Pueblo and Colorado Springs officials agreed to vote on the deal April 26, the day before water engineers click a computer mouse to fire up the system.

    For decades, Pueblo has been fighting Colorado Springs over the fouling of Fountain Creek, which flows from the Springs to Pueblo. The problem is stormwater runoff — chemical contaminants and sediment washing into the creek…

    Under a draft deal, Colorado Springs would spend $460 million over 20 years to complete 71 stormwater cleanup projects. These include creation of ponds that slow and filter runoff and planting vegetation along drainage channels to stabilize sediment.

    Colorado Springs will rely on general fund revenues from sales taxes to cover the $460 million, Suthers said. “If we have a downturn, we may have to look at something else.”

    City Council president Merv Bennett said, “We’ve got to fix the stormwater problem. If we don’t do this, the EPA could require us to do it. This is a good deal.”

    […]

    Eleven 2,000-plus horsepower pumps will propel the water from the reservoir through a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline for 50 miles with an overall elevation gain of 1,500 feet.

    The water must be used within the Arkansas River Basin, ruling out sales to south Denver suburbs. And wastewater, after treatment, must be returned via Fountain Creek to Pueblo.

    Colorado Springs residents have paid for the system through water bills, which increased by 52 percent over four years.

    City officials have been working since 1989 to install the system. “You have to handle all the legal, the permits, the right of way …,” said Edward Bailey, 80, who has led the efforts and whose name now appears on the treatment plant.

    Moving water to people around the West entails altering the natural environment, Bailey said. “We have to do it right. We shouldn’t leave a big footprint. … I understand Pueblo and their concerns. We need to be very environmentally sensitive, but we cannot be preservationists.”

    […]

    “Water drives our economic viability, our economic prosperity,” SDS program director John Fredell said.

    “Now we’ve got it. Now we’re ready to go in Colorado Springs.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board:

    Although we appreciate and commend the work of Pueblo County commissioners, the county planning department, county attorneys and Wright Water Engineers, we implore county officials to take more time before approving the 1041 permit that would allow water to flow from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs via the Southern Delivery System.

    Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain

    #Colorado Springs gets serious as storm clouds pile up — The Pueblo Chieftain

    The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County -- photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal
    The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A proposed agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs related to the Southern Delivery System took a year to pound out and centers on Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater.

    Last April, Pueblo County commissioners were moving toward a compliance hearing for the 1041 permit that allowed Colorado Springs to build its $825 million pipeline project from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

    At the time, Colorado Springs claimed it had spent $243 million on stormwater projects from 2004-14, but Pueblo County officials were skeptical.

    A memo to commissioners from staff called the Colorado Springs accounting “conflicting and inconsistent.”

    That launched a more thorough investigation that has taken as many turns as Fountain Creek itself toward reaching a final agreement.

    Newly elected Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers last summer proposed spending $19 million annually on a year-to-year basis to make up for the Colorado Springs City Council’s decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise in 2009. For just three years, the enterprise had generated about $15.2 million annually.

    But a scathing EPA audit released in November revealed Colorado Springs had failed to meet even the minimum conditions of its state stormwater permit, opening the door for more mitigation.

    “It elevated our status by showing that what people in Pueblo had been saying for years was true,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

    In January, Suthers offered Pueblo City Council and commissioners a 10-year, $19 million plan, which was met with little interest.

    Council’s resolution asked for $500 million over 10 years, and commissioners questioned how projects would be verified. In early March, Suthers went public with Colorado Springs’ proposal to put a minimum of $460 million into projects over the next 20 years. He indicated that Colorado Springs Utilities was anxious to get SDS on line by April 27 to assure that warranties on water pumping and treatment are in place after testing concludes.

    Later in the same week, on March 11, commissioners wrote to the Bureau of Reclamation updating 1041 permit compliance in anticipation of beginning SDS operations. Stormwater management on Fountain Creek was the major unresolved issue that could keep SDS from being turned on.

    A month later, Pueblo County had obtained what commissioners and lawyers say are enforceable provisions to make sure Colorado Springs complies.

    “This is a contract,” Hart said. “It has specific actions Colorado Springs has to meet, and gives us a seat at the table.”

    Hart said the proposed IGA provides an additional layer of enforcement, on top of the 1041 provisions, which remain in place, and the federal Department of Justice enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

    The proposed IGA also benefits Colorado Springs because it provides evidence of tangible steps toward compliance with the federal law, Hart said.

    “Fixing the stormwater issues that we inherited stemming from the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise has been a top priority for me and the (Colorado Springs) City Council,” Suthers said in a statement released Monday. “Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not optional — it is something that we must do to protect our waterways, serve our downstream neighbors and meet the legal requirements of a federal permit.”

    More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Protecting Pueblo from Fountain Creek flooding will take projects in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and everywhere in between.

    A proposed intergovernmental agreement for Southern Delivery System between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County will kick-start projects in all areas, Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

    “This agreement allows the communities to get moving and tackle projects,” Hart said. “Lots of elements have value to all of the communities.”

    Commissioners will hear public comments on the proposed agreement at a work session on Monday with a possible vote scheduled for April 25. There’s a lot to take in.

    Last year, the county hired Wright Water Engineers to document the issues on Fountain Creek in the most comprehensive study to date. The Wright study connected the dots between Colorado Springs growth and deteriorating conditions on Fountain Creek, finding that 370,000 tons of sediment annually are stranded between Colorado Springs and the confluence with the Arkansas River each year.

    That build-up is decreasing the ability of levees installed nearly 30 years ago to protect Pueblo.

    “One of the best recommendations tions we had was to retain Wright Water Engineers,” said Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “I don’t think we’d be here without the work they did.”

    One of Wright’s findings was that projects up and down Fountain Creek are needed to correct problems and protect Pueblo.

    That includes the 71 projects within Colorado Springs that are covered under a $460 million, 20year commitment in the proposed IGA. Of those, 61 benefit Pueblo, so it was important for Pueblo to have a place at the table to determine timing of the projects, Hart said.

    Under the proposed agreement, Pueblo’s engineers would be able to annually review progress of the projects, which over time will make up about two-thirds of the total Colorado Springs stormwater budget.

    The 2013 sediment transport study by the U.S. Geological Survey showed there is some benefit to Pueblo from detention ponds in Colorado Springs. Those are among the first structures to be built under the proposed agreement. Work already has started on one in Sand Creek.

    That study also showed the biggest benefit to Pueblo, both for controlling high flows and trapping sediment, would be a large dam between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

    “To build a dam, we have to get going now.

    We need to know where it goes and what it looks like,” Hart said.

    The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is prepared to start working on those issues, but lacks funds. The IGA would provide $20 million from Colorado Springs in the next nine months to begin work on the dam question.

    Those would be the first of five $10 million annual payments that were earlier negotiated by Pueblo County as part of its 1041 permit for SDS.

    The district’s budget includes $2.5 million this year to continue a study of whether one or several dams could be built and to evaluate the relative cost effectiveness of alternatives.

    The proposed agreement is important because the money might otherwise not start arriving until January 2017 at the soonest, and possibly even later if SDS were to be delayed in court, Hart said.

    It also provides $125,000 for routine administrative tasks of the Fountain Creek district as a patch until more permanent funds are lined up.

    Finally, work on the Pueblo levee system along Fountain Creek is the most important way to protect Pueblo in the short term, according to the Wright report.

    The city of Pueblo has the primary responsibility for maintaining the levees and the new agreement would add $3 million over the next three years for that purpose. Pueblo would have to match those funds.
    Pueblo County already is holding about $1.8 million, so Pueblo’s share would be $1.2 million, or $400,000 annually to leverage $6 million or more in improvements.

    “We know $50 million isn’t going to be enough to build a dam,” Hart said. “We’re counting on the communities to bring in other grants or other funding for all the other projects as well.”

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    The cost of deferred maintenance came into sharp focus Monday when Pueblo County and the city of Colorado Springs announced a 20-year, $460million deal to correct the Springs’ neglected flood-control system and pave the way for good relations over activating Springs Utilities’ $825million water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.

    The agreement will cost the city an average of $23 million a year — 53 percent more than the $15.2 million raised by the city’s previous Stormwater Enterprise fee. The fee, adopted in 2007, was abolished in 2009 to comply with Issue 300, a ballot measure mounted by anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce as a way to end the “rain tax.” That action infuriated Pueblo County, which issued a construction permit in April 2009 for the Southern Delivery System pipeline in part on spending made possible by the stormwater fee.

    Now, the city will pay considerably more.

    “This IGA requires Colorado Springs to commit much more than [the Stormwater Enterprise] for stormwater mitigation to address the past practices of overlooking the stormwater problems and to address future issues,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace said in a release.

    Mayor John Suthers told City Council on Monday it’s the city’s problem “regardless of the level of public support.” Besides opposing the enterprise in 2009, voters in 2014 rejected a regional drainage authority and fees, a measure opposed by former Mayor Steve Bach.

    “This is not a problem that those of us in this room created,” Suthers said. “I’m not going to point fingers. But the fact of the matter is, it’s a problem we inherited. It’s a problem we have to deal with.”

    He also noted that while city general funds and Springs Utilities rates will fund the agreement, nothing precludes developing a different funding source, such as fees or special taxes. Suthers also pointed out the IGA will “go a long way” toward resolving negotiations with the Justice Department over the city’s 2013 and 2015 Clean Water Act violations, which could bring fines and/or a court decree mandating levels of spending.

    As outlined by Pueblo County, the intergovernmental agreement’s terms:

    • Colorado Springs will spend $460 million during the next 20 years on 71 stormwater projects.

    • If those projects aren’t finished by 2035, the IGA renews for five years at another $26 million per year.

    • Pueblo County will play a “significant role” in timing, prioritization, selection and verification of mandated projects under a “strong mechanism for enforcement.”

    • Utilities will pay the city of Pueblo $3 million ($1 million a year for three years) to protect its levees, in addition to $2.2 million already paid for that. But the money must be spent in the year in which it’s given, said David Robbins, outside attorney representing the Springs.

    • Utilities also will make a one-time $125,000 payment to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District to help fund operations and studies, including whether to dam Fountain Creek.

    • Utilities’ previously agreed-to payments to the Fountain district of $50 million over five years will be accelerated; the first payment of $9.6 million is due within 30 days of IGA approval. Then, four equal payments of $10 million will be made annually starting in January 2017. The money will fund erosion and flood control.

    While the IGA’s funding is subject to annual appropriations in compliance with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the IGA is guaranteed by the Utilities enterprise, which can commit to a multi-year agreement, a city spokeswoman says.

    Council and Pueblo County commissioners are expected to approve the IGA in coming weeks in advance of the April 27 scheduled activation of SDS.

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

    Fountain Creek: “It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something we should do” — #Colorado Springs Mayor Suthers

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Bllie Stanton Anleu):

    After nearly a year of negotiations, a stormwater deal has been reached between the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo County commissioners.

    The tentative intergovernmental agreement, which Mayor John Suthers outlined Monday to the City Council, will benefit not only Pueblo and Pueblo County, but also local residents, by providing $460 million in stormwater projects by 2035.

    Those improvements are sorely needed, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency noted in dismal audits of the city stormwater program in 2013 and last August. Unless the situation improves dramatically, the EPA likely would sue Colorado Springs and restrict the MS4 permit that allows the city to send stormwater into the interstate water system.

    The more immediate concern was Pueblo County’s threat to withhold the 1041 permit it granted to Utilities for the $825 million Southern Delivery System. That massive water system is scheduled to start delivering water April 27, and the intergovernmental agreement would be signed just in the nick of time…

    Suthers started negotiating almost immediately after he was sworn in as mayor last June, and the mayor, Council President Merv Bennett and key leaders from Utilities made repeated trips to Pueblo to smooth the frayed relations and ensure that stormwater improvements would be forthcoming.

    The talks proved tricky, as Pueblo’s city and county leaders felt increasing pressure to play hardball with Colorado Springs.

    Suthers squeezed the city budget hard to produce millions of dollars. When the city’s southern neighbors balked because they had no guarantee, he placed the burden on Utilities to come up with future funding if and when the city fell short.

    Along with that assurance, Pueblo County won a promise that if 71 critical stormwater projects aren’t completed by 2035, the pact will be renewed for five years with continued, commensurate funding increases.

    The City Council and Pueblo County commissioners are set to vote on the pact in two weeks.

    Provided they enact the agreement, it will mark a hard-fought resolution to Suthers’ most vexing challenge during his 10 months as mayor.

    “I personally don’t think we could come up with any better result by litigating on two fronts,” he hold the council. “We could litigate with Pueblo at risk of jeopardizing the SDS being turned on … But I have a certain level of confidence the stormwater program we’re funding here will go a long way toward resolving our (legal) issues with the EPA.”

    Besides, he noted: “I mean this very sincerely. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something we should do.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs would pay more than $605 million to cover environmental damage for the Southern Delivery System if a draft intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County is approved.

    The proposed deal includes a guarantee to spend at least $460 million over the next 20 years to repair and build stormwater structures in Colorado Springs in a way that benefits downstream communities, particularly the city of Pueblo.

    “This has been a tough, arduous negotiation that has taken months,” said Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “After years of Colorado Springs’ failure to honor that commitment we finally have a deal the citizens of Pueblo County can rely upon. We now have guaranteed projects, guaranteed funding and a mechanism for enforceability to back up the guarantees.”

    A public hearing on the agreement will be at 1:30 p.m. April 18 in commissioners chambers at the Pueblo County Courthouse. The soonest the board is expected to act on the IGA would be April 25, which gives Colorado Springs time to consider it as well.

    Mayor John Suthers is presenting the deal to Colorado Springs City Council today. That group, sitting as the Utilities Board, could pass it on April 20 at the soonest.

    Colorado Springs Utilities wants to turn on SDS on April 27.

    “I want to make it clear we have not voted on this,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. “I intend to listen to the public next week.” [ed. emphasis mine]

    In addition to the stormwater projects, the deal includes nearly $20 million for flood control projects on Fountain Creek within the next nine months, $125,000 to keep the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District afloat and $3 million to the city of Pueblo to dredge Fountain Creek.

    The $20 million is part of Colorado Springs’ commitment to pay $50 million over five years to the Fountain Creek district under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS. Within 30 days of signing the IGA, about $9.6 million will be paid, which takes into account credit for $600,000 already provided by Colorado Springs Utilities to the district. Another $10 million would be paid on Jan. 15, 2017, ending a dispute about timing of this year’s payment.

    “These immediate payments to the District are desperately needed to study the possibility of, and to potentially construct, a dam on Fountain Creek – this is our opportunity to comprehensively evaluate all options to protect the citizens of Pueblo,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.

    The $125,000 would fund operating costs of the district, which now has few financial resources to draw upon.

    “The $125,000 was a line in the sand for us,” McFadyen said.

    The $3 million to the city of Pueblo for Fountain Creek dredging would require an equal match, part of which could come from $1.8 million held by Pueblo County from an earlier agreement.

    The stormwater agreement requires a continued working relationship between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs. Engineers representing both areas have rated 71 current projects for benefits to Colorado Springs and to downstream communities. All but 10 of the projects benefit both.

    The list will be reviewed and adjusted over the next 20-25 years to assure compliance and reflect changes in the drainage area.

    The accounting includes only money provided by Colorado Springs and Utilities toward projects on the list and require expenditures of $20 million annually the first five years, expanding to $26 million per year in 2031-35. If the list is not complete by 2036, spending of $26 million annually would be required for another five years.

    The payments would be guaranteed by transfer funds already paid to the Colorado Springs by Utilities.

    Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s water attorney explained the agreement to the board today. Colorado Springs would agree to pay Pueblo County’s engineering costs for drawing up the list and to resolve any IGA disputes in Pueblo District Court.

    In addition to the $460 million for stormwater, $50 million for Fountain Creek flood control and $5.2 million for dredging, Colorado Springs previously agreed to spend $75 million by 2024 for sanitary sewer upgrades and $15 million for damage to roads related to SDS.

    The total cost for construction of SDS is about $825 million.

    From KOAA.com (Andy Koen):

    Seven years ago, the Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners gave Colorado Springs Utilities permission to build the Southern Delivery System Pipeline through what’s known as a 1041 Permit. That agreement required the City of Colorado Springs to keep water from flowing faster down Fountain Creek.

    But a few short months after the SDS agreement was signed, Colorado Springs voters passed ballot issue 300 and the City Council promptly ended the Stormwater Enterprise.

    The backlog of storm water improvement languished for a time and it looked like things were headed to court. Commissioner McFadyen expressed relief that things didn’t reach that point.

    “Hopefully it saves taxpayers dollars on both sides and actually has an agreement that’s worthwhile and get to the point, it solves the problem.”

    In November, Colorado Springs received notice of violation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for noncompliance with its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit under the federal Clean Water Act. That complaint was referred to the US Justice Department for legal action.

    The basis of the violation was for failure to provide adequate resources to develop and enforce the MS4 Program…

    All of the money committed by Colorado Springs in the proposed agreement comes from the city’s general fund. However Mayor Suthers said the IGA is a flexible agreement.

    “If at some point in time Colorado Springs decides to join the rest of the world and have a storm water enterprise, they’re free to do so and that funding source can be utilized, but the voters have turned that down as recently as November of 2014.”

    Both the Colorado Springs City Council and Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners must vote to approve the agreement. Pueblo will hold its first public hearing on the issue at their next regularly scheduled board meeting April 18.

    #Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are still wrangling over stormwater problems — Colorado Springs Independent

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    April 27 is the red-letter day for which Colorado Springs Utilities has waited at least 15 years. But now nobody wants to talk about it.

    Mayor John Suthers refuses to discuss it. So do the three Pueblo County commissioners.

    The taboo topic? Activation of the long-awaited, $825 million Southern Delivery System pipeline that will pump 50 million gallons of water a day from Pueblo Reservoir.

    At issue is a rift between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over the city’s stormwater management, or lack thereof. The city agreed to control drainage, which ultimately flows down Fountain Creek to Pueblo, as part of the so-called 1041 construction permit issued by Pueblo County in 2009. But it hasn’t done so.

    Now, only weeks before SDS is turned on, Pueblo County says in a March 11 letter to the Bureau of Reclamation it might suspend the permit unless “enforceable” guarantees for stormwater control are incorporated into a pending intergovernment agreement.

    Whether Pueblo County can stop water from flowing through the pipeline is in question, but Pueblo County officials hope their long-standing complaints to the bureau over stormwater eventually get traction.

    Bureau spokesman Buck Feist tells the Independent that suspending SDS “is unnecessary” now, because progress is being made in complying with various SDS requirements. But he notes the bureau has authority to stop the project if the city fails to meet requirements of the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2009 Record of Decision, and that includes contracts with others, such as the 1041.

    Months ago, Suthers and City Council vowed to spend $19 million annually on stormwater needs, but that apparently hasn’t satisfied Pueblo County. In an early March interview with the Gazette, Suthers bemoaned Pueblo County’s refusal to accept the city’s new offer to spend $445 million over 20 years on drainage, an average of $22.5 million per year…

    Since then, Suthers has clammed up on that topic, as well as a related issue — the Environmental Protection Agency’s findings, in 2013 and again in 2015, that the city violated its federal stormwater discharge permit conditions.

    “We are unable to discuss either matter at present due to the pending nature of both the EPA investigation and the continuing discussions with Pueblo,” Suthers’ communications manager Jamie Fabos says via email. She also noted no information will be released “until we have a result to share with our stakeholders and residents.”

    In response to a Colorado Open Records Act request for correspondence with Pueblo County about the IGA, the city claims there were no responsive records, which suggests negotiations are verbal.

    The city withheld its communications with the EPA and Justice Department, citing a CORA exemption for documents subject to a court order or Supreme Court rule. While the Indy couldn’t find a lawsuit involving the EPA violations, a court decree could be issued mandating that the city deal with stormwater problems.

    But that might be “several months” away, with Department of Justice spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle saying via email the negotiations are in the “early stages.”

    Meantime, Pueblo County commissioners can’t comment, because the 1041 permitting process is a quasi-judicial function, barring them from making public statements ahead of a hearing, a county spokesman says.

    Pueblo County, though, has documented the city’s failed stormwater system for years in letters to the Bureau of Reclamation. In a March 11 letter, the county noted that “negotiations on a proposed IGA continue to progress,” but added that “absent an enforceable IGA” that would address inadequate stormwater controls, county staff is “likely” to recommend county commissioners “temporarily suspend commercial operations of the SDS” and perhaps suspend or amend the 1041 permanently.

    That’s the last thing Colorado Springs needs, because a noncompliance finding could impact its deals with the bureau to use Pueblo Reservoir. As Feist says via email, “Contracts between Reclamation and SDS participants do provide the bureau with the authority to immediately cease storage or conveyance of water until the commitments are implemented, if such action becomes warranted.”

    Feist also says the law allows the Bureau of Reclamation to reopen the Environmental Impact Statement for SDS in certain circumstances.

    As those issues loom, Colorado Springs needs to turn on the tap to test the new water treatment plant within designated warranty periods, says SDS project director John Fredell. Also, at least one SDS partner, Pueblo West, is using SDS on an emergency basis and needs regular deliveries as soon as possible, he says.

    Asked if he plans to stick to the April 27 date, Fredell says, “I’m planning on it.” Asked if it will pose a hardship to the city if the pipeline isn’t activated on that date, he says, “It depends on how things shake out with our other systems.” He didn’t elaborate.

    Among Pueblo County’s other complaints cited in the March letter is concern over Utilities’ Fountain Creek wetlands project. Completed in 2014 at a cost of $4.2 million, the project stabilized the creek’s banks and installed flora to improve water quality and to prevent erosion and reduce sediment washing down the creek to Pueblo.

    But heavy rains and high creek flows last year disrupted the wetlands. While Fredell calls the project “a total success” for its boulder-laden banks’ withstanding the flows, it did get “beat up.”

    “There was 20,000 CFS [cubic feet per second of water] in that storm,” he says. “It did get banged up, and there was a lot of sediment” jarred that filled the area. The project was designed to withstand 15,000 CFS.

    Fredell estimates repairs, now underway, at $1 million, but a single wetland won’t solve the creek’s problems. He says at least 10 detention facilities and other improvement projects are needed to curb flooding and sediment transport.

    The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District agrees, but needs money, which is another complaint of Pueblo County and a point of contention in the IGA debate. The 1041 permit requires Utilities to pay $10 million annually for five years after the pipeline delivers water. The county contends test flows started last fall, and the first payment was due in January.

    The city says the first installment isn’t due until January 2017, assuming SDS is turned on this year.

    It’s worth noting that some other agencies with a stake in SDS — including El Paso County, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, city of Fountain, Security Water and Sanitation Districts and Colorado Parks and Wildlife — have expressed no issues to the Bureau of Reclamation about Utilities’ permit and contract compliance.

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

    SDS: No agreement with Pueblo County yet, April start-up uncertain

    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    It’s not clear whether the Southern Delivery System will be up and running by the end of April as Colorado Springs desires.

    “We’ve seen significant movement, and the commissioners understand the sense of urgency,” said Pueblo County Attorney Greg Styduhar. “But that does not mean we will not continue to apply the same critical eye and comprehensive analysis we have used so far.”

    Pueblo County, through its 1041 permit, might not have filled in all the boxes associated with turning on the water by that time, and has been working with Colorado Springs Utilities to complete the checklist. But it has taken time to work through issues, particularly the question of stormwater.
    “Both sides have been working diligently and there have been some concessions, but no meeting of the minds,” Styduhar said. He said a final version of an agreement should emerge in the next few weeks, and the commissioners would like to give the public the opportunity to comment.

    Once a deal is reached, the public process could add another month for more review.

    For almost a year, the county and Utilities have been negotiating an IGA that would allow SDS to start up. The meetings started as an alternative to a “show-cause” hearing on whether Colorado Springs Utilities was meeting all of its commitments under the 1041 agreement. Few details of the talks have emerged up until this week.

    Meanwhile, the pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs already has been pressed into service, twice, to supply Pueblo West, which along with Security and Fountain is an SDS partner. Testing continues and Colorado Springs wants to fire up SDS by the end of April, when testing ends and warranties kick in.

    Anxious to get things moving, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers this week revealed a proposal to Pueblo County that puts more than $450 million into play over 20 years to fix drainage problems on Fountain Creek. It also would pave the way to release $50 million over five years to build flood control structures on Fountain Creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

    The offer increases the amount of money on the table, the range of projects and the time frame, all of which Pueblo County has continued to fight for in negotiations. Styduhar agrees with Suthers that it would be an enforceable contract, citing Supreme Court decisions that back that viewpoint.

    The question is timing.

    “Certainly, there is a time crunch,” Styduhar said. “But it’s still important to look at it with
    a critical eye.”

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

    #Colorado Springs stormwater plans now total $445 million over 20 years, 73 critical projects

    Fountain Creek
    Fountain Creek

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs is upping the ante for what it would pay for stormwater control on Fountain Creek after getting a cold shoulder by Pueblo officials from presentations in January.

    “I’ve dug and dug and dug,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board Monday. “This is an enforceable contract.”

    Colorado Springs is offering to spend at least $445 million over 20 years on 73 critical projects that have benefit both to the city and Pueblo County. That is more than double than the $190 million over 10 years If the projects are not done by that time, Colorado Springs would spend another $24 million annually until they are complete.

    The offer was made Friday to Pueblo County commissioners as part of negotiations over the 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

    In addition, the city is offering to make EPA requirements enforceable by Pueblo County, to pay for $125,000 in administrative costs of the Fountain Creek district, offer more help with dredging and provide $3 million more for dredging Fountain Creek in Pueblo.

    Finally, it would release the first $10 million for Fountain Creek dams to the district as part of the condition to provide $50 million over a 5-year period.

    Colorado Springs wants to tie up all of the loose ends with the 1041 permit by the end of April, when testing of SDS will be complete.

    “The city is not going to delay operating the system and let warranties expire on a $900 million project,” Suthers said, adding that litigation would be the next step if an agreement with Pueblo County cannot be reached.

    Pueblo County commissioners must decide whether commitments made in the 1041 permit have been met before SDS is turned on. There is no timetable for when that would happen.

    In January, Suthers and other Colorado Springs officials met with the commissioners, Pueblo City Council and the Pueblo Board of Water Works on the stormwater issue. Commissioners asked for more long-term assurances and more commitment to resolving Fountain Creek concerns. City Council asked for $500 million over 10 years, along with other conditions. Even the water board, which works cooperatively with Colorado Springs Utilities, backed the county.

    Suthers outlined how the $445 million would be spent over the 20year period, escalating from about $20 million annually to $25 million per year. It would not include any outside grants. Payments would be guaranteed by excess revenue payments from Colorado Springs Utilities that total about $32 million a year.

    Pueblo County engineers, at Colorado Springs’ expense, would be able to jointly review projects in order to ascertain benefits.

    “CSU is an enterprise, and will guarantee the expenditures if we fall short,” Suthers said. [ed. emphasis mine]

    There would be fines of up to $1 million annually if the required amounts were not spent, he added. Provisions for dispute resolution are included, and Colorado Springs would pick up the legal tab if Pueblo County prevailed in a court case.

    Initially, the money would come from city cutbacks, refinancing and Utilities. That would not preclude Colorado Springs from identifying a permanent source of funding.

    “Also, whatever we resolve with the EPA by court order or consent decree would be incorporated in the IGA, so is enforceable by Pueblo County,” Suthers said, referring to the city’s current violation of its stormwater permit under the Clean Water Act.

    SDS North Outlet Works at Pueblo Dam supplies Pueblo West after pipeline failure

    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    For the second time in eight months, the Southern Delivery System is providing water to Pueblo West after a pipeline break, help that “could mean the difference between life and death,” in the words of one Pueblo West official.

    The repeat bailout for those 35,000 residents comes even as Pueblo County rethinks the critical 1041 permit granted to Colorado Springs Utilities to pump Arkansas River water from the Pueblo Reservoir.

    The massive water project is scheduled to start pumping 5 million gallons of water a day on April 27 to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security.

    As Pueblo County negotiates with the City of Colorado Springs for more stormwater projects to protect it from Fountain Creek surges, using the 1041 permit as its bargaining chip, the Pueblo West Metro District’s recurring reliance on SDS underscores the benefit of redundant water systems.

    “This is the second time SDS has stepped in to supply water to Pueblo West when there was a problem, and I just think it evidences the fact that, No. 1, SDS is important not only to Colorado Springs, but also to other water users, including Pueblo West,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

    “And we have evidenced a wholly cooperative attitude to make sure our partner in this project continues to have uninterrupted water delivery,” Suthers said. “We are trying to be as cooperative as we can. We think we’re all in this together, and we hope we get reciprocal cooperation coming back the other way.”

    Pueblo County commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen said, “The (system) redundancy has always been Pueblo West’s mantra as to why they entered the agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities on SDS, and it’s tangibly being demonstrated right in front of us.

    “It’s a huge concern having municipal drinking water as well as water to fight fires,” McFadyen said, especially because 11,000 households and some commercial customers depend on the Metro District for water.

    Asked how county negotiations are proceeding with Colorado Springs for Fountain Creek stormwater projects, McFadyen said, “Very thorough. And comprehensive. I can say we hope we won’t go to court (with the city), but it’s not something we would rule out.”

    Requests for comment were not returned by key Metro District leaders: Manager Darrin Tangeman, Utilities Manager Scott Eilert and board member Jerry Martin.

    But Metro District officials did join an emergency conference call with the county, other SDS partners and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation late last week to ensure that Pueblo West could tap into the SDS North Outlet Works and continue delivering water with no disruptions over the weekend.

    “I just think it’s wonderful that Pueblo West has the opportunity to back up its systems,” said John Fredell, SDS project manager. “We’ve said all along there are three reasons for SDS: growth in all our communities, to back up our systems and for security, staving off water shortages.”

    SDS also allows the partners to take down their systems for repairs while still getting water, Fredell said. Although an agreement allows Pueblo West to use the North Outlet Works for 30 days, SDS will provide “whatever it is they need,” he added. “They may have to rebuild that whole pipe under the (Arkansas) river.”

    SDS also provided water to Pueblo West in July after a pipeline crack was found in its South Outlet Works on the other end of the Pueblo Reservoir dam.

    “We aren’t just talking drinking water and sprinklers for lawn maintenance,” Pueblo West Fire Chief Brian Caserta told the Pueblo Chieftain at the time.

    “A rupture of that single supply line would mean no water to fight fire. Having a redundant water supply in a crisis could mean the difference between life and death,” said Caserta, then the Metro District’s interim director.

    The Pueblo County Commissioners approve reveg. along SDS

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    The Pueblo County commissioners adopted a resolution Monday to approve findings on revegetation and land restoration efforts by Colorado Springs Utilities under its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

    The findings would allow the release of about $674,000 in bonds held for the 17-mile route of buried SDS pipeline through Pueblo County.

    The resolution paves the way for other issues in the permit, the largest concerning stormwater issues dealing with SDS.

    The findings for the revegetation items were heard in a public hearing Jan. 25.

    “We attempted to be as thorough as we possibly could with this discussion and as fair as we could, not only with the applicant, but also critically important to us, fair to our own citizens,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.

    “We want to establish a precedent that any of the conditions that are associated with this project are perpetual and continue as long as the SDS pipeline is in place and functioning.”

    As part of the agreement, Colorado Springs Utilities must establish about 90 percent of the vegetation that was there before the project and was disturbed by construction.

    “Our experts have gone through and analyzed the area and they say that it has substantially been met,” Hart said.

    “There are some areas that still need some work and so that’s what our findings show.”

    Hart said the resolution also is in place to make it clear that over time Pueblo County and Colorado Springs will be watching the revegetation to make sure that it maintains itself as well as the restoration.

    Hart said the next big obstacle is stormwater issues related to the pipeline.

    “That is the biggest of the issues. We are working on that right now,” Hart said.

    “Pueblo County is suffering terribly from the conditions that are going on in Colorado Springs. So we are looking for good action to begin to control that problem.”

    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    SDS: Water treatment plant nearly finished — the Colorado Springs Independent

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

    It won’t be long before the new Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment cranks up to filter water coming from Pueblo Reservoir through the Southern Delivery System pipeline…

    …a few weeks ago, we got the royal tour of the water treatment facility on Marksheffel Road from two operators — Chad Sell and Jay Hardison — who are as excited as little kids who just got new bicycles for Christmas. They’re happy because a redesign of the project placed most treatment processes under one roof, making it not only more efficient but much more convenient to be monitored by Colorado Springs Utilities staff.

    SDS project manager John Fredell explains how Utilities got a good deal from bidders: “What we said is, ‘We want to see your value engineering ideas right up front.’ One said, ‘We can shrink this way down, put it all under the same roof and still deliver the same quantity and same quality of water, and we can do this with four miles less piping.’ Four miles!”

    […]

    There’s nothing extraordinary really about the Bailey treatment plant, named for a former long-time Utilities water division employee. The plant uses a traditional processes of flocculation, sedimentation and ozone to filter water and deal with any taste and odor problems.

    But there are certain design features that take the operators into account. For one thing, the plant can be controlled off-site by an operator using a mobile device. Also, access to the pipes below the various stages of treatment are readily accessible for maintenance and repairs. And, the plant will require only six employees on duty at any given time. It has a 10-million-gallon holding tank.

    The plant is built so that it can be easily expanded from 50 million gallons a day to 100 million gallons, Hardison notes. “Here’s a pad for a future generator,” he says. “We can add another generator and go to 100, like for our great grandkids.”

    While the whole system could become operational within just a few months, for now, operators are running it through the rinse cycle to be sure all is in working order. “So we’re currently testing all the processes out,” Hardison says. “We’re stopping and starting the plant, trying to get it fine-tuned. Plants run really well when they’re run all the time, continuously. If you stop and start, they’re not very good. We’re almost to the point where we will run it continuously.”

    He adds that one thing operators will learn during the testing is the “bookends of the low end and high end” of what the plant is capable of.

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

    SDS: Mayor Suthers tries to calm Pueblo councilor/commissioner complaints

    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette
    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette

    From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

    A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.

    Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…

    So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.

    Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”

    Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”

    “These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”

    The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

    Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.

    The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.

    Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.

    On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.

    “We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”

    Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.

    But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.

    He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.

    Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.

    Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.

    Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.

    On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.

    Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.

    And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…

    Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.

    While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.

    Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.

    Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.

    At stake is the city’s own water permit.

    The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.

    When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.

    “It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”

    Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.

    “I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”

    The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.

    “We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”

    The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.

    Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.

    Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.

    Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.

    Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.

    Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.

    “We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.

    As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”

    Pueblo West official tells Pueblo County to renegotiate the SDS 1041 permit

    Pueblo West
    Pueblo West

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member wants Pueblo County commissioners to renegotiate the 1041 agreement for the Southern Delivery System.

    “There are numerous, fatal flaws in the present 1041 agreement; too many to mention,” Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel told the Pueblo Board of Water Works this week. “I respectfully suggest that the 1041 permit must be renegotiated to create a true agreement.”

    It’s a significant development because Pueblo West is a partner in the SDS water pipeline project, and has already benefited from an emergency use of SDS last summer.

    The metro board took a position on Jan. 12 that its water should not be held hostage during the current SDS discussions, but Carmel made it clear that he was speaking as an individual at Tuesday’s water board meeting. The metro board will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to address Carmel’s concerns.

    Both the water board and Pueblo City Council are pondering resolutions requiring more action on stormwater in relation to SDS. Pueblo County commissioners are in the process of determining 1041 compliance on stormwater and other issues in the permit.

    The Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District has requested action by the Bureau of Reclamation under the federal SDS contract and by the Pueblo County commissioners under the 1041 permit to delay SDS until a stable source of stormwater funding is found.

    Carmel, a former Pueblo County engineer, said he has seen firsthand the damage Fountain Creek causes in Pueblo. He wants to make sure Colorado Springs has adequate stormwater control measures in place.

    “As Colorado Springs’ partner in the SDS project, I believe perhaps Pueblo West bears the most local responsibility to ensure SDS is implemented in such a way that the city of Pueblo does not get wiped out by floodwaters, in our name, if we stand by and do nothing,” Carmel said.

    He said politicians’ current assurance of $19 million in annual funding for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs is not adequate because future councils could easily reverse the action.

    “A 10-year intergovernmental agreement is not worth the paper it is written on under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, because it may be canceled at any budget cycle,” he said.

    Carmel said the 1041 agreement should be renegotiated to avoid future misunderstandings.

    “Now is the time to ask Colorado Springs to cooperatively renegotiate the terms of the SDS 1041 permit to ensure that it is a win-win deal for both communities,” Carmel said. “Any deal that fails to prevent flooding in Pueblo — through a permanent funding mechanism that cannot change with each election — is not a win for Pueblo.”

    LAWCD board meeting recap: Shut down SDS

    Fountain Creek Watershed
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities claims that violations of federal stormwater standards are not related to permits for the Southern Delivery System being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    “Documents for the (Bureau of Reclamation’s) Record of Decision refer to the stormwater enterprise numerous times, so to me there’s a tie,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the board Wednesday.

    The Lower Ark board agreed, and fired off two letters to regulatory agencies requesting to delay SDS until stormwater issues are solved. They ask for protection for Pueblo and other downstream communities from Fountain Creek flows that have been increased by decades of growth in Colorado Springs.

    The first — brought to the board by Winner and Pueblo County board members Melissa Esquibel and Anthony Nunez — asks Reclamation to review its contract for SDS and suspend it until Colorado Springs proves it has a stormwater control plan in place.

    The second letter — drafted by attorney Peter Nichols at Winner’s request — is to Pueblo County commissioners and cites provisions in the Record of Decision and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws. John Fredell, the director of the SDS project, tried to make the case Tuesday to the Pueblo Board of Water Works that the enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency against Colorado Springs has nothing to do with SDS.

    That viewpoint was echoed Wednesday by Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs consultant, at the same time as he enumerated renewed efforts by Colorado Springs to beef up stormwater control.

    Pifher touted that new leadership in Colorado Springs is committed to correcting the errors that led up to the EPA action.

    Winner wasn’t buying it.

    “We listened to ‘there is a real commitment’ in 2005, when (water chief) Gary Bostrom, (council members) Lionel Rivera, Larry Small and Richard Skorman came here and told us the same thing,” Winner said. “We tried to get an IGA so there would be an enforceable document.”

    Winner said the commitment appears to come and go depending on who is elected, and doubted whether the current plan to fix stormwater control would stay in place after the next cycle.

    Nichols questioned whether the $19 million Colorado Springs has committed to stormwater control would come close to the $600 million in needs identified by one study.

    Pifher tried to deflect that by saying many of the projects identified fall into the category of a “wish list,” while the action plan now under consideration addresses the most critical projects.

    “We’re skeptical,” Nichols said.

    Both letters tie the current EPA enforcement action to the Record of Decision and 1041 permit, saying the violation of the federal stormwater permit alone should trigger denial of use of SDS by Colorado Springs.
    Winner added that there is no acknowledgement by Colorado Springs that flooding on Fountain Creek is a result of unchecked growth upstream.

    #Colorado Springs Issue 300 abolishing permanent stormwater funding, “the definition of hoodwink” — Jay Winner

    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    Colorado Springs city and Utilities officials on Tuesday fended off another in a rash of recent challenges to the massive Southern Delivery System water project, scheduled to start operating April 27.

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to table for one month a resolution supporting Pueblo County efforts to require guaranteed stormwater funding if the SDS is to keep its hard-won 1041 permit.

    Pueblo County issued that permit only after Colorado Springs Utilities spent years negotiating and crafting complex agreements with county, local, state and multiple federal agencies.

    It’s the key to the $829 million SDS, one of the biggest modern-day water projects in the West, geared to deliver up to 50 million gallons of water a day to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security.

    But Utilities’ massive project and its 1041 permit are not to be confused with the city of Colorado Springs’ beleaguered MS4 permit, SDS Director John Fredell told the Water Works board.

    The city’s MS4, or Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, is vulnerable since longtime neglect of critical stormwater controls led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cite the city in October with multiple violations.

    For years, Colorado Springs hasn’t properly enforced drainage regulations, conducted adequate inspections, required developers to provide enough infrastructure or maintained and operated its own stormwater controls adequately, EPA inspections in August concluded. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Now city officials are negotiating with the EPA and the Department of Justice to maintain the MS4 permit. They don’t deny the EPA’s claims. Indeed, they had discussed the problems and started scrambling for solutions shortly after John Suthers was sworn in as mayor last June, months before the EPA inspections.

    Fountain Creek Watershed
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    But downstream Pueblo County has been a prime victim of Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater surging through Fountain Creek and its tributaries. And the county holds the 1041 permit, which some believe could be used as leverage.

    As Colorado Springs development has sprawled farther, more sponge-like land has morphed into impermeable pavement, leaving stormwater roiling across the terrain.

    Sediment in Fountain Creek has increased at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, pushing water levels far higher, reported Wright Water Engineers Inc. of Denver, contracted by the county. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Sediment grew from 90 to 25,075 tons per year while water yields increased from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found. [ed. emphasis mine]

    City and Utilities officials have been meeting with those engineers and their own consulting engineering firm, MWH Global, to prioritize projects.

    They’ve developed a list of 73, including 58 projects recommended by Wright Water, said city Public Works Director Travis Easton. Work on the first of those commences next week, with detention ponds to be developed along flood-prone Sand Creek near the Colorado Springs Airport.

    But skepticism lingers in Pueblo County, despite that effort plus creation of a new Stormwater Division, more than doubling the number of city inspectors and enforcement staff and the vow to dedicate $19 million a year to stormwater solutions.

    They’ve heard promises before, Water Works board members noted Tuesday. They want a guaranteed, ironclad source of funding to stanch the stormwater that inundates their communities. And they want it yesterday.

    “History’s important,” said Dr. Thomas V. Autobee, a Water Works board member.

    Jay Winner, executive director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, had threatened in August to file a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs for violations of the Clean Water Act.

    Tuesday, Winner reminded the water board of how the then-Colorado Springs City Council eradicated its stormwater enterprise fund in 2009 – soon after the 1041 permit was issued – “the definition of hoodwink.”

    Voters had just passed Issue 300, requiring payments to city-owned enterprises to be phased out. The subsequent council vote still rankles downstream Fountain Creek denizens.

    Still, that fund never provided more than $15.8 million, Fredell noted. By contrast, the city and Utilities now are determined to spend more than $19 million a year on stormwater for at least 10 years.

    They’re working on an intergovernmental agreement that would provide the guarantees Pueblo County seeks.

    “Enforceablity is always an issue,” Mark Pifher, SDS permitting and compliance manager, told the Water Works board. “But we’re in discussion with the EPA and Department of Justice. The handwriting is on the wall. There will be either a consent decree or a federal order, and nothing is more enforceable.”

    “If we can work this draft into something sustainable,” Autobee said, “that’s what I’d like to see.”

    Board Chairman Nicholas Gradisar said he’s encouraged by the city and Utilities’ concerted efforts and swift action. “What I’m not encouraged by is the inability to come to agreement with Pueblo County.”

    Gradisar said the funding must be guaranteed in perpetuity, not only 10 years, with an enforcement mechanism that doesn’t require a federal lawsuit.

    Suthers, City Council President Merv Bennett and Utilities officials will meet with the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Monday to continue discussions on the fate of the 1041 permit.

    That meeting is in commission chambers at the old downtown Pueblo County Courthouse, 215 W. 10th St.

    That night, the Pueblo City Council is to decide on a resolution similar to that tabled by the Water Works Board. It would support the county’s efforts to obtain sustained stormwater funding from Colorado Springs.

    The council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 1 City Hall Place, in Council Chambers on the third floor.

    More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works decided to wait a month before dipping its toes into the fray between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over the Southern Delivery System.

    The board tabled a resolution demanding a permanent funding mechanism for stormwater control on Fountain Creek in connection with Pueblo County’s 1041 permit with SDS, after testimony muddied the waters.

    After SDS Project Director John Fredell tried to convince the water board that the two issues are not related, Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District cried foul.

    “When you talk about stormwater, it’s not about the law or politics,” Winner said, turning to Colorado Springs oŸcials and inviting them to look at the damage along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. “The people are the ones getting injured. You need to do something about stormwater. You people are causing the issue.”

    Winner said the Lower Ark district has tried for more than a decade to get Colorado Springs to agree to permanent funding.

    Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett, under questioning by water board President Nick Gradisar, admitted that Colorado Springs has not been in compliance with its stormwater permit. He, along with Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico and Public Works Director Travis Easton, explained in detail how the city would spend $19 million annually to address stormwater control.

    About $12 million would go toward capital costs and $7 million to maintenance.

    “It’s not only for downstream users, but for the benefit of Colorado Springs,” Bennett said. “We’re not waiting.
    We’re moving forward.”

    Colorado Springs is trying to negotiate a 10-year agreement with Pueblo County to ensure the funds stay in place.

    Part of the water board’s resolution was to support Pueblo County in the bargaining.

    Gradisar questioned whether that would go far to cover $500 million in identified stormwater projects, and blamed politics for the failure of past efforts to fund flood control.

    “Left to its own devices, Colorado Springs Utilities would have taken care of these problems,” Gradisar said.

    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    “But your voters . . . they probably wouldn’t have passed SDS.”

    Water board member Tom Autobee brought up the issue of the $50 million Colorado Springs Utilities promised to pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District when SDS goes on line.

    Fredell explained that the SDS pipeline, pumps and treatment plant still are in testing, so Utilities does not believe the payment is due until 2017 under the 1041 agreement. Fountain Creek district Executive Director Larry Small, a former Colorado Springs councilman, said it should have been paid last week.

    Fredell argued that stormwater control is not a condition of the 1041 permit, since the permit deals with new growth related to SDS.

    Since SDS is not serving customers, it does not apply, he said.

    “But the damage is being caused now, what happens with SDS,” Gradisar replied?

    That drew a reaction from Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member Mark Carmel, who questioned whether SDS was just a speculative venture for Colorado Springs. He called for reopening the entire 1041 permit to incorporate new concerns.

    Water board member Mike Cafasso said the draft resolution presented at Tuesday’s meeting could be improved and moved to table it. Other board members agreed to take it up again at the board’s February meeting.

    Find a permanent revenue stream for stormwater — Pueblo Board of Water Works to #Colorado Springs

    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday will consider a resolution that calls for Colorado Springs to find a permanent source of funding for stormwater control of Fountain Creek.

    The resolution was provided to The Pueblo Chieftain by board President Nick Gradisar. It ties a recent Environmental Protection Agency audit of stormwater violations to a 2004 intergovernmental agreement among the board, Colorado Springs Utilities and the city of Pueblo as well as the 2009 Pueblo County 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System.

    The action would direct Executive Director Terry Book to contact the EPA to relay the community’s concern over the stormwater permit violations, which were revealed in November.

    It also supports Pueblo County in its enforcement of the 1041 permit, which could delay the expected operation of the SDS pipeline in April.

    The water board resolution also says Utilities, which was the lead agency for obtaining the 1041 permit, should have more of a role in the stormwater negotiations.

    “Pueblo Water believes any revised 1041 permit or agreement must provide an adequate enforcement mechanism such that future funding of stormwater infrastructure is no subject future funding of stormwater infrastructure is no subject to the whims of different political leaders in Colorado Springs or the other SDS participants,” the proposed resolution reads in part.

    It also suggests the stormwater regulations need to be in place for as long as the SDS pipeline is in operation.

    That echoes concerns expressed last year by Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, who suggested stormwater should be a fifth utility for Colorado Springs along with water, sanitary sewer, gas and electric service.
    Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place in 2009 when it received federal and Pueblo County approval to build SDS, a 50-mile, $841 million water delivery pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

    After a vote to sever utility payments from the city’s general fund in November 2009, Colorado Springs City Council chose to abolish the stormwater enterprise, but left other revenuesharing mechanisms in place.

    The Lower Ark has placed its proposed federal court action on hold until EPA enforcement of the state stormwater permit under the federal Clean Water Act is complete.

    Pueblo County is still contemplating whether Colorado Springs has met its stormwater obligations under the 1041 permit.

    Pueblo City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution requiring Colorado Springs stormwater compliance at its Jan. 25 meeting.

    Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and City Council have proposed a plan to redirect $19 million annually from other city and Utilities funds.

    Meanwhile, here’s the view from upstream via The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    Colorado Springs is revving up its stormwater program, more than doubling its staff of inspectors and engineers to deflect lawsuit threats and fix problems cited by Pueblo County and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Mayor John Suthers vowed from the start of his tenure in June to address the city’s long-neglected stormwater problems, and he soon started carving $16 million from the city’s 2016 budget to add to $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities.

    “I can’t emphasize enough, this money wasn’t easy to come by,” Suthers said. “I’ve got a lot of unhappy police officers and firefighters out there,” because raises and staff additions were frozen for the year.

    That $19 million dedicated to stormwater issues this year compares with $5 million from the city’s general fund in 2015, though federal grants bolster expenditures yearly. But Pueblo County officials are lamenting the loss of the Stormwater Enterprise Fund, which the City Council dismantled in 2009. They’re pointing to the eradication of that fund as cause to possibly rescind the 1041 permit they issued to Utilities to build and operate the $829 million Southern Delivery System.

    The timing of the threat couldn’t be worse. The enormous project is scheduled to start pumping April 27, delivering up to 50 million gallons of water a day to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs.

    Meanwhile, the EPA has threatened to sue Colorado Springs for not meeting terms of its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, better known as the MS4. After inspections in August, the EPA reported that the city didn’t have enough resources, inspections or internal controls to maintain and operate its stormwater infrastructure properly. The city also doled out too many waivers and failed to hold developers’ “feet to the fire,” the inspectors found.

    Water, of course, flows downstream. So unrestrained stormwater, excessive sedimentation and degraded water quality become problems for the people in Pueblo County.

    Neither Suthers nor the City Council has denied the magnitude of those problems. Indeed, the city and Utilities have proposed an intergovernmental agreement that would guarantee a minimum of $19 million a year in floodwater projects for 10 years. Utilities would be on the hook if the city experienced an economic downturn.

    In addition, the city is creating a Stormwater Division to be staffed by 58 full-time employees compared with the current 28, adding inspectors and engineers.

    The budget for MS4 compliance alone is increasing from $3 million to about $7.1 million. The total comes to $8.56 million if you include the cost of MS4 responses by street sweepers, firefighters and Utilities.

    Colorado Springs: Overgrowth and forest fire hazards

    Waldo Canyon Fire
    Waldo Canyon Fire

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

    “I’m looking out my window at North Cheyenne Cañon [Park] right now, and it’s just a carpet of forest out there,” [Dennis Will] says with evident dismay.

    If Will had his way, the park would go from having as many as 100 trees per acre to just 30 to 75. While that lush forest is beautiful, Will says the park isn’t meant to support so much greenery. Overgrowth puts the area at risk for fire and other hazards.

    His department has done significant mitigation projects in the park recently, but rains spurred new growth, and Will says finding the funds to maintain work that’s already been completed once is a challenge.

    If a fire did sweep down the Cañon, it could be a disaster of epic proportions. Steep slopes would make it difficult to fight. Homes, businesses and major parts of the city’s water system would be at risk. Floods would likely follow, carrying huge loads of sediment from the erosive granite hillsides. The Cañon/Bear Creek area is also home to the threatened greenback cutthroat trout, which might not survive such a calamity…

    North Cheyenne Cañon is just one of many problems. Will says Colorado Springs has the largest wildland-urban interface of any city in the state of Colorado. According to the city’s 2011 Community Wildfire Protection Plan, the interface totals 28,800 acres. To put this in perspective, 24 percent of the city’s population lives in the wildland-urban interface.

    And, as the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire showed, the interface can go from beautiful to scary very quickly…

    Another major player is Colorado Springs Utilities. Its infrastructure runs through the interface, and thus, preventing another major fire is in its best interest. Utilities’ budget for such mitigation was increased from $250,000 to $1.5 million after the Waldo Canyon Fire, according to Eric Howell, Utilities’ forest program manager.

    Utilities treats 1,000 to 1,500 acres per year currently and plans to begin treating as many as 3,000 acres a year in the near future. In order to achieve its mitigation goals, Utilities maintains partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado State Forest Service, the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, Pikes Peak Fire Learning Network, the Colorado Springs Forestry Division and the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

    While Utilities’ contribution is significant, most of its money is spent on watersheds outside the city. Utilities sets aside $75,000 to help match grants procured by the city’s fire and forestry departments.

    The latest “Smart Move” newsletter is hot off the presses from @CSUtilities

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Don’t forget to water- — even in the winter

    Even though landscape plants are dormant and brown, they should be watered periodically. By choosing to winter water, your lawn and landscape plants will have a much better chance of greening up beautifully when the warm weather of spring returns.

  • Choose a warm winter day above 40 degrees and unfrozen soil.
  • Water one to two times per month from November to April.
  • Water at mid-day so it can soak in before it freezes.
  • Remove the hose from the spigot after watering to prevent freeze damage.
  • EmyMar2003Blizzard

    SDS: Pueblo County close to approving reveg. part of 1041 permit

    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo County commissioners are close to closing one chapter of their 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System, but some other parts remain an open book.

    Commissioners Monday received staff’s findings on revegetation and land restoration efforts by Colorado Springs Utilities under the 1041 permit. They are expected to finalize that at a public hearing at 9 a.m. Jan. 25.

    The findings would allow the release of about $674,000 in bonds held for the 17-mile route of buried SDS pipeline through Pueblo County. The issue has been touchy because of concerns about the sufficiency of ground cover and the legal challenge brought by Walker Ranches.

    Walker Ranches settled differences with Utilities in a $7.1 million agreement that included an ongoing partnership between Utilities and landowner Gary Walker to take care of problems along that 7-mile leg.

    The county’s experts concur with Colorado Springs that other efforts have been sufficient to restore the land to the same condition as surrounding areas, but commissioners want to be sure that Colorado Springs won’t just walk away if drought returns and the work along the pipeline route is damaged.

    As a result, Utilities will annually inspect the easement and issue a report to the county.

    Commissioners also want to hear public concerns.

    “None of us wanted to approve the findings until they are posted for comment,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. The findings are available from County Planning Director Joan Armstrong or online at the county’s website.

    Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen said the report filed by county land-use attorney Gary Raso captured the board’s intentions, while creating a manageable path for Utilities.

    Commissioner Terry Hart wanted to be sure the Jan. 25 hearing could include more public testimony if it is warranted.

    Raso said the county settlement does not preclude private landowners who are not satisfied from taking action on their own.

    The revegetation issues are covered under just two of the 30 terms and conditions of the 1041 permit. Some of those have been satisfied under previous agreements, but two big pieces of the puzzle remain unsolved:

    The timing of $50 million in payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The district has taken the position that the payment is due now, but Utilities maintains it would not start until after water has been delivered to customers.

    The sufficiency of stormwater control. The Environmental Protection Agency last month announced possible legal action against Colorado Springs for violation of its stormwater permit.

    Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is scheduled to meet with commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 25, primarily on the stormwater issue. The Fountain Creek board likely will discuss the payment issue at its Jan. 22 meeting.

    Utilities plans for the 50-mile SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs to be online by April, Project Director John Fredell said Monday.

    From KRDO (Carl Winder):

    Pueblo County wants to hear your opinion on whether Colorado Springs Utilities is doing its job to restore land after building the Southern Delivery System…

    It says Springs Utilities has held up its end of the bargain…

    Commissioners will make a decision Jan. 25 on whether the group has done enough to restore the land, but they need your help to decide that.

    “We want to take input from those who have been impacted or anyone else that has an opinion about whether or not revegetation and restoration has been met,” County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen said.

    You can share your thoughts with the county by calling 583-6105 or you can go to to Pueblo County Commissioner’s meeting on Jan. 25 at 9 a.m.

    If you want to view the report click here.

    Pueblo Dam hydroelectric project DEIS is on the street

    Pueblo dam releases
    Pueblo dam releases

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A draft environmental assessment statement has been completed for a proposed 7-megawatt hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Dam.

    The Bureau of Reclamation is accepting comments until Jan. 30 on the project.

    The project is a joint eort of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

    Two generators designed to operate at both high and low flows would be constructed on the North Outlet Works, which was built as part of the Southern Delivery System. A separate connection for hydropower was included in the design.

    Electrical generation would not consume any water, operating on flows that already are released from the dam.

    The Western Area Power Administration would have first opportunity to purchase power, which would be available to Black Hills Energy or Utilities if WAPA declines.

    However, the power lines would be connected to the Black Hills substation that provides electricity to the Juniper Pump Station that provides power for SDS to pump water to Pueblo West and El Paso County.

    The assessment notes there would be potential temporary impacts on air quality, water quality and wildlife (including some fish die-o) during construction.

    Long-term eects would be less noticeable and not significant, because the flows into the Arkansas River, state fish hatchery, South Outlet Works or the SDS pipeline are not altered, according to the document.

    The draft environmental assessment statement may be found at http://usbr.gov/gp/nepa/sopa.

    Comments should be addressed to TStroh@usbr.gov.

    For copies or more information, call Terence Stroh, 970-962-4369.

    SDS — American Infrastructure Magazine “Water Project of the Year”

    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com
    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    From American Infrastructure Magazine (Genevieve Smith):

    Not many cities can claim their infrastructure was of leading concern from the beginning, but Colorado Springs is one of them. Concrete evidence was left in a time capsule by one of the city’s founding engineers, Edwin W. Sawyer, via documents dated in 1901 which state, “It seems to me that nothing except the lack of water can stop the growth of a city so desirable for residence as this…Our people are becoming aroused to the need of securing at once all the available reservoir sites and water rights…”

    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    Continuing in the same water-conscious spirit as those earlier citizens, three different mayors and at least eight previous city councils have been involved and invested in the planning of the Southern Delivery System, American Infrastructure magazine’s Water Project of the Year.

    Awarded for its forward-thinking and comprehensive approach to water management, the regional project will be built in phases through 2040 based on customer demands, and will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs and partner communities, Fountain, Security, and Pueblo West.

    The project is more than a simple fix for major pipelines that are now over 50-years-old and nearing capacity; Jerry Forte, the current CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities, hopes that this project “will serve as an engine, driving more efficiency, effectiveness, and reliability in our system.”

    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

    Phase I, which is now under construction, will transport water from Pueblo Reservoir through approximately 50 miles of underground pipeline, and is on schedule for April 2016. The project is estimated to cost $841 million at completion (thus far, under budget by $156 million)…

    The four-part Water Resource Plan, of which the SDS is the major component, includes conservation, non-potable water development, existing system improvements, and major water delivery systems (the SDS itself). After the 2002 drought heightened public awareness of water scarcity, Colorado Springs has been able to make improvements to increase the efficiency of the existing water system before constructing SDS. Today, their per capita residential water use is among the lowest in the region. Colorado Springs also has the second-largest nonpotable water system in the state and has expanded their use of non-potable water in recent years.

    Fountain Creek Watershed
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    Like any other project, this process hasn’t gone without headaches. However, clearing some of these hurdles was no easy feat, including dozens of permits and an Environmental Impact Statement that took almost six years to complete. In order to mitigate concerns that the proposed SDS would cause damage to Fountain Creek and surrounding wetland areas, a significant portion of the $1.4 billion overall cost of the project is a $75 million in wastewater system improvements to help prevent wastewater spills into Fountain Creek, a $50 million payment to the newly formed Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District; additional payments will be allocated towards various mitigation and flow maintenance programs on Fountain Creek in the future.

    Colorado Springs Overflows with Stormwater Projects — KRCC

    Fountain Creek Watershed
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From KRCC (Matt Richmond):

    Next year’s budget in Colorado Springs includes $16 million for stormwater repairs. Colorado Springs Utilities will also spend $3 million. Much of those funds are likely to go toward improving the Fountain Creek Watershed, which runs through Colorado Springs and down into Pueblo; and the list of projects that need to be done along Fountain Creek is long and expensive.

    The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District funds projects in watersheds in El Paso and Pueblo Counties. Executive director Larry Small holds up a building under construction near Monument Creek, which is part of the Fountain Creek watershed, as an example of damages that seem to go unchecked.

    “That development has created runoff, comes down the slopes, carries with it sediment,” says Small. “It’s more pronounced down here in this cut bank where the stream gets higher, undercuts the bank and the bank collapses into the creek.”

    Up until 2010, Colorado Springs had a stormwater fund that was used to pay for damage like this. But the fund was eliminated and projects stopped. Small says that’s created an enormous backlog.

    “[The Monument Creek watershed] is the largest watershed in the Fountain Creek watershed… Many streams are tributaries to Monument Creek and each of these have issues.”

    For the entire Fountain Creek watershed, the needed work compiled by the district has a price tag of about $1 billion. Small says about half of that is in Colorado Springs.

    In front of a Colorado Springs Utilities wastewater treatment plant downstream are projects completed by the utility. Small says they’re the same sorts of projects that were completed before the stormwater fund was eliminated.

    “They would put in rip-rap like this to stabilize the banks,” says Small. “So those were capital improvements they would make. They would also maintain areas that had been eroded, where they had facilities and they’ve been damaged – for instance sediment collection ponds may have been filled in need to be cleaned.”

    There is pressure on Colorado Springs to get back to work on these projects. The permit authorizing the Southern Delivery System, a pipeline carrying water north from Pueblo Reservoir, requires that Colorado Springs do more to control stormwater runoff before water deliveries begin. Pueblo County nearly voted to find the city in violation of that provision earlier this year, potentially closing down the whole pipeline. The Environmental Protection Agency and the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment will also review the city’s stormwater plans. The city faces a court injunction and fines.

    Alternative Transfer Methods: “For 10 years we’ve talked about how a (water leasing) program would work” — Pat Wells

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities wants to be Super Ditch’s “dance partner.”

    “For 10 years we’ve talked about how a (water leasing) program would work,” said Pat Wells, water resources supervisor for Utilities. “Super Ditch has always seemed lik e a logical fit. . . . If you’re interested in another dance partner, it’s a natural fit for Colorado Springs.”

    A formal letter suggesting a partnership was sent to the Super Ditch and Lower Ark district in October. It outlined the conditions under which Utilities would be willing to participate.

    Wells made the offer again to the combined boards of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District last week. They were reviewing the success of the first year of a pilot program that delivered 409 acre-feet of water from farmers on the Catlin Canal to Fountain, Security and Fowler.

    While the pilot program aims to provide a sustained yield to the cities under varying hydrological conditions, Colorado Springs is interested mainly in topping off its supplies in drought recovery years.

    One of the provisions of the 2013 HB1248 legislation would allow for leasing water from farms in three years out of 10. That scenario is most appealing to Utilities because it usually has enough water from other sources.

    The Colorado Springs system can hold 252,000 acre-feet of water in storage, but small amounts are useful.

    “In a recovery year, 2,000 acre-feet in the right place would help us,” Wells said. “We’re not looking for a base supply year-in and year-out.”

    Colorado Springs does not anticipate needing to establish a program in the next year, but is looking ahead to have a program in place should it be needed.

    “Our storage is as full as it has been in several years,” Wells said.

    The breathing room will allow Utilities and Super Ditch at least a year to negotiate and the soonest a program would be launched is in 2017, both sides agreed.

    Colorado Springs purchased part of the High Line Canal lease from Aurora in 2005. During that year, Utilities also leased water from Pueblo Water to make up for depletions from three drought years prior to that time.

    Meanwhile, here’s a report detailing this year’s pilot alternative transfer from Super Ditch to Arkansas Basin municipalities written by Chris Woodka for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    A handful of farmers on the Catlin Canal were able to dry up some of their land this year and lease the water to cities in the first demonstration of how the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch would work.

    The temporary fallowing of ground was carried out under a program supervised by the Colorado Water Conservation Board under the 2013 HB1248 that allows lease-fallowing project demonstration throughout the state. No more than 30 percent of farm ground can be dried up in any year over a 10-year period, or any parcel more than three years in 10.

    “I think it’s calmed down the water community statewide, because it’s not hurting farmers, and the farmers say ‘We’re getting a good deal,’ ” Peter Nichols, told the combined boards of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Super Ditch last week. “We had a good year and learned to build a bigger project.”

    There were 60 conditions placed on the project in a rule-making process earlier this year in the third attempt to get a lease program off the ground. The Lower Ark district helped form the Super Ditch in 2008.

    About 409 acre-feet (133 million gallons) were leased to Fountain, Security and Fowler, netting $500 per acre-foot for the farmers. They were also paid a $150 per acre readiness to serve fee.

    To get to that number, the farmers dried up 235 of the 900 acres — well under the 30 percent annual limit — which translated into 252 shares of the 1,047 Catlin Canal shares enrolled in the program. The yield worked out to about 1.75 acre-feet per acre, so the total payoff was a little more than $1,000 per acre. That was not a bad outcome, considering depressed commodity prices were the norm.

    “We put more water into the ground than we would have owed,” said Jack Goble, an engineer with the Lower Ark district. “It’s paid up so we don’t have to release water from Lake Pueblo for the next 20 years.”

    The program gave the district and Super Ditch a chance to look at the real-world impacts of weather conditions on a lease-fallowing program. The farmers used one augmentation station to show water was being bypassed and two recharge ponds that replace flows that would have seeped into the ground from fields. Water was transferred to Lake Pueblo, where it could be used directly by Fountain and Security, or for augmentation flows that support Fowler’s wells through the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association.

    Ironically, a rainy May and June made it difficult to claim recharge credits because it was too wet to run much water through the canal. But the high water levels made exchanges and trades easier so the program could be a success. The test program provided about 90 percent of the water that would have been available under the best conditions.

    Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro
    Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro

    “As a farmer, I couldn’t have been happier,” said Phillip Chavez, of Diamond A Farms. “We put in drip systems and laser-leveled the (fallowed) fields.”

    One of the outcomes of the project was a leasefallowing tool that conforms the engineering of the project to other water models, including those set up for surface sprinklers and wells to comply with the Arkansas River Compact. Still, Kansas looked at each of the farms in the program twice during the irrigation season to make sure the required ground had been fallowed.

    More about the economic effect of ATMs from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    With farming, it’s always a wild guess in planning for the year ahead.

    Crop prices could be high at the beginning of a season, and plummet by the end. Weather could bring drought, floods or hail — sometimes all of them — in any given year. Or, in that rare year, a bumper crop could bring premium prices as well.

    All of which provides the groundwork for the theory of water leasing — providing a stable income with a known price for an expected amount of water.

    It could be another crop for farmers, but there are hidden considerations.

    “Leasing water depends on conditions. If it’s wet, no one wants it,” Brett Bovee, regional director for WestWater Research said. “It also depends on where you are in the state, and what kind of premium you can get over your baseline crop.”

    Bovee was one of the featured speakers at a workshop last week at Pueblo Community College hosted by the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance. The workshop studied the economic, legal and political issues surrounding alternative transfer methods in Colorado.

    ATMs, as the water community has chosen to shorthand them, have been a big topic in the state over the last decade. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is at the forefront, completing the first statesupervised transfer this year. ATMs also are a big piece in Colorado’s Water Plan.

    ATM: The acronym conjures an unfortunate analogy, where you put money in and take water out. It’s not as simple as that.

    Super Ditch has raised the bar for water prices in Colorado. While the average per-acre yield for the Arkansas Valley’s major crops is at the lower end in the state, it is leasing water to cities at the highest rate.

    In other parts of the state, the rates range from $35-$337 per acrefoot, showing a wide disparity.

    Farmers have to evaluate whether leases help their bottom line or pull water away from crops that might pay off better, Bovee said.

    There are online tools that allow them to work out how much might be made growing a crop versus leasing the water.

    Beyond the simple economics, there are multiple considerations to be taken into account.

    On the plus side, leasing provides relatively stable prices, a high return, financing for other on-farm improvements and an alternative use for water while retaining a water right.

    Drawbacks include impacts to the community, keeping a cover crop growing, keeping weeds down and the headaches of the transfer itself (engineering, legal issues and transaction costs).

    “Leases can disrupt farm employment and business relationships,” Bovee said.

    Statewide, water leasing has had little impact on the overall economy, but the effects locally can be tragic, as the dry-ups in Crowley County illustrate.

    “The harm comes from taking water from one area and moving it out,” he said. “If agriculture makes up most of the economy and you move the water out, the effect is magnified.”

    SDS: “It seems to me the EIS is based on bad information” — Jay Winner

    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette
    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Plans for a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs over Clean Water Act violations are being shelved until state and federal agencies show how stormwater violations will be handled.

    But the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District still intends to be active and urge the city and county of Pueblo to join in assuring that Colorado Springs controls stormwater pollution of Fountain Creek, possibly by blocking the startup of the Southern Delivery System — the $841 million water pipeline scheduled to go online next year.

    “We can’t sue, because both the state and federal government are taking enforcement action,” attorney Peter Nichols told the Lower Ark board Tuesday in a work session. “They’re not going to go away. This is not going to be a slap on the wrist.”

    The Environmental Protection Agency last month revealed Colorado Springs is in violation of its state permit to discharge stormwater into Fountain Creek. The EPA said Colorado Springs is not spending enough or enforcing its own policies when it comes to stormwater after an audit showed the city made no progress in a two-year period.

    “It may be a coincidence, but the EPA did an audit and found everything we found and more. They have more resources,” Nichols said. “When you look at the appendices (to the audit), there’s some egregious [stuff] in there.”

    Most likely, that will lead to a federal court case with compliance from Colorado Springs or the possibility of daily fines of up to $37,500 for each violation. It’s unusual for a city to be cited, said Nichols, who was once director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, which enforces permits.

    “There are aggressive and tight requirements of what a city has to do,” Nichols said. “The penalties are held in abeyance so long as the violator complies with them.”

    Nichols provides a memorandum showing similarities between the Lower Ark’s findings, compiled over the past five years, and the EPA audit, which include lack of funding, maintenance and enforcement of basic stormwater measures.

    “We were a voice in the wilderness several years ago, but when we filed an intent to sue, the EPA paid attention,” Nichols said.

    “So we care about it, but the city and county of Pueblo don’t?” asked Lower Ark board Chairman Lynden Gill.

    One of the provisions of Pueblo County’s 1041 agreement in 2009 with Colorado Springs for SDS requires compliance with all county, state and federal regulations. It’s also one of the provisions in a 2004 intergovernmental agreement (Article VI, No. 8) among Pueblo, Colorado Springs and the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

    General Manager Jay Winner pointed out that the district’s criticism has fallen on deaf ears with federal agencies related to SDS as well.

    Those include the Bureau of the Reclamation, which approved the use of Lake Pueblo for SDS. Winner wants to reopen the federal process, which was mostly completed prior to abolishment of the stormwater enterprise by Colorado Springs City Council in late 2009.

    Reclamation approved a contract for SDS in 2010, even after objections were raised that there was no stormwater enterprise. The only remedy suggested in the documents related to the contract, such as the environmental impact statement, is a vague “adoptive management plan” that is supposed to kick in when violations for things such as water quality violations occur.

    “We’ve seen these happening for a long time,” Winner said. “It seems to me the EIS is based on bad information.”

    Nichols added the district also can remain involved in questioning whether the violations cited by the EPA could aƒect the Clean Water Act Section 401 and 404 federal permits issued for SDS.

    Colorado Springs faces possible action from the EPA over stormwater permit violations

    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    Colorado Springs repeatedly has violated its water quality permit and now faces a potential federal lawsuit, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned the city.

    The EPA inspected 14 sections of the city’s stormwater system Aug. 18-19 and found “continuous failure” to meet standards or remediate problems highlighted in a state audit conducted Feb. 4-7, 2013.

    Problems cited include inadequate funding, infrastructure problems, insufficient inspections, “not holding developers’ feet to the fire,” a lack of internal controls and too many waivers, Mayor John Suthers said Monday.

    The city’s federal MS4 permit (for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) requires adherence to water quality standards. While drinking water is not at issue in this report, Suthers said, heavy sedimentation and other problems were reviewed in detail.

    No city official denies the long-term neglect. But the irony is rich.

    Since he took office six months ago, Suthers repeatedly has vowed that $19 million a year will be spent on stormwater improvements. That has the City Council’s full support, and $16 million for stormwater has been carved out of the mayor’s proposed 2016 budget, with $3 million to come from Colorado Springs Utilities.

    So the city finally is poised to address a problem that has been worsening since at least 2008. The recession kicked in that year, and the city’s Stormwater Enterprise Fund was dismantled a year later, “a bad, bad combination,” Suthers noted.

    Voters in 2009 backed Issue 300, a measure weakening the city’s use of enterprise funds. In response, City Council eliminated the stormwater fund. It had six inspectors at the time; today the staff has about three.

    The timing couldn’t have been worse. The Waldo Canyon Fire struck in 2012, and the burn scar contributed to widespread flooding in 2013 that exacerbated already severe problems with Fountain Creek, Monument Creek and other tributaries.

    Tim Mitros, until recently the city’s Stormwater Division manager, has been widely lauded for his response to those disasters and for his diligence on stormwater issues.

    Homeowners cited his vigilance and daily visits in May, when record-breaking rainfall led to landslides that endangered two Rockrimmon houses. He also oversaw updates last year to the city’s antiquated, two-volume Drainage Criteria Manual for developers.

    Now the city is advertising for a new stormwater manager. Why? “I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to Travis Easton,” Mitros said.

    “We’ll be introducing accountability where it wasn’t before,” said Easton, who became Public Works director in August 2014. “We recognized long before this report came out that we had issues to address.”

    Said Suthers, “We need to up our game in stormwater, and that’s what’s going on there.”

    But he also noted: “If you really dig deep (in the report), the problem of inadequate manpower doing inspections” is evident.

    The city has retained Broomfield-based MWH Global consulting engineers to review the EPA report and “propose how to move forward to settle this,” Suthers said.

    The EPA encourages settlement discussions but says any settlement must be done through a consent decree by U.S. District Court with a schedule for injunctive relief and payment of an appropriate civil penalty.

    In January, city officials will meet to negotiate with representatives of the EPA, U.S. Department of Justice and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (EPA and CDPHE officials working on the issue referred calls to their communications staff representatives, who did not return requests for comment.)

    Suthers said the city hopes to obtain a waiver on penalties and avoid litigation.

    The city has been negotiating for months with Pueblo County, which has threatened legal action, too, over the severe problems downstream users have experienced because of Colorado Springs’ inadequately controlled stormwater.

    At risk is the 1041 permit that the county issued to city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities for its Southern Delivery System, a massive water project set to deliver up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

    Without the permit, CSU can’t turn on the tap for SDS.

    But downstream users have incentive to let the project begin: $10 million a year for five years that the system will pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District to build even more stormwater projects.

    Instead of lawsuits and penalties, Suthers said, “We would rather spend money trying to solve the problem. We’re hoping both Pueblo and the EPA have some realization that we have a council and mayor that realize you can’t kick the can down the road any farther.”

    Pueblo Water renews pact with Colorado Springs — The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday agreed to renew a 25-year agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities to work together on water issues of mutual concern or benefit.

    The agreement was first drafted in 1990 and renewed for another 25 years on Tuesday.

    “In 1990, we executed an agreement with Colorado Springs on exchanges and storage space,” said Terry Book, executive director of Pueblo Water. “The new agreement eliminates some provisions that no longer apply or weren’t as straightforward as we thought.”

    “How much water is involved?” asked board member Jim Gardner.

    “It’s the spirit of the agreement,” replied Alan Ward, water resources manager. “It says (things such as) we’ll share storage when it’s available, but it doesn’t say how much.”

    Among provisions of the agreement:

  • The right to use each other’s reservoir space if it is available.
  • Contract exchanges, which allow water to be traded between reservoirs.
  • Cooperation to maximize opportunities for exchange and reuse of water.
  • Right of first refusal for long-term contracts of exchange opportunity by either party.
  • The agreement grew out of legal cases during the 1980s which set priorities among Pueblo Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water for exchanging water into Lake Pueblo. Pueblo has the first priority for exchanges.

    All three entities use exchanges to maximize water rights that either bring water into the basin from the Colorado River system or, in Aurora’s case, take it out of the Arkansas River system.

    The new agreement incorporates more recent changes, including:

  • Intergovernmental agreements in 2004 that establish Arkansas River flow regimes through Pueblo.
  • A recovery of yield program associated with those agreements.
  • A 2009 low flow program that was adopted as part of Utilities’ Southern Delivery System and Pueblo Water’s purchase of Bessemer ditch shares.
  • Pueblo Dam
    Pueblo Dam

    Arkansas River Basin: Winter water storage starts up

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Some Arkansas Valley farmers remember — and not too fondly — the cold, blustery and sometimes snowy days around this time of year when they’d venture out to irrigation headgates and fight the ice to move water.

    For the past 40 years, most have not had that chilly experience. The water is stored either in Lake Pueblo, John Martin Reservoir or along the Arkansas River in a ditch company’s reservoir.

    On Sunday, winter water storage began this year, reflecting one of those unusual cases when all of the water interests in the Arkansas River basin appear to be rowing in the same direction.

    “The best thing we did was the winter water program,” said Carl Genova, a Pueblo County farmer, when he left the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board in 2009. “The district was able to get all those people together.”

    To be fair, achieving harmony in the program was no simple task. Ditch companies that had snarled at each other for a century came together in 1975 when Pueblo Dam had been completed to fulfill a vision from the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.

    The idea isn’t complicated: You hold back the flows of the Arkansas River for a few months when no crops are growing for use later in the season.

    But the execution of that concept is as complicated as the hit-or-miss, use-it-or-lose-it water conditions farmers in Southeastern Colorado have always labored under.

    The winter water storage program was voluntary for the first 12 years, until a court decree was issued in 1987. The decree required participation not only by ditch companies, but by Pueblo and Colorado Springs as well. The Southeastern district administers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers operate two of the reservoirs used in the program.

    And, oh yeah, Kansas also accused Colorado of violating the Arkansas River Compact when it filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985. The special master in the case threw out that claim a decade later.

    Winter water has operated every year since 1975, with the exception of 1978, when the Catlin Canal refused to join because of a lawsuit with the Colorado Game and Fish Department. The program was diminished in 1998-99, when the safety of dams program lowered the level of Lake Pueblo temporarily so the dam could be reinforced.

    In most years, it boils down to a math problem for farmers to contemplate during the chilly months. The water is allocated to the participating ditch companies and stored where they can best use it.

    Over the past 20 years, it has stored an average of about 130,000 acrefeet (40 billion gallons) of water annually for use in the following irrigation season. The water is stored from Nov. 15-March 15.

    During wet years, some winter water spilled — about 300,000 acre-feet total — from Lake Pueblo because there was no place to store it. Priority storage in Lake Pueblo goes to ditch companies that do not have their own reservoirs.

    In recent years, there have been some quirky ripples surrounding the winter water program.

    The release of water through Pueblo to support its Gold Medal trout fishery in the winter months became an issue during negotiations surrounding Pueblo Water, Aurora and Colorado Springs use of Lake Pueblo in 2004. The cities agreed not to exchange water into Lake Pueblo during low-flow periods.

    The city of Pueblo had placed boulders in the river below Pueblo Dam to improve fish habitat, and having water during the river months became more critical. Pueblo already was gaining a reputation as a winter fishing mecca during times when other sites were less accessible.

    The very next year, Arkansas River flows dried up as the winter water program sought to balance its accounts in Lake Pueblo because too much water had been stored in reservoirs below Pueblo.

    After the same thing happened briefly in 2007, water users agreed to leave 100 cubic feet per second in the river and sort out the accounting later.

    Three years later, the Pueblo Conservancy District needed to make emergency repairs to the levee through the Downtown Whitewater Park, partly caused by concrete anchors of parts of the kayak course that were attached to the levee.

    By storing winter water in Lake Pueblo, flows in the Arkansas River are kept artificially low, making for favorable construction conditions.

    That lesson was remembered last year, when the district began a complete rebuild of the levee through Pueblo and timed the work in the river bottom to the reduced flow period.

    Winter water storage also places a very junior call on the river, 1910, that allows many junior rights in the Arkansas River basin — both upstream and downstream — to use or store water that might otherwise not be available.