Lower Ark district joins federal lawsuit against #Colorado Springs — @ChieftainNews

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has joined a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs for not controlling stormwater flooding and discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

The lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in Denver by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment.

Essentially, the suit argues that Colorado Springs has continued to violate federal clean water standards with discharges into Fountain Creek that sometimes contain high levels of E. coli bacteria and fecal coliform.

The lack of stormwater controls isn’t in question. Colorado Springs officials have negotiated a deal with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on flood control.

When the lawsuit was filed, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers complained that any money the city spends fighting lawsuits over stormwater flooding would be better spent on fixing the problems.

But the Lower Arkansas board decided last month that too little has been done. Its lawyers urged the board to join the lawsuit to make certain the district participates in any negotiated settlement with Colorado Springs over flooding problems on Fountain Creek.

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.

UAWCD files objection in Coaldale water case — The Mountain Mail

Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District
Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors voted at its recent meeting to file an objection to the Security Water District’s court application for a change of water rights on Hayden Creek in Coaldale (Division 2, case 2016CW3055).

In discussing whether or not to get involved in the case, Upper Ark directors mentioned unresolved issues with Hill Ranch near Nathrop after the Pueblo West Metropolitan District purchased the ranch, changed the water right and dried up the land.

The directors’ discussion highlighted three main concerns:

  • Ensuring that the amount of water claimed by Security is not excessive.
  • Ensuring that Security administers the amount and timing of return flows so that other water rights are not injured by the change of use.
  • Ensuring that the dried-up ranch land is properly revegetated.
  • Security acquired the 1894 agricultural water rights when it purchased a Coaldale ranch that, according to the filing, historically used the water to irrigate 195 acres.

    The filing cites Security’s own study of consumptive water use on the ranch from 1912 through 2006 in asserting that historical water use “resulted in net stream depletions (consumptive use credits) of approximately 236 annual acre-feet.”

    Security seeks to change the Hayden Creek water rights from an agricultural use in Coaldale to a municipal use in Security, allowing the water to flow into Pueblo Reservoir before diverting the proposed 236 acre-feet per year through the Fountain Valley Conduit.

    The Security filing indicates that the water right may be used for continued irrigation on the ranch “to the extent not limited by municipal use of the depletion credits and dry-up requirements.”

    In the filing Security commits to constructing a Coaldale augmentation station to measure and administer the Hayden Creek water rights. The filing also indicates Security “may construct a groundwater recharge facility” that “may be used for recharge to the aquifer and later delivery of accretion credits back to the Arkansas River” (i.e., return flows).

    This would help prevent injury to other water rights holders because the return flows would be delivered to the river in the same location as the historical return flows created by irrigating the ranch.

    But the filing also indicates that Security may “replace return flow obligations to the Arkansas River” by means of “releases from Pueblo Reservoir,” which could injure other water rights between Coaldale and Pueblo Reservoir.

    Since Security owns the Hayden Creek water rights, the Upper Ark district’s filing won’t prevent the change of use, but as an objector, the conservancy district will receive future filings in the case and will have the opportunity to negotiate stipulations to address concerns.

    City’s stormwater inspectors keep an eye out for violations — The #Colorado Springs Independent

    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    [Stormwater enforcement actions represent] a 10-fold increase over 2015 and a dramatic uptick from a time when the city largely ignored violations of its own stormwater regulations. And this could just be a start — the city is also looking at a new program that would give it even more muscle against violators.

    The ramp-up is due in part to Mayor John Suthers’ response to pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Those agencies issued two highly critical reports of the city’s stormwater maintenance and regulation enforcement in recent years, and on Nov. 9 the EPA filed a lawsuit alleging the city’s lax approach violates its MS4 permit and the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit could bring multi-million-dollar civil penalties and federal monitoring.

    In early 2007, City Council imposed stormwater fees on property owners, raising about $16 million a year for drainage projects and maintenance.

    But in 2009, the Council defunded the program after voters approved a measure aimed at killing the fees. After that, the EPA lawsuit states, the city’s stormwater program limped along on an average of $1.6 million a year from 2011 to 2014.

    Despite a scathing EPA report in 2013, then-Mayor Steve Bach did little, and even opposed a citizen-driven ballot measure for drainage that failed in 2014. Without more money, city officials have said, they couldn’t effectively track down violators.

    That neglect had ramifications: In addition to possible EPA fines, uncontrolled drainage enraged officials in downstream Pueblo County, who in turn threatened agreements on Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System pipeline. So, earlier this year, Suthers and Council adopted a $460-million, 20-year stormwater program to fend off fines and cope with the city’s extensive drainage problems. One part of that program: oversight to verify compliance by contractors. Last year, the city’s stormwater staff numbered about 20. Today, it stands at 56, and another 10 will be added next year. Many of those are inspectors who troll for violators…

    Though stormwater program manager Rich Mulledy says inspectors fan out over the city, most offenses were spotted on the city’s northeast side where development is brisk, records show…

    Mulledy stresses the city would rather gain compliance than punish builders. He doesn’t like the word “crackdown” to describe the city’s approach in enforcing its MS4 permit, which requires erosion control for all projects larger than one acre.

    “Just because of the number of houses being built, we’ve really stepped up,” he says, quickly adding that the industry has proven a willing partner. The city, he notes, has the authority to issue summonses that carry fines of $500 per day, but no fines have been levied so far.

    “We’ve had compliance,” he says, “We’re committed from the city’s standpoint to make sure we’re doing the right thing to meet our permit going forward, and I feel the industry is supportive going forward. We have to meet the federal permit for sure, but we want to do the right thing and still have developers make progress and be able to do business.”

    Builders and developers are all in, says Tim Seibert, president of the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs.

    “Obviously, just like the mayor stated, we’re not pleased to hear the EPA has filed a lawsuit,” Seibert says. “We think there is a better solution. But at the end of the day, we want to be at the table and be sure we’re in compliance.”

    Seibert says the HBA hosts monthly “Wet Wednesday” meetings at which its members are instructed in stormwater regulations, such as erosion control and best management practices.

    “With the recent enforcement, we’ve stepped that up,” he adds. “We’ve made it more thorough. We’ve gotten a lot of cooperation from the city telling us, ‘These are the practices we need to see.’ I think that’s been very helpful for them to get in contact with guys in the field doing the implementation.”

    The HBA also added a monthly meeting with Mulledy at which design standards are discussed. “We want to make sure we’re not getting ourselves in trouble, and we don’t want the city to get in trouble,” Seibert says.

    He also says that as the city shapes its program to satisfy federal authorities, HBA members realize more enforcement is coming.

    Mulledy won’t discuss details of the new program — still being worked out — but says it will clarify enforcement steps, and allow officials to “jump steps” if a violation poses an immediate threat to the city’s stormwater system or downstream. Currently being reviewed by stakeholders, the program will be introduced within a few months.

    “In general,” Mulledy says, “it’s going to be more specific and give us more tools.”

    Widefield Water and Sanitation stops use of contaminated aquifer water — The #Colorado Springs Gazette

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

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

    The Widefield Water and Sanitation District became the last major water system to stop using well water from the tainted aquifer, according to the district’s water manager, Brandon Bernard.

    As of Nov. 10, all of the district’s customers receive cleaner surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir.

    “We’re looking forward to moving forward without having to worry about PFCs,” said Bernard, using an acronym for the toxic chemicals.

    The announcement ends one chapter of a water crisis that sent thousands of residents scrambling for bottled water…

    The contamination has spawned two class-action lawsuits against companies that manufactured the foam. The Air Force, which found the chemical harmful to laboratory animals as early as the 1970s, also is studying its role in the contamination by drilling several test wells around Peterson Air Force Base…

    For months, local water officials raced to limit residents’ exposure to the chemicals, which remain unregulated by the EPA.

    Fountain officials shut off their wells in fall 2015 – relying instead on cleaner water from the Pueblo Reservoir. But other water districts couldn’t meet customers’ demands this past summer without using contaminated well water.

    Security Water and Sanitation Districts weaned itself from the aquifer in September.

    Officials for all three water districts are optimistic that customers will no longer receive contaminated water from the aquifer, unless its cleansed of the toxic chemicals.

    Officials in Security and Fountain have previously voiced plans to build treatment plants to filter the fouled water. Water rates there could rise to help finance those projects.

    Widefield officials, however, are conducting two test projects to determine whether ion exchange or granular activated carbon filters best remove the chemicals, Bernard said.

    Widefield’s test projects, which began in October, are expected to last six months, he said.

    The district also is planning a $1 million project to install a pipe under Interstate 25 capable of bringing in more water from the Pueblo Reservoir. Widefield has several thousand acre feet of water stored at the Pueblo Reservoir, and officials there are no longer concerned about running out of water rights this year.

    District leaders also plan to meet with Air Force officials on Thursday to coordinate how the military can help filter water. In July, the Air Force vowed to spend $4.3 million to supply bottled water and well water filters for the affected communities.

    Unlike other water districts, Widefield is not planning to raise rates in 2017 to pay for the water projects, Bernard said. Rather, they will be paid for using reserve funding.

    Customers are only likely to pay for operations costs once a treatment plant is built, he said.

    “It’s nice just to not have to worry about our customers being concerned,” Bernard said. “And now we can just move forward with fixing the problem.”

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

    Lower Ark joins Fountain Creek lawsuit — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.
    Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    During their monthly meeting…Lower Arkansas board members voted unanimously to join a lawsuit filed last week against Colorado Springs for discharging pollutants into Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

    Members also said they have asked Pueblo City Council and the Pueblo County commissioners to join the lawsuit, as well.

    “I can’t see where Pueblo County and the city cannot step up and do the same thing,” said Anthony Nunez, a former Pueblo County commissioner who sits on the Lower Ark board…

    Peter Nichols, an attorney and a Lower Ark director, told board members that intervening in the lawsuit would give them a seat at the table in any sort of trial or negotiated settlement that might occur…

    Nunez said Colorado Springs needs to be held accountable and, in the nearly six years he has been on the board, he’s heard the same thing from Colorado Springs over and over again.

    “We’ve met with the (Colorado Springs) City Council. I guess to put it in better terms, we meet with half of the City Council because they are always waiting for the next city council,” Nunez said.

    “We have talked and talked, and I think it is time that actions be taken.”

    […]

    “As long as they can keep giving us the stiff arm — put us off, put us off, put us off — they don’t feel like they have any obligation because, quite frankly, if they have a violation, they pay a small fine and that fine is far less than rectifying the entire problem,” [Melissa Esquibel] said.

    Lower Ark District letter triggers Fountain Creek lawsuit

    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 (Robert Boczkiewicz):

    The district says the lawsuit, filed by the federal and state governments, followed on the heels of a letter of concern the district sent Oct. 28 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Denver by the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment against the city of Colorado Springs.

    The lawsuit alleges that discharges into the creek from the city’s stormwater sewage system violate the federal Clean Water Act and the state Water Quality Control Act.

    “It’s time Colorado Springs be held accountable for its continued violations of discharge limits into Fountain Creek,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas district. Its mission is to protect water resources of the Lower Arkansas River Valley.

    “We’ve been trying to get the Springs to recognize their responsibility to Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley for the past 12 years, but there has been close to zero progress when it comes to cleaning up the mess on Fountain Creek,” Winner said.

    He said the Oct. 28 letter expressed concerns with Colorado Springs’ 2016 Stormwater Program Implementation Plan. The letter was part of the district’s long-standing complaints about the city’s discharges into the creek.

    The lawsuit seeks:

    • A court order requiring Colorado Springs “to take all steps necessary to redress or mitigate the impact of its violations.”
    • A court order requiring the city “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The federal and state laws invoked by the lawsuit regulate the discharges.
    • Imposition of monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.

    “This is an historic day for Pueblo, which has been waiting decades for Colorado Springs to clean up Fountain Creek,” Anthony Nunez, a former Pueblo County commissioner who sits on the Lower Ark board, said in a statement issued by the district.

    Melissa Esquibel, another Pueblo County member of the district’s board, said the board intends to discuss the lawsuit at its Wednesday meeting in Rocky Ford. The district encompasses Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.

    The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs reported Thursday that the city’s mayor, John Suthers, expressed frustration that the EPA and state environmental agency filed the lawsuit rather than recognize recent strides the city has made to deal with its storm sewer discharges.

    “They know they have a mayor and City Council that recognize the problem, understand the problem and are intent on fixing the problem,” the mayor said. “Rather than working with us to get this done, they file a lawsuit.

    “Every single dime going to litigate this thing and pay fines should be going into fixing the problem,” Suthers said.

    The district sees it differently.

    “They’ve dumped on Pueblo in the past, and it looks like they’ll keep on dumping,” Winner said. “We’ve seen nothing to convince us they have changed their attitude that Fountain Creek can be used as an open sewer.”

    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

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

    Colorado Springs’ discharge from its storm sewer system of toxic pollutants into Fountain Creek has long been a cause of distrust and bad relations between Pueblo and its upstream neighbor.

    The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Denver.

    The U.S. Department of Justice filed the lawsuit at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Attorney General’s office filed the lawsuit at the request of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    The lawsuit claims that polluted discharges from Colorado Springs’ stormwater system violate the federal Clean Water Act and the state Water Quality Control Act.

    The 51-page lawsuit states that the discharges flow into Monument Creek, Camp Creek, Cheyenne Creek and Shooks Run, as well as into Fountain Creek.

    The lawsuit also seeks a court order to require Colorado Springs “to develop, implement and enforce” its stormwater management program, as required by permits the government has issued. The federal and state laws invoked by the lawsuit regulate the discharges.

    The lawsuit also asks a judge to impose monetary penalties on Colorado Springs for the violations.

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

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

    Under federal courts rules, the city is required to respond to the lawsuit after it is served on a city official. In their responses filed at the court, defendants typically state their position on the allegations and claims against them.

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

    @EPA, @CDPHE lawsuit zeroes in on #Colorado Springs stormwater violations

    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 Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state health department filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the City of Colorado Springs over water quality violations and stormwater program shortfalls dating to 2009.

    Mayor John Suthers, who began building a new stormwater program immediately after taking office in June 2015, expressed frustration over the decision by the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to file legal action rather than recognize recent strides the city has made.

    The federal and state agencies are seeking civil penalties that Suthers said could amount to “millions and millions of dollars.”

    “What’s frustrating is: They know they have a mayor and City Council that recognize the problem, understand the problem and are intent on fixing the problem,” the mayor said. “Rather than working with us to get this done, they file a lawsuit.

    “This is the kind of lawsuit that gives the EPA a reputation for being over-reaching. Every single dime going to litigate this thing and pay fines should be going into fixing the problem.”

    Over the past 18 months, the city has:

    ◘ Negotiated and signed a $460 million, 20-year intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County to build 71 major stormwater projects. The work is designed to eliminate sedimentation, detain excessive flows and improve water quality in Fountain Creek for local and downstream communities. That pact is backed by Colorado Springs Utilities, which will appropriate needed funds should the city experience a shortfall.

    ◘ Recruited professional engineer Richard Mulledy to manage the stormwater division and beef up the staff of stormwater inspectors and engineers from 28 to 49 full-time employees, with a total of 66 to be on board within the next several months.

    ◘ Increased spending on stormwater from $5 million in 2015 to $19 million a year, including $9.2 million for capital projects, $3 million from Utilities and $7.1 million to $7.8 million, when fully staffed, for the city’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, known as an MS4 federal permit, which allows Fountain Creek to flow into the Arkansas River, to the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico.

    ◘ Started building a $3 million detention pond on Sand Creek; spending $2 million to rehabilitate wash-out areas, remedy sediment-transport issues and improve water quality since 2013 flooding, and retrofitting a King Street detention pond so it not only controls flood waters but also manages flow to mimic natural discharge.

    When Suthers took office, he lamented a former City Council’s decision in 2009 to eliminate the city’s Stormwater Enterprise Fund, which had collected $15 million to $16 million a year in fees from property owners to spend on stormwater projects.

    “Fountain Creek is one of the most unstable, flashy creeks in all the nation. It’s a unique animal,” engineer Mulledy told The Gazette in March.

    The base flow of 120 cubic feet per second can reach 20,000 cfs during a 25-year event, swelling the creek to 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep, he said. “On top of that, the material along that creek is an alluvial field. It’s sand. So it’s kind of the perfect storm,” Mulledy said.

    The mayor recognized that city voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures, so he and the council agreed to address the need directly from the general fund. In order to do so, he froze employee salaries and vacancies, squeezed the police and fire departments, and shelved several planned capital projects this year.

    But the EPA and state point to average annual stormwater expenditures of $1.6 million from 2011 through 2014, when only nine full-time employees worked in stormwater. So surface runoff, streambed degradation, widening and erosion led to sedimentation and unacceptable water quality.

    The suit cites a 2000 planning study for the Cottonwood Creek Drainage Basin that eliminated six detention basins and structural measures originally planned, reducing costs by $11.4 million, but notes that the plan now is being updated and revised.

    A 2013 EPA audit identified water-quality control structures at two developments that didn’t treat stormwater before discharging it into state waters; seven residential developments without stormwater controls or waivers for such; failure to submit development, inspection and maintenance plans to Engineering Development Review before grading permits were issued, and other failures since 2013 to ensure that policies protecting water quality were followed.

    Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District, has long despaired of the city’s years of neglect toward Fountain Creek and stormwater issues.

    But that’s in the past, Small said.

    “John (Suthers) put in that $460 million plan, he’s increased the stormwater department significantly in staffing, he’s put processes in place, and he’s started at least three significant projects in the last year to deal with it,” Small said. “He’s got an agreement with Pueblo County that we haven’t had in years on managing and monitoring stormwater and to review progress annually and adjust the priorities. As far as John’s performance, he’s done a great job in the last year and a half.

    “From the time the city discontinued its stormwater enterprise until John put planning in place, we had a large number of years with a huge deficiency. But I don’t see how a lawsuit is going to correct the problem,” he said. “The only thing a lawsuit is going to do is bring in money for the federal government in fines, and what good does that do for the city or the problem?

    “A better solution would have been to sit down with monitoring and performance guidelines and allow the city to use that money to make improvements instead of pay fines with it. This is just another example of the federal government using a local issue to raise money.”