Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

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

Mark Shea of Colorado Springs Public Works Department was early to the meeting with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District with the good news that Colorado Springs voters have approved funding of the Fountain Creek Flood Mitigation Project by approving Ballot Issue 2A. The project has not been funded for several years, but some of the projects have been funded through the general fund, explained Engineer Richard Mulledy. The project is now the subject of litigation between Colorado Springs and the LAVWCD, so Attorney Bart Mendenhall urged both sides not to get into the territory of the lawsuit in progress.

Mulledy has been at the helm of the storm water project for two and a half years. Anthony Nunez, Director from Pueblo, asked Mulledy if the current 2A funding replaced the Enterprise Zone, which was originally designed to fund the project but voted out by the people of Colorado Springs. Mulledy said yes. The 2A mandate is intended only for capital projects associated with Fountain Creek Flood Mitigation, drainage maintenance over the 395 square miles of the Colorado Springs area, and the water quality program associated with it. Fees for litigation are not included…

Winner brought up sedimentation as the major cause of the North La Junta flooding problem. “Thirteen feet of sediment under the North La Junta Bridge,” said Winner. “More like 15 feet,” said Bud Quick, whose volunteer earth-moving has protected North La Junta several times. Earlier Quick had declared the problem of flooding in North La Junta will never be solved until the river is dredged and sediment controlled in the Arkansas River.
At the end of the meeting, Rose Ward thanked the LAVWCD for its help in flood mitigation for North La Junta, and at the present time for helping them establish a special district that will enable North La Junta Conservancy District to help itself.

#ColoradoSprings in a scramble to get finance systems in place to collect #stormwater fees

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

…the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, composed of City Council, must approve placing the monthly $5-per-household fee on residential utility bills, for which the city would pay the agency a one-time fee of $1.8 million and $200,000 a year, the Gazette reported.

Approval of Utilities handling collections is expected, and Strand says it appears that customers who don’t pay the stormwater fee would risk losing all utility services.

“We’re discussing this with Utilities [staff],” Strand says. “If someone doesn’t pay their bill, what’s likely to happen is their utilities will be turned off.”

Fees of $30 per acre for non-residential developed parcels will be billed by the city, which must set up the mechanics to do that. Undeveloped properties will be assessed by the stormwater manager based on impervious surface. (Suthers has said the city will pay an annual bill of about $100,000 for its property, including park land.) Those, too, will be billed by the city.

Strand says the consequence for nonpayment of non-residential billings is “likely” a lien placed on the property, which would require cooperation from El Paso County, the keeper of deed records. “The county commissioners I’ve talked to say they will cooperate,” he says.

In 2011, when the city wanted to collect $765,000 still owed for stormwater fees implemented in 2007 but halted in 2009, county officials refused to add the fees to property tax bills or deeds. Those fees, however, were not approved by voters.

Another complication is which properties, if any, will be deemed exempt from the stormwater fee. The measure approved on Nov. 7 entitles the city to bill nonprofits and churches, but what about federal agencies, such as post offices?

Federal agencies didn’t pay the city’s stormwater fees imposed in 2007, citing sovereign immunity and claiming the fees were a tax and, thus, unconstitutional. But, thanks to a bill signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, which amended the Clean Water Act, the federal government will pay its fair share of local stormwater management services, according to the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

Whether that bill applies to military installations is unclear. However, the association wrote in a newsletter that the law was envisioned as a way to resolve billing disputes with various federal agencies, including in Aurora where the city had billed Buckley Air Force Base $143,445 in outstanding stormwater fees as of May 2010.

Although Strand initially said he thought Peterson Air Force Base, which overlaps into the city limits, could be exempted, when told of the 2011 amendment to the Clean Water Act, he was eager to learn more about it.

“They use our resources, and we respond to help them with fire protection, although they have their own fire service,” he says. “I think they ought to be accountable under this current situation [ballot measure] we passed on Tuesday [Nov. 7].”

“This is a fine example of the new relationship between Pueblo and Colorado Springs” — Terry Hart

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

Pueblo County officials said Wednesday that they are excited about Colorado Springs voters approving a ballot measure securing $17 million in annual stormwater fees to be used exclusively for stormwater drainage and flood control projects.

“This is a fine example of the new relationship between Pueblo and Colorado Springs. I think it’s wonderful to have two communities rolling up their sleeves to tackle problems the two communities share,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

The money coming from the new ballot measure will be used to fund projects, including the list of 71 projects identified in the intergovernmental agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs regarding the permit for the Southern Delivery System. SDS is the large pipeline that transfers water from the Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs…

The IGA commits the Front Range city and its utilities department to pay $460 million for storm water infrastructure, maintenance and education programs over the next two decades.

“As evidenced by the incredible progress that has been made in our stormwater program over the past two years, the city of Colorado Springs is committed to operating an outstanding stormwater program,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

“Our commitment, and the commitment of our citizens, is evident in passage of Ballot 2A to provide a dedicated funding source for stormwater infrastructure, operations and maintenance.”

Suthers said this commitment will continue as the city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities invest $460 million over the next two decades to stormwater operations that will improve the city’s ability to mitigate flooding and preserve water quality while meeting the requirements of its MS4 Permit.

#ColoradoSprings: Is Issue 2A a springboard to outsized government spending?

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

While Mayor John Suthers touts stormwater fees as a route to financial stability for Colorado Springs, others see them as a symptom of the city’s insatiable appetite for cash.

Some worry the city will inevitably raise the fees, which appear on El Paso County’s November ballot as Issue 2A.

According to the ballot language, the city can raise the fees if ordered to do so by a judge, to come into compliance with state and federal laws or to abide by any intergovernmental agreements preceding June 1, 2016.

A high-profile lawsuit filed against the city by state and federal governments or an intergovernmental agreement the city entered into with Pueblo County last year are the two most likely causes of future fee increases.

Suthers argues that any increase from the agreement with Pueblo would be minimal and 2A is a proactive effort to mitigate high-dollar judgments against the city in the ongoing lawsuit.

If passed, the fees would charge homeowners $5 a month and nonresidential property owners $30 per acre each month. The fees would last 20 years and are expected to raise as much as $18 million a year for the city’s stormwater obligations, which currently are met using the general fund.

With a dedicated stormwater funding source in place, money freed in the general fund would be spent hiring new police officers and firefighters, Suthers said. If 2A passes, the city will be in good financial shape for the next two decades, he has said.

But Councilmen Bill Murray and Don Knight, who oppose 2A, are dubious.

Knight said the city’s wants will always be greater than the budget allows. The general fund has increased in recent years and the city can afford to continue paying for stormwater that way.

And Murray said new police officers and firefighters serve a “Trojan horse” and open the door for fee increases.

In April 2016, the city entered into a $460 million, 20-year agreement with Pueblo County to complete 71 stormwater projects. The city’s annual investments in those projects increase
every five years and average $20 million a year over the life of the agreement. The investments currently sit at $17 million a year.

If 2A passes and revenue hits the $18 million estimate in 2019, the first full year the fees will be in effect, the city can cover the $17 million investments. But in 2021 the city’s scheduled investments increase to $19 million a year, leaving a $1 million deficit.

Suthers said he expects growth to help cover the increases, but money from the general fund can also help.

Widefield Aquifer: USAF responds to Fountain City Council concerns

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

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

Peterson Air Force Base bosses worked Tuesday to soothe the Fountain City Council’s frustrations over the base’s role in polluting drinking water for thousands of residents in southern El Paso County…

“We have two objectives: One is to be as transparent as humanly possible,” Col. Eric Dorminey, vice commander of Peterson’s 21st Space Wing, told the council. “Two is to foster the partnership we have with the city of Fountain.”

The Air Force wants the pollution cleaned up as badly as local residents do, Dorminey told the council.

“We are committed to finding a means to mitigate these concerns,” he said.

Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega said the council knows better than to shoot the messengers from Peterson.

“While Peterson is where this potentially is coming from, they are not the ones who pull the strings,” Ortega said. “The leaders in Washington, D.C., are the ones we need to poke and prod.”

Monday, local officials twisted arms in Washington to prod the Air Force into faster action on the issue.

Officials from Fountain, Security and Widefield met with Air Force leaders at the Pentagon.

Locals are frustrated that they’re left with a substantial bill to install filters or bring in other water sources to get perfluorinated compounds out of their drinking water.

While the Air Force provided filters as part of an initial $4.3 million effort to provide clean water, the service didn’t come up with cash for buildings to house them, nor did it budget for pipelines to connect water users to other sources.

Water districts and utilities in Security, Widefield and Fountain have paid $6 million in checks responding to the water crisis, and they expect that tap to hit $12.7 million by the end of 2018.

The Air Force has said it won’t reimburse water districts for most of those expenses.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican who arranged the Pentagon confab, called the gathering productive…

Lamborn said it remains unclear, though, whether the Air Force will pay up.

The congressman said he’s frustrated by the military’s slow response to the contamination…

The City Council meeting also comes a day after an open house held by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on a proposed site-specific groundwater standard in central and southern El Paso County for the toxic chemicals.

The standard would limit two well-known types of perfluorinated compounds in the area’s groundwater to 70 parts per trillion (ppt), or a shot glass of the chemical in 107 million gallons of water.

It also would create the state’s first legally enforceable means to make polluters clean up contaminated areas. The likely boundaries extend across a wide swath of the county, including central and eastern Colorado Springs, Peterson Air Force Base and southern portions of Fort Carson.

State officials plan to release their draft of the rules in December, and a hearing is slated for April 9.

While Fountain now relies on clean water from Colorado Springs Utilities, the city could be forced to pull water from the aquifer in a drought.

At the council meeting, leaders said they have been frustrated by the lack of communication from the Air Force. They had been asking to meet with Peterson bosses for months.

Colorado College professor proposes to study Widefield aquifer pollution effects

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From KOAA.com (Lena Howland):

Dr. John Adgate, the professor leading the potential study, told dozens of concerned homeowners at the meeting here on Thursday that he wants to know what the health effects are from the firefighting foam that’s said to have caused the widespread contamination across the area.

He has submitted a fast track proposal seeking the funding for this study from the National Institutes of Health back in August and says he hopes to hear back within the next few months, with the goal of starting the study next summer.

Adgate says he would be looking for a pool of 200 volunteers spread out from all three affected water districts.

Their blood would each be tested once and 50 of them would be tested again the following year.

This is to find out the levels of these compounds found in their blood and to see if these levels are going up and down over time.

He says the compounds coming from the firefighting foam haven’t been studied enough to prove certain health effects, which is why he hopes his study will lead to more definitive answers.

#ColoradoSprings: Mayor Suthers on the stump for stormwater ballot issue (2A)

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

..Mayor John Suthers is the chief spokesperson for the 2A campaign in radio ads that began airing Oct. 3.

Rachel Beck, a Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC official who’s running the Invest COS campaign committee (aka the “vote yes” committee), reports the ads will continue until Election Day and that other strategies include flyers targeting likely voters and Google and Facebook digital ads. “It’s a pretty broad audience we’re communicating with,” Beck says.

With just 54 percent of likely voters supporting the measure, according to a poll conducted in early August, Invest COS hopes to move the needle to put the measure comfortably over the top. “Our polling showed that people have a high level of understanding of the issue,” Beck says, adding the campaign is focusing on explaining “that this is the right solution, what the components are and what they can expect to get in return if they support the measure with their vote.”

[…]

The measure, if approved, would require every household, including renters, to pay $5 a month on their water bill to fund stormwater; owners of nonresidential property would pay $30 per acre. Property owners of developed land larger than five acres would pay fees set by the city’s stormwater manager, based on the area of impervious surface on the land. The city itself would also pay the fee, which Suthers says in an interview would cost about $100,000 a year. The fees would be collected for 20 years.

Two seasoned political activists are working separately against the measure. Laura Carno, a political strategist who ran the campaign of the city’s first strong mayor, Steve Bach, in 2011, has set up a new campaign committee called Springstaxpayers.com. She says she’s raised less than $10,000 and plans a radio and digital campaign, plus TV if more money comes in. “The message will be that the city of Colorado Springs has plenty of money,” Carno says. “They just need to prioritize it.”