#ColoradoSprings stormwater fees start

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

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

City stormwater fees, approved by voters in November 2017, will finally be billed this month. For most, the fees aren’t based on impact — or square footage of impermeable surface, such as rooftops or driveways, that lead to runoff. Instead, residential properties will pay a flat $5 a month, whether for a palatial estate or a tiny studio apartment, bringing in an estimated $7.9 million a year.

Nonresidential property owners, who are expected to pay around $8.2 million a year, will be billed $30 per developed acre per month. But properties that are 5 acres or less will pay the fee without any adjustment for impermeable surface, while those larger than 5 acres will be charged fees determined by the city’s stormwater manager based on impermeable surface.

Fountain to bring USAF supplied filters online in distribution system

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From KRDO.com (Scott Harrison):

Four filters supplied by the Air Force will allow Fountain residents this week to resume using groundwater that was found to be contaminated by firefighting chemicals more than two years ago.

Two filters were tested [June 18, 2018] and the other two are scheduled to be in operation next month.

The test had to be stopped, however, after the filtering system produced too much pressure, ruptured some seals and sprang a leak.
“We’ll try again (Tuesday),” said Curtis Mitchell, director of Fountain Utilities. “We only have one more set of seals, so we want to make sure we figure out what caused the problem before we risk rupturing the other seals.

Since the contamination from a firefighting foam at Peterson Air Force Base was discovered in the fall of 2015, the city stopped using water from its underground aquifer and began using surface water from the Pueblo Reservoir.
The filters cost around $700,000 to reduce the amount of the three most dangerous chemicals to well below levels deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The filtering agent is a sandy, charcoal-like material that is inserted into the tanks.

But, according to research last year by the Colorado School of Mines, the same filters didn’t do well in reducing the levels of more than two dozen other chemicals.

“We know that customers will choose to use bottled water for drinking and cooking, as they have been,” Mitchell said. “But we want them to know we’ve tested the filtering system and the water is safe.”

City officials estimate that only 15 percent of the city’s water usage will come from the aquifer on peak days, and that groundwater is needed to supplement the surface water supply.

Many residents remain skeptical about the water quality, fearing that they’ve been exposed to the contamination for years.

From KOAA.com:

City leaders say the water is now safe to drink, with a new process called Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) which gets rid of any PFC’s found in the water.

‘We did laboratory testing a week ago,’ said Fountain Utilities Dir. Curtis Mitchell, ‘the results came back non-detect, so now we’re comfortable that we can provide safe drinking water in addition to the surface water that we use from pueblo reservoir to our customers.’

Still, a majority of the water will come from the Pueblo Reservoir.

Additionally, the city will test the water every week for the entire lifespan of the water facility.

More facilities are on the way, but Mitchell says that’s about 2 years out.

Fountain Creek: U.S. Sen. Bennet introduces amendment to Pentagon budget bill that would appropriate $9 million for PFC mitigation

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 (Tom Roeder):

Bennet’s amendment would provide as much as $9 million to reimburse water utilities in Security, Widefield and Fountain for what they laid out in 2016 after learning their drinking water contained unsafe levels of perfluorinated chemicals from toxic firefighting foam released by Peterson Air Force Base.

“This builds on years of our work with the Air Force to address … contamination and is long overdue for the local water authorities who worked to provide safe drinking water to Colorado residents,” Bennet said in an email. “We’ll continue to push for its inclusion in the defense bill.”

Security Water and Sanitation District would get up to $6 million to pay for a pipeline it installed to pump clean Pueblo Reservoir water to its more than 19,000 customers.

“That’s something we have been working for and hoping for,” said district General Manager Roy Heald.

Southern El Paso County water districts began piling up bills in May 2016 after tests of water from the aquifer revealed contamination levels up to 30 times more than the maximum recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Districts’ officials assumed the Air Force would pay to fight the contamination and were shocked when the military refused to pay the bill. The Pentagon concluded it couldn’t reimburse the districts without authorization from Congress.

That’s where Bennet’s amendment comes in. The brief measure piggybacks on a similar move to reimburse towns where water contamination came from National Guard bases and expands it to include active-duty posts including Peterson.

Bennet got support from Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who signed on as a co-sponsor.

Heald said the senators have worked for months to figure out a fix for the utilities’ financial woes.

“They have both been here to talk to us directly about these issues,” he said.

But Heald isn’t counting the federal cash just yet. The provision for the money is a tiny part of the massive National Defense Authorization Act, a bill that sets spending across the military and includes hundreds of policy tweaks and changes.

With $716 billion at stake, lawmakers are expected to fight for weeks over every word the bill contains.

Bennet will need Senate approval, which seems likely with bipartisan support. But then he will have to fight with House lawmakers who signed off on their version of the defense bill, which doesn’t contain the water money.

Meanwhile U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton is pushing the EPA to keep their lawsuit active to get relief for Pueblo County from Fountain Creek stormwater. Here’s a report from Pam Zubeck writing for The Colorado Springs Independent. From the article:

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, has joined plaintiffs in the EPA’s lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs in urging EPA chief Scott Pruitt to stay the course in the Clean Water Act litigation…

Here’s Tipton’s letter, the latest salvo in the dispute:

Dear Administrator Pruitt,

I am writing in regard to the lawsuit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado Public Department of Public Health an Environment (CDPHE) have filed against the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The lawsuit was filed on November 9, 2016, pursuant to Sections 309(b) and (d) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Colorado Water Quality Control Act.

The City of Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater has led to decades of discharge that is not in compliance with state and federal clean water laws. The stormwater has led to sediment buildup in Fountain Creek and created significant problems for downstream communities, especially for Pueblo, Colorado, which is in my Congressional District.

Recent reports that the EPA may re-enter negotiations with the City of Colorado Springs raise questions about the future of the lawsuit and the ability of the EPA to provide long-term certainty to downstream communities that their upstream neighbors are complying with clean water laws.

The long history of stormwater negotiations between Colorado Springs and downstream water users has not yielded positive, lasting results for communities like Pueblo. While I have been encouraged by the commitment demonstrated by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers to solve the long-standing problem, the lawsuit was filed by both the EPA and the CDPHE for a reason. It is imperative that the EPA work to permanently protect the water quality for communities downstream from Colorado Springs.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss this issue further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has said he’d rather spend money on stormwater projects than litigation, but the city’s failure to fix its drainage system over the years has instilled distrust in downstream communities.

Voters approved a stormwater fee last fall that kicks in on July 1 but litigants in the lawsuit question if the $17 million a year for 20 years will be adequate to reduce flooding and mitigate sediment in Fountain Creek.

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

CU Denver to begin testing blood of residents exposed in Widefield Aquifer PFCs pollution

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

…this week, a University of Colorado Denver public-health study funded by the National Institutes of Health will begin testing the blood of 200 residents, The Denver Post has learned.

No government agency has systematically investigated health impacts of the contamination. This area of southern El Paso County is among the most populated of more than 70 places where PFCs detected at levels up to hundreds of times higher than an EPA health advisory limit are spreading from military bases that used firefighting foam containing the chemicals.

Municipal firetrucks also carry the foam and PFCs are used in consumer products, including fast-food wrappers. They have emerged as one family in a widening array of synthetic chemicals detected in water that cannot be removed easily due to molecular structures…

Neither the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment nor the EPA has been monitoring PFC levels in the Fountain Creek watershed. Tests done more than a year ago showed contamination at levels far above the EPA health advisory limit.

CDPHE officials last week welcomed the EPA visit and said they’re pushing the Air Force to move faster into a planned 2019 “remedial investigation” phase that would include tracking the spread of PFCs in groundwater beyond the military base and airport.

The CU public health study will focus on people exposed to PFCs between 2012 and 2016, study leader John Adgate said. “We recruited more than 200 people from Security/Widefield/Fountain who will be coming to our temporary clinic for the blood draws.”

Air Force civil engineers last week provided their latest data to The Post from an “expanded site investigation” on Peterson Air Force Base and the adjacent Colorado Springs airport. They’ll drill 21 new wells to measure PFC contamination of groundwater.

The testing found PFCs at levels exceeding the EPA health limit contaminating 42 municipal water supply wells, which were shut down, with seven now back in use after the installation of treatment systems. (Fountain and Security stopped using wells for water supply, shifting to water diverted from the Arkansas River. Widefield bought and installed new water-cleaning systems to filter out contamination.)

Air Force officials said they have found 37 private wells with water containing elevated PFCs…

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs attorney Mike McDivitt, with colleagues in Denver and New York, has filed a second massive lawsuit in federal court, seeking funds from PFC manufacturers for medical monitoring. A federal judge is expected Aug. 2 to rule on whether an earlier lawsuit can proceed as a class action.

@EPA assures partners will take part in lawsuit settlement talks — The #ColoradoSprings Independent

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The latest chapter is a March 25 letter obtained by the Indy from the DOJ to the state Health Department and Colorado Attorney General’s Office. In it, DOJ Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wood says the federal government will “welcome and anticipate the full involvement of the State and intervenors in any such discussions with the City.”

That contrasts with the EPA’s unilateral action to reopen settlement negotiations with the city recently — without consulting other plaintiffs — after a year-long settlement discussion failed last year. The lawsuit is set for trial in August.

#ColoradoSprings and @EPA negotiating stormwater lawsuit, other plaintiffs left out and state attorney fired — Colorado Springs Independent

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The renewed negotiations come as U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch scheduled an August trial in the lawsuit on May 22, the day after the state’s lead attorney in the case was reportedly fired for a reason the Colorado Attorney General’s Office won’t discuss.

That lead attorney, Margaret “Meg” Parish, first assistant attorney general in the Natural Resources & Environment Section, wrote at least two scathing letters to the EPA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in recent months, calling the EPA’s action “shocking and extraordinary” and expressing “deep concern and disappointment” that the agency unilaterally reopened settlement talks without consulting co-plaintiffs. Besides the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), those include Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The move was particularly alarming, she noted, because the state and EPA signed an agreement not to communicate with the city without the presence of the other.

Some who couldn’t comment on the record due to confidentiality rules labeled the latest moves “pure politics” in an era when the EPA’s reputation is pivoting from protecting the environment to serving polluters…

EPA’s reopening of negotiations has sown suspicion among co-plaintiffs who already distrust the city due to sewage discharges, raging stormwater flows and sediment in Fountain Creek that befoul the creek, threaten levees and block irrigation headgates interfering with raising crops.

The possibility of a settlement was suggested to voters last fall when Mayor John Suthers campaigned for passage of stormwater fees, saying their adoption would help the city end the lawsuit, filed by the EPA and CDPHE in November 2016 after the city flunked compliance inspections in 2013 and 2015 for its MS4 permit (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System). The lawsuit alleges ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act, saying the city failed to force developers to install proper storm drainage infrastructure, gave waivers to others and didn’t adequately inspect and monitor its waterways. The city spent only $1.6 million a year on those tasks from 2011 to 2014, a pittance considering the city’s drainage needs are estimated at $1 billion.

Approved by voters in November, the fees go into effect July 1 and replace general fund money used to satisfy an April 2016 deal the city made with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on stormwater. The agreement grew from Pueblo County’s demands after the city adopted stormwater fees in 2007 and abolished them in 2009 and came as the city activated its $825-million water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.

EPA and City of Colorado Springs negotiating end to Clean Water Act lawsuit? — The #ColoradoSprings Independent

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

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pamela Zubeck):

Despite protests from fellow plaintiffs, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to revisit a possible settlement with the city Colorado Springs over alleged Clean Water Act violations caused by the city’s longterm neglect of stormwater management, according to documents obtained by the Independent.

The renewed negotiations come as U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch scheduled an August trial in the lawsuit on May 22, the day after the state’s lead attorney in the case was reportedly fired for a reason the Colorado Attorney General’s Office won’t discuss.

Margaret “Meg” Parish, first assistant attorney general in the Natural Resources & Environment Section, wrote several scathing letters to the EPA in recent months, calling the EPA’s action “shocking and extraordinary” and expressing “deep concern and disappointment” that the agency would unilaterally reopen settlement discussion without consulting co-plaintiffs. Besides the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), those include Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The move was particularly alarming, she noted, because the state and EPA had signed an agreement in which both agreed not to communicate with the city without the presence of the other.

Some who couldn’t comment on the record due to confidentiality rules called the latest moves — reopening negotiations and the firing of Parish — as “pure politics” in an era when the EPA’s reputation is pivoting from protecting the environment to serving polluters.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has long-standing and close ties to the oil and gas industry and is under investigation for multiple alleged ethics breaches, met with the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs in October when the HBA paid for his night’s stay at The Broadmoor.

A few months later, on March 19, the EPA wrote a letter to the city “as a follow up to the City’s recent request to re-initiate settlement negotiations.”

The EPA’s co-plaintiffs were given two days notice that the letter would be sent to the city’s legal counsel, reportedly fueling outrage among those partners. Pueblo County has harbored distrust of the city of Colorado Springs for decades regarding sewage discharges and raging stormwater flows in Fountain Creek, which befouls the creek and threatens levees at Pueblo where the creek joins with the Arkansas River. Farmers in the Lower Ark region have complained for years that sediment blocks their irrigation headgates interfering with raising crops.