In response to a call from Sen. Doug Lamborn for the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw its federal lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs, the Pueblo County commissioners have drafted a letter to lawmakers against that action.
On Wednesday, the commissioners agreed to send the letter to members of their federal congressional delegation.
“We felt that it was imperative that we draft this letter to both the House and the Senate to reiterate just how important this lawsuit is to Pueblo County in protecting our interests pertaining to water quality,” Commissioner Garrison Ortiz said.
Commissioner Sal Pace said lobbyists already are asking new EPA leadership to pull back on Fountain Creek and to not push forward with the federal lawsuit.
“There’s been some evidence that the EPA is going to heed the call of some of these political forces in El Paso County and Colorado Springs,” Pace said.
“We think it’s critically important to the county that the EPA stays strong in this matter and stands alongside the state health department, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.”
Ortiz said budget cuts to the EPA by President Donald Trump may affect the current lawsuit.
“That certainly played into the decision-making process whether to join in the litigation in the first place or not,” Ortiz said.
The proposed cuts especially to the EPA and some other agencies are certainly concerning . . . All that we are continuing to ask for is a seat at the table ensuring that our interests are continuing to be protected.”
Colorado Springs voters’ reticence to fund stormwater projects ended Tuesday evening as all three ballot measures cruised to passage.
Ballot Issue 2, which asked voters to set aside $12 million in excess revenue for stormwater projects, jumped to an early lead with 66 in preliminary unofficial results.
Sixty-six percent of voters – 50,612 as of 9:05 p.m. – voted in favor of the measure, according to unofficial results.
The move came as a relief to Travis Easton, the city’s public works director.
“I’m pleased with that and we got more work to do now,” Easton said. “We’re ready to start those projects and anxious to get everything done.”
Specifically, the measure sets aside $6 million this year and another $6 million next year to complete 26 projects, rather than rebate the money back to taxpayers.
The vote marked another chapter in a years-long saga over funding flood control projects across the city…
In April 2016, the city entered into a 20-year intergovernmental agreement that city leaders signed with Pueblo County in April 2016. The agreement called on Colorado Springs to spend $460 million in that time on stormwater projects – lest Pueblo County leaders put a halt to the city’s prized Southern Delivery Project…
Mayor John Suthers…campaigned hard for the measure – stressing that using the extra money now would help the city meet funding requirements in the Pueblo deal during lean years.
The city must spend roughly $17 million a year on stormwater to meet its agreement.
Easton said Tuesday’s results showed that voters are more aware of stormwater issues facing the city, and they’re more trusting of city officials to deliver.
Usually curt and to the point, Suthers on this day stretches what was scheduled as a 30-minute interview into a full hour. Perhaps he wants to bask in his achievements — persuading voters to approve a $250-million, five-year sales tax increase for roads; creating a $460-million, 20-year agreement with Pueblo County to fund the city’s drainage needs, and subduing a once-rocky relationship between Council and the mayor’s office.
But Suthers is too pragmatic to rest on his laurels for long. While he talks in endearing terms about his hometown of Colorado Springs…
What is your long game on flood control, and what role will City Council play?
First of all, it’s more than flood control. Stormwater is both flood mitigation and water quality. The federal part of this case is all about water quality. The end game is to get a stormwater program that does right by the citizens of Colorado Springs and also meets all legal muster. And right now, the outstanding legal issue is with the federal and state government — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
My goal is to hopefully reach a resolution with them and then assess whether there’s any more money involved than the intergovernmental agreement calls for. And then at some point, with the cooperation of Council, go to voters with a long-term solution to stormwater. Absent a dedicated revenue stream, that [$460 million for the agreement with Pueblo] is going to come from the general fund. That will put a lot of pressure on the general fund.
So the long-term goal, hopefully with the assistance of Council, and I don’t know how we would pull it off without Council, is to go to the voters. That would provide a funding stream for stormwater and allow us to free up some general fund money for some other obligations I see coming down the pike.
Notably, we, I think in the next five to 10 years, have to significantly increase the size of the police department, put more officers on the street…
With Donald Trump in the White House, any chance there might be a settlement or dismissal of the [EPA and CDPHE lawsuit]?
Haven’t heard that at all. We had the first court hearing last week. We recommended going to a third-party mediator, which we think that’s in our interest, and the federal government rejected that. We think we have a great case to show for all the alleged sins of the past. We’re moving forward, and I’ll stack our stormwater program and commitments up to any city in Colorado, but [the lawsuit] is going forward.
On Tuesday afternoon, Colorado Springs City Council voted to help their neighbors deal with [pollution of the Widefield Aquifer]. They voted unanimously on the agenda item that will allow Colorado Springs Utilities to sell their water to Security Water District. The resolution goes into effect immediately.
It’s a short term deal – just up to three years as of now, but Springs Utilities says the have more than enough resources to help.
The diminishing water level in the 280-acre lake south of the Colorado Springs Airport is intentional. Gary Steen, manager of the Fountain Mutual Irrigation Company that owns the Big Johnson, said Tuesday morning that his company has been draining the reservoir since the summer of 2016 and preparing to repair three outlet gates…
The irrigation company typically fills the reservoir in the fall and winter months before the irrigation season begins in early April. Steen said crews have been building a bypass pipeline for the last few weeks and will finish the work prior to April 1.
When Fountain Mutual built the reservoir in 1910, it took control of a water storage decree that dates back to 1903, Steen said. That decree allows the company to store up to 10,000-acre feet of water in the lake. But, according to Steen, sediment in the reservoir has diminished its capacity over the years to about 5,000-acre feet.
The city’s denial is its first response in court to a lawsuit that claims discharges of pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries violate the laws. The discharges are from Colorado Springs’ stormwater system…
Colorado Springs asserted in Monday’s filing that it “has at all times been in compliance” with permits issued by the state agency to govern the discharges and the stormwater system.
The city contends it should not be subjected to court orders or monetary penalties that the environmental agencies want a judge to impose.
Colorado Springs also contends that allegations in the lawsuit misrepresent the facts of issues in dispute.
Pueblo County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District can intervene in the suit, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled Thursday.
A year ago, Pueblo County commissioners signed off on an intergovernmental stormwater agreement with Colorado Springs, ensuring that the city will spend $460 million over 20 years to provide 71 stormwater projects aimed at minimizing Fountain Creek’s effects on downstream communities.
The creek flows downstream carrying excess sedimentation, E. coli contamination and other pollution, claims the Lower Ark, which represents the largely agricultural areas of Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.
County officials have echoed those concerns.
And the EPA, after conducting audits in 2013 and 2015 of the city’s stormwater system, found that the creek and its tributaries were eroded and widened, their waters combining with surface runoff to create excessive sedimentation and substandard water quality.
Federal officials upbraided the city for not demanding enough infrastructure from developers and for not maintaining the culverts and creeks snaking through the city.
The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on the EPA’s behalf, and by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is a serious concern for Mayor John Suthers, who has made the city’s long-neglected stormwater infrastructure a top priority.
In addition to the agreement with Pueblo County, he has more than doubled the stormwater division’s staff, added a new manager and overseen the Nov. 2 release of an inch-thick Stormwater Program Implementation Plan.
The EPA and state filed suit one week later, on Nov. 9.
Pueblo County was granted a motion Thursday that allows the county to join in a federal/state lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also was allowed to join the case as an intervenor to protect the district’s interest during the litigation…
Pueblo County filed the motion to intervene last week. The lawsuit was filed Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment against Colorado Springs.
The Lower Ark district filed the same motion in November.
The lawsuit claims there is harm caused by discharges of pollutants down Fountain Creek into Pueblo and east to the Arkansas River’s other tributaries.
It also claims the city of Colorado Springs made numerous violations of their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit issued by the state.
Alleged violations by Colorado Springs include the failure to adequately fund its stormwater management program, to properly maintain its stormwater facilities and to reduce the discharge of pollutants to the maximum extent practicable.
Hart and fellow Commissioners Sal Pace and Garrison Ortiz have said they cherish the relationship the county has developed with Colorado Springs through negotiations over the Southern Delivery System’s 1041 permit agreement and hope this will not do anything to damage it.