On Tuesday, city leaders approved their involvement in a project to build a new reservoir and partner with four local communities and a metro-Denver city.
The city will work with Fountain, Pueblo, Pueblo West, the Southeastern Water Activity Enterprise and Aurora on the Haynes Creek Reservoir Project, located along U.S. 50 and around 20 miles east of Pueblo, near the town of Boone.
The Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved its role in the project during its Tuesday regular meeting.
Councilman Wayne Williams, who also is chairman of the Utilities Board, said that the reservoir is part of the Southern Delivery System for Colorado Springs Utilities…
The six partners will share the $2.8 million cost of the 641-acre reservoir site — with Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Aurora each using 28.5% of the water and thereby paying higher shares of the cost.
The remaining partners will each use 4.7% of the water.
Officials said that because of the permitting process and other requirements, the reservoir likely won’t be ready until 2030 at the earliest.
The hot dry conditions that melted strong snowpack early in 2020 and led to severe drought, low river flows and record setting wildfires across the state could be a harbinger of what is to come in Colorado.
Climate change is likely to drive “chaotic weather” and greater extremes with hotter droughts and bigger snowstorms that will be harder to predict, said Kenneth Williams, environmental remediation and water resources program lead at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, headquartered in California.
“We are looking to be moving toward a future that is really decoupled from the past,” said Williams, who is leading a long-term watershed research project in Crested Butte.
In 2020, the Colorado River system had 100% of average snowpack on April 1 but then thwarted expectations when it didn’t deliver the 90% to 110% of average runoff that water managers could typically predict. The river system only saw 52% of average runoff because water was soaked up by dry soils and evaporated during a dry, warm spring, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University.
“It’s not typical, but it could very well be our future,” he said.
The 2020 drought will end at some point, but that appears unlikely this spring with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasting above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation through March, April and May.
Conditions could improve more rapidly on the eastern plains with big spring and summer rain, said Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist.
In the larger picture, breaking the drought across the vast Colorado River Basin will likely take a string of winters with much above average snowfall, Schumacher said.
In the long term, conditions across the Southwest are going to become more arid as average temperatures rise, driven by greenhouse gas emissions, Udall said, with lower soil moisture and stream flows among the negative impacts.
The 19-year stretch of only intermittingly interrupted drought from 2000 to 2018 in the Southwest U.S. was exceeded only by a late 1500s megadrought, the journal Science reported in a paper this year…
New reservoirs could play a role in the future, but construction alone cannot resolve the coming water woes.
“Anyone who thinks they can build themselves out of climate change is nuts,” Udall said. “There is a limit to the amount of storage that’s helpful.”
Too much storage can sit empty and if the water is allowed to sit for too long a valuable portion is lost to evaporation, he said.
In the highly variable years of climate-related weather to come, keeping water flowing to homes and farms will take better planning and a much better understanding of the “water towers of the West,” the remote peaks where significant amounts of snow accumulate above 8,000 feet.
Water managers are keen to know not just how much water may flow into rivers and streams, but when, and also what it might contain because as water flows drop water quality is also likely to be more of a concern…
The rapid change has left water managers and researchers in need of better data to understand short-term trends, such as how much runoff to expect this year and longer-term shifts.
Traditionally Colorado and the West have relied on a network of more than 800 snow telemetry sites — SNOTELS, as they are called by the Natural Resources Conservation Service — that automatically collect snowpack, temperature and precipitation. But now more snow is falling at elevations above the SNOTELS and aerial observations are needed to provide an alternative source of data on snowpack utilities and others wouldn’t otherwise know about, Williams said…
So Denver Water is forming a new collaborative to bring utilities, including Colorado Springs Utilities and other water users, such as water conservancy districts that serve farmers and ranchers, together to fund statewide flights, which can be quite expensive, she said.
The formal planning work around what data to collect and funding flights is set to begin in April and already the collaborative has attracted members from across the state, Kaatz said.
The group hopes to start funding the flights in about a year to provide the high quality data to water managers, Kaatz said. Having that data will be a valuable asset in Colorado’s semi-arid climate as it warms, she said.
“Warming is here and now. It’s not the next generation’s challenge.”
The rapid spring runoff is often the star in the water world. But high elevation groundwater is key to feeding streams in the late summer and winter, helping to sustain fish and late season irrigation. It is also an important source for reservoirs, said Rosemary Carroll, a hydrologist with the Desert Research Institute and collaborator on the Department of Energy projects in Crested Butte.
When Carroll started studying groundwater in the upper Gunnison watershed, she expected to find water that had percolated through the soil for two or three years before reaching streams. Instead, she’s found groundwater about a decade old, which has benefits and drawbacks during dry times, she said.
If the watershed is in a shorter drought, the groundwater can act as a buffer supplying old water that fell as snow and rain years ago, she said. But if it is a sustained drought then the absence of water from the system persists through a lack of groundwater, she said.
If the area continues to see hotter drier conditions, it’s likely that groundwater coming to the surface would be older and there will be less groundwater available to support streams, she said.
As Colorado Springs Utilities braces to absorb hundreds of thousands of new residents in the coming decades amid hotter weather, it is looking to conservation, agriculture, and new water supplies from the Colorado and Arkansas rivers to help fill the gap.
Utilities examined 50 future climate scenarios to prepare its latest 50-year plan and settled on a future that will be on average 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer with no change in average precipitation, instead of relying on historical weather trends to make projections, said Kevin Lusk, a water engineer with Utilities…
As new neighborhoods take shape, particularly in Banning Lewis Ranch, Utilities is planning for the city’s population to increase 53% from about 470,000 people to 723,000, the 50-year plan states. As those residents move in, the city’s annual water demands are expected to rise from 95,000 acre feet a year to 136,000 acre feet a year…
For Colorado Springs, reservoirs are already a key piece of a complex water system that brings 80% of the 95,000 acre feet of water the city uses annually into the area.
The largest amount of new water supply, 90,000 to 120,000 acre feet of water, is expected to come from the new or enlarged reservoirs or water storage within the Arkansas River basin, according to the 50-year plan. One of those projects could be a new reservoir or gravel pit complex between Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoirs, the plan states.
Utilities may also build additional reservoir space in the Colorado River watershed, and it is working with Aurora on a highly controversial new reservoir in the Holy Cross Wilderness in Eagle County. The U.S. Forest Service is expected to make a decision soon on whether to permit the exploration of the new reservoir’s feasibility…
Through conservation, Utilities expects to save 10,000 to 13,000 acre feet of water annually, said Patrick Wells, general manager with Colorado Springs Utilities Water Resources and Demand Management. The city’s watering restrictions adopted last year that limit outdoor watering to three days a week from May 1 to Oct. 15 are meant to help achieve long-term water savings and more than 550 acre feet of water was saved in the first year, he said.
In the future, water owned by agricultural interests, particularly farmers and ranches in the Lower Arkansas River basin, will also play a key role. But rather than purchase it outright, Utilities is looking to lease 15,000 to 25,000 new acre feet of water annually.
The leases are a move away from purchasing farms and their associated water rights outright and transferring that water to the city, a practice called buy and dry. In the 1970s, farmers sold the water rights that previously served 45,000 acres in Crowley County leaving only 5,000 acres in production, The Gazette reported previously.
Cities bought water outright from agriculture through the early 2000s as the primary means of transfer, said Scott Lorenz, water sharing senior project manager with Colorado Springs Utilities.
Now, the state and city are focused on lease agreements that can serve farmers in dry times, he said. For example, in a dry year a farm may not have enough water to put all the fields in production, the producer can lease some water to the city and earn money through the water instead, Lorenz said.
Compensating farmers for their water and taking land out of production can have consequences, however, because it can disrupt the overall agriculture market when farmers aren’t buying seed or materials or employing laborers, said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. The buyers the farms supply may also go elsewhere for products if farms aren’t producing annually, he said.
Utilities’ already has several lease agreements in place, including one in perpetuity with the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, a group that replaces the water taken from the Arkansas River through wells. As farmers pump from ground wells supplied by the river, the association ensures water flows back into the river so that downstream residents in Kansas receive their full water rights.
The city has agreed to lease water from the association five out of every ten years and pay for its water every year, said Bill Grasmick, association president. The city also paid for a new reservoir that the association is already using.
olorado Springs Utilities is trumpeting a water-sharing deal involving several parties in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. The agreement is the first of its kind in the state, aligns with the Colorado Water Plan’s edict to share water among users and helps the city secure a water supply for decades to come.
But several people in the valley are skeptical, saying the agreement could transfer irrigation water for crops, much like the so-called “buy and dry” deals of the 1970s and 1980s that exported Crowley County farmers’ water rights held in mountain lakes to municipalities along the Front Range, thereby decimating agriculture.
“Any time water leaves the lower valley it’s a great concern,” says former Bent County Commissioner Bill Long, who’s advising current commissioners on the matter.
But Springs Utilities officials say it’s another step toward assuring adequate water supplies for the city’s population, which is expected to swell to 740,000 people by 2070. Despite the 2016 activation of the controversial Southern Delivery System water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, the city needs more water, they say.
“We are exploring developing additional supplies from the Arkansas River basin to diversify our portfolio,” Pat Wells, Springs Utilities’ general manager of water resources and demand management, says. “We are acquiring these water rights as a first step to plan for the future.”
Essentially, the complicated deal gives Utilities access to 2,000 acre feet of water — more than enough for 4,000 households per year — for five out of 10 years from water rights held by the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association. LAWMA, which is entitled to use the water for the other five years, is a member-owned nonprofit that replaces water to the Arkansas River for its members’ depletions caused by irrigation pumping.
The city bought 2,500 LAWMA shares owned by Arkansas River Farms at $3,500 per share, or $8.75 million. The city also paid LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre feet of water storage in a former gravel pit in the Lamar area, giving LAWMA flexibility to manage its water rights.
Utilities can place a call on the water any February for that year, and LAWMA is allowed to say “no” for one year in 10. Utilities would take the water through a series of exchanges that involve Pueblo Reservoir.
As Utilities senior project manager Scott Lorenz says, “LAWMA is betting that by doing the deal with CSU they will not only immediately benefit from the 2,000 acre feet in five out of 10 years, but they will also have set in place a replicable model that will allow them to further increase their water portfolio.”
Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager, described it this way in a news release: “We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years. If we are collaborating with municipalities for water, we are not competing with them for water. The alternative is we risk buy and dry, which permanently removes water from the valley. This agreement keeps water in the valley.”
Exporting water, even periodically, makes Mauch nervous, because the 113-mile-long canal serves 94,000 irrigated acres between La Junta and Lamar. Those acres are owned by roughly 200 farmers. “It remains to be seen how it works out for the Fort Lyon Canal, Bent County and the neighbors,” [Dale Mauch] says.
That’s because there are ancillary promises tied to the deal. Arkansas River Farms, which sold water rights as part of the Utilities plan, has vowed to revegetate acreage left without water in the years Utilities uses it, Long says. The farming operation also has said it would build a $40 million dairy and a commercial tomato greenhouse, erect irrigation sprinklers to more efficiently water their acreage in dry years and plant native grasses, as well as provide Bent County a $1.7 million letter of credit and some cash to cover lost property taxes. Property taxes are lower on dryland acreage than irrigated.
“If they [Arkansas River Farms] fulfill their commitments, then it will have success for both parties,” Long says. “If they do not complete revegetations and they do not do the economic mitigation they propose, then we’ll be sorely disappointed and definitely on the short end of the stick.
“The commissioners understand things change,” Long adds, “and we need to use water more efficiently down here, and what Arkansas River Farms has proposed will provide that. If they don’t deliver, I think it would be difficult to do another one like this one.”
And that’s important, because Lorenz says valley water-rights owners and Utilities hope the LAWMA agreement is just the beginning.
Many water users want to explore such agreements, Lorenz says, as they try to secure supplies amid climate change, which adds uncertainty to how much water is available in any given year.
“The partnership allows them [LAWMA] to start to meet that gap both through the additional water and storage,” he says. “If this project is successful CSU will have a path forward to acquire part of the water it needs in the future, as will LAWMA. When it comes to developing future water supply, the status quo isn’t working.”
The Colorado Water Plan specifically calls for water sharing, dubbed “alternative water transfers,” which will benefit agriculture and municipal users. The goal, it says, is to seek contributions from the farming industry while “maximizing options for alternatives to permanent agricultural dry-up.”
In other words, Lorenz notes, “The state of Colorado says, ‘Work things out, so we don’t have to impose things on you.’ This is the first shot at that.”
Utilities gets most of its water from the Western Slope through trans-mountain transfers, but one of those sources, the Colorado River Basin, isn’t producing water to adequately supply the appropriations already committed to.
“There is increased competition for limited water supplies, and our existing system has not yielded as much as we thought back in 1996,” when the SDS project was first conceived, Wells says.
Noting that Utilities used to consult the historical record and assume the past would repeat in the future, Wells says, “What we’ve come to understand with climate change is that hydrology is expected to take a turn for the worst, so we’re mitigating our risk for our customers.”
The deal with LAWMA now goes to water court for approval, although Utilities can use the water pending that approval. That’s good, Lorenz notes, because drought conditions might require Utilities to call on the water as early as next year.
Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte, who oversaw the massive expansion of the city’s water supply and the decision to eventually shutter the downtown, coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant, will retire at the end of May.
Forte, 63, who was earning nearly $450,000 this year, said he told the Utilities board of his plans Wednesday in an executive session.
“It’s something that we’ve worked on, we developed a transition plan and it was just a matter of when the time is right,” Forte said. “And for me, I think the time is just right.”
A Colorado Springs native, Forte was with the municipal utility since 2002. He was the chief operating officer his first four years with Utilities before being promoted to chief executive officer in 2006.
Should the city be a good neighbor and share its water with those who don’t live within its boundaries?
Yes, says the Colorado Springs Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, which after a year of study has formed draft recommendations that call for removing barriers for bedroom communities to hook up to city water and wastewater systems. The recommendations — due for delivery to the Utilities Board, composed of City Council members, on March 21 — would lower the cost of hookups by up to 26 percent while opening the door to long-term agreements.
So what’s in it for city ratepayers? Plenty, according to Dave Grossman, Utilities strategic planning and government supervisor. New sales could help pay off debt for the $825 million Southern Delivery System (SDS) pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, erase headlines that give the city a bad name and help outside water providers’ groundwater supplies last longer…
Still, the move raises a lot of questions. Why should city ratepayers share their resources with those who chose to live outside city limits, didn’t pay the costs of major Utilities projects and don’t pay city property taxes? Why allow outsiders to become dependent on city water, when the city will likely need that water for its own population in the future? And, at a time when the city is trying to attract more development within city limits, why give away one of the city’s best bargaining chips?
Until 2010, the city didn’t sell water outside its limits. The policy changed to accommodate sales for three years or less to districts that experienced water shortages or other problems. But they paid 150 percent of city customer charges. There are 11 water districts, six water and wastewater districts and four wastewater districts in El Paso County. Not all would necessarily want to buy city services, but some would.
Many rely largely on groundwater from the Denver Basin, which is rapidly depleting. Despite state and county measures to assure supplies last, the water table continues to drop.
Utilities has had outside deals with Cherokee Metropolitan District east of Powers Boulevard and Donala Water & Sanitation District east of the Air Force Academy. Cherokee needed water temporarily after court decisions prevented its use of some wells, while Donala uses the city’s pipes to convey water it obtained from Pueblo Board of Water Works.
Water districts form such a patchwork that Sean Chambers, who’s worked for several districts and now runs Chambers Econ & Analytics, has teamed with Peak Spatial Enterprises to create an online tool to compile district information in seven counties from Denver to Pueblo. Funded in part by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, it will feature maps, water rates, sources, conservation practices, water quality reports, consumption and the like, listed by address, for use by the public and the real estate industry.
But what if those districts had access to Springs Utilities’ supply? The city’s roughly 140,000 water customers use about 40 million gallons a day during the winter and more than 100 million gallons a day in the summer, Grossman says. If pressed, the city could provide well over that amount short term, he says.
Besides completing SDS in 2016, which increased the city’s water supply by a third, the city’s abundant supply is linked to conservation measures taken since 2001 that reduced per-person consumption from 130 gallons a day to 82. The city’s system also has capacity; the Bailey Water Treatment Plant, part of SDS, runs at about 10 percent capacity.
As for wastewater, the city has plenty of capacity, Grossman reports, for the next 30-plus years.
More than a year ago, Utilities began looking into whether extending service could benefit everyone. For one thing, the Advisory Committee found, water issues anywhere in the Pikes Peak region impact the city’s reputation and the region’s economy.
For example, in 2016, it was found that groundwater wells had been contaminated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) from firefighting foam at Peterson Air Force Base. The chemicals fouled wells serving Fountain, Widefield/Security and other areas…
Under the committee’s recommendation, outside users would still pay more than city customers — 120 percent of the normal charge for water and 110 percent for wastewater. Currently, the city charges 150 percent for both…
Districts aren’t apt to buy their entire supplies from the city, however, Chambers says. That’s because their goal is conjunctive use — a combination of wells and surface water; if districts can buy water during wet years and pump from their wells in dry years, the aquifer gets a rest and a chance to recharge, he says.
That’s the concept behind WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency), a coalition of 12 entities, including Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority created after the 2002 drought.
Chambers notes that outside sales could help the city retire debt and fund maintenance and operations. Having attended most of the committee’s meetings, Chambers attests the city’s top goal is to serve existing customers. “Utilities has been very protective,” he says, “saying regionalization will not happen unless it’s a benefit to the citizen owners and ratepayers.”
For example, Grossman notes the committee wants to include options for conveying and treating water, but that no outside contracts would be executed if they’d erode the city’s targeted storage benchmarks.
‘It’s amazing, really, how it worked out,” says Roy Heald.
Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation District (SWSD), is referring to perhaps the only piece of good news in the ongoing story of water contamination in communities south of Colorado Springs.
“We got into planning [the Southern Delivery System] two decades ago for redundancy, thinking we’d use it if anything happened, and then it comes online not three weeks before we really needed it,” he says.
In May, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory lowering what’s considered a safe amount of perfluorinated chemicals — a highly prevalent but unregulated toxin that’s been linked to low birth weights, heart disease and cancer. Wells drawing from the Widefield aquifer, which supplies around 80,000 people’s drinking water, then tested at nearly 20 times the EPA’s recommended threshold in some cases.
Right away, SWSD took mitigating steps by instigating watering restrictions, fast-tracking an infrastructure project to boost connectivity between service areas and negotiating more access to surface water through the newly operational SDS pipeline. By September, all groundwater wells were shut off. But all that came at a price.
“The exact cost is hard to pin down at this point because we’ve still got bills coming in,” Heald says, “but yeah, this was a huge unanticipated expense.” To get an idea, consider groundwater typically accounts for half the district’s total water supply. Forgoing cheap groundwater in favor of more expensive surface water, even if just for the last four months of the year, cost SWSD around $1 million in 2016, when it expected to spend $100,000. The district has deferred other capital projects, prioritized new ones and diminished its cash reserve, meaning it needs money.
But from whom?
At the very least, the Security, Widefield and Fountain water districts are all expecting some portion of the $4.3 million the Air Force pledged over the summer after Peterson Air Force Base admitted a chemical-laden fire retardant used for decades on base could be the source of contamination.
Air Force spokesman Steve Brady gave the Indy a rundown of how the money’s being spent: Homes on private well water will get reverse osmosis systems installed; NORAD and Security Mobile Home Parks will get granular activated carbon systems, as will Stratmoor Hills, Fountain and Widefield public water systems; First United Pentecostal Church will tap into Security water; SWSD will construct new piping to hook into Colorado Springs Utilities; the Fountain Valley Shopping Center, private homes that don’t agree to take ownership of a filtration system once installed and the Venetucci farmhouse will continue getting bottled water.
The Air Force’s pledge has been messaged as a “good neighbor” gesture and not a signal of responsibility, meaning that for now, available funds are finite. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center is working to confirm or deny the possibility that contaminants came from Peterson Air Force Base while public health officials (and private litigants) continue to investigate other possible polluters.
A damning outcome of those inquiries could warrant additional compensation, but until then, affected parties will have to just deal on their own.
“I know we’ll get some share of that $4.3 million, but whatever it is won’t be enough to cover our costs,” says Heald, whose district hasn’t received a check from the Air Force yet. “There could be grants available at the state level, but those are in the thousands or tens of thousands range. We’re looking at millions. I’ve talked to our congressional representatives but I don’t know about federal sources. Maybe folks will have other ideas, because whatever the source, our ratepayers didn’t cause this so they shouldn’t have to pay for it.”
Security residents will start seeing higher water bills immediately. Rates were already scheduled to rise in 2017 before this situation arose, but now the hike could be steeper. Unless some new windfall comes through before the next rate study gets underway in the fall, you can guess what direction rates will continue to go. Still, a typical water bill in Security during 2016 was $36 —about half of a typical Colorado Springs bill.
Fountain is in a similar, though not identical, position. “We don’t need to use groundwater in the wintertime — that’s been the standard for years,” Utilities Director Curtis Mitchell tells the Indy, explaining that groundwater only ever flowed through taps during peak demand over the summer. Ahead of that time this year, Mitchell has negotiated extra surface water through a capacity swap with Colorado Springs Utilities. Groundwater will only enter the equation once filtration systems are installed and working reliably.
Widefield has been off well water since November, according to department manager Brandon Bernard, who says four pilot projects are underway to find the best technology for filtering out PFCs. He’s aiming to get a small treatment facility built by May and another, bigger one “in the near future.” (Because Widefield isn’t an SDS partner, it has limited surface water, hence the primary focus is on treating well water.)
“All of the capital costs to pilot and build the treatment will be taken from cash reserves,” Bernard wrote by email. “The only costs the customers will incur through rates will be to cover operation and maintenance of these facilities. … We aren’t sure how much of the $4.3 million is portioned for WWSD and have not heard when we will receive it.”
Fountain and Security’s increased reliance on SDS may cost their customers, but it provides some relief to Colorado Springs — primary investor, owner and operator of the $825 million pipeline. As partners, Fountain and Security already contributed their share of construction costs, but moving more water through it offsets operational costs.
“We’re running at really low levels right now, so there’s plenty of room in the pipe for our partners,” says Colorado Springs Utilities spokesman Steve Berry. “The bottom line is we’re one big community here in El Paso County, so we’re happy to be flexible for them, but it also takes some of the financial burden [of running SDS] off our customers.”
The costs of getting SDS up and running have been factored into CSU’s rates over the past five years, Berry says, so Phase 1 is pretty much paid for. Phase 2, including new storage construction and reservoir resurfacing, has yet to be reflected in customers’ water bills. Other capital improvement projects like maintaining aging pipes elsewhere in CSU’s raw water system, replacing main lines under downtown and modernizing storage tanks and treatment facilities are coming later.
So whatever reprieve Colorado Springs water users get will be overshadowed by other expenses. “Unfortunately, base rates typically don’t go down — they either stay constant or they increase,” says Berry, who emphasizes that partners’ usage won’t compromise CSU’s access to water. CSU still has precious “first-use” water rights and plenty of redundancy built into its overall system. “But to have a high-quality, reliable water source requires a hefty investment,” Berry adds.
Reliable is the key word there, as demonstrated by the crises playing out in Security, Widefield and Fountain, and communities across the country where drinking water is compromised. Part of the trend is having better detection instruments and part is better science showing potential harm, Heald observes. But, he says, what remains constant is America’s “leap before you look” approach to regulating toxins in our environment — chemicals get introduced to the market before anyone really knows what risk they pose.
Heald offers this summation: “You don’t know what you don’t know, but when you do know, you know it’s going to cost more.”
In a way, the whole reason a state water plan is needed lies north of the Pueblo County line.
In the Arkansas River basin, three-fourths of the future need identified in a 2008 study was in El Paso County, the fastest growing area in the region. Like Denver, the metropolitan growth has the potential to dry up rural farming areas.
Not all of the growth is in Colorado Springs; it’s in outlying areas, as well.
For more than a decade, The Pueblo Chieftain has documented the progress of the Southern Delivery System, purchases of water rights by El Paso County cities or water providers, and water quality issues, such as changing limits on groundwater contaminants.
Cherokee Metro District President Jan Cederberg and Fountain Water Engineer Mike Fink give their viewpoints on Colorado’s Water Plan, based on questions supplied by The Chieftain on behalf of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.
Cherokee, a district that sits like an island within Colorado Springs, over the last decade has looked at various pipelines from other areas to meet its water needs.
Fountain, a city south of Colorado Springs, gets its water from several sources but is relying heavily on SDS, which also allows it to draw more water through the Fountain Valley Conduit.
How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River Basin within the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plan?
Cederberg: Given that the river is already over-appropriated, we will all need to keep on a continuous path of improving water efficiency, but recognize that alone will not close the gap. We will also need to collaborate with our friends and neighbors in the basin to make best use of the water resources available through innovative arrangements such as alternative transfer methods. Ultimately, water uses are likely to be prioritized to “highest and best uses” in response to market economics.
Fink: Each water supplier and all of the major water users in the Arkansas Basin will need to participate in the effort to fill the gap. All elements of the water supply pantheon should be reviewed for improvements in yield, improvement of efficiencies in the sources, in the transportation, storage and treatment, delivery and return flow management and conservation (both the supply side and the demand side).
What projects do you plan to fill the gap?
Cederberg: Cherokee Metropolitan District’s primary supply is alluvial groundwater in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek designated basin. We will continue considering the purchase of water rights from that basin as they are made available.
We also recently developed a new Denver Basin well field near Black Forest, approximately 15 miles north of our main service area. Although this supply is regarded as unsustainable for the long term, it is drought-proof and can be used in conjunction with junior water rights to help meet dry-year demands. We will grow this well field and consider strategies to extend the life of this Denver Basin supply.
In addition, the Cherokee Metropolitan District is collaborating with several other members of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority to consider a regional water system that would allow efficient delivery of water from the Fountain Creek/Arkansas River system.
Fink: Fountain Utilities adopted a comprehensive Water Master Plan in 2007. It was a decisional study that confirmed our participation in the Southern Delivery System Project, but it also provided a longer planning horizon for development of supply diversity and redundancy, treatment options, transmission system planning and delivery system planning.
One foundational element of the 2007 Water Master Plan was a dedication to enhancing the City’s Water Conservation efforts.
The projects that Fountain Utilities will either continue or commence implementation to improve our ability to meet the demands that increased population require include the following:
1. Southern Delivery System — SDS is an important addition to our utility’s supply system, but it is only a tool to move water from the Pueblo Reservoir and treat that water; SDS does not provide water, it only moves and treats water. Each of the participants is required to bring their own water to the pipe.
2. Return flow management — Fountain, as a beneficiary of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, receives an allocation of transbasin water delivered through the Fountain Valley Authority transmission and treatment system. This allocation is usable to extinction and the City will continue to maximize the use of this water through effective return-flow management.
3. Continued use of local groundwater resources — Fountain has groundwater wells that are both in the Fountain Aquifer and in the Widefield Aquifer. These are renewable resources that must have depletions augmented by surface water. Fountain’s continuing challenge is to treat the water from these sources to the quality that not only meets the Clean Drinking Water Standards, but that also maintains compliance with Health Advisories for trace contaminants.
Fountain, with Widefield and Security, is also pursuing the Widefield Aquifer Recharge Project. This long-term, renewable resource will divert flows from Fountain Creek into a treatment facility, inject the treated water into the Widefield Aquifer for storage that does not have evaporative losses, retrieve that water and treat it to drinking water standards.
How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?
Cederberg: We must continue to improve water efficiency on all fronts. As Cherokee has faced water supply challenges in recent years, we have asked our customers to conserve through watering restrictions and a tiered rate structure.
Their response, as proven through water demand data over time, has allowed us to reduce our demand forecast per home by more than 25 percent. In addition, Cherokee has developed an indirect reuse system by which reclaimed water recharges our main water supply aquifer.
Fink: All of the tools that the Colorado Water Plan examined (conservation, agriculture, storage, watershed health, education and outreach) will be needed to address demand, but I think that the coordination between water resource planning and land-use planning has possibly the most positive potential for closing the gap.
The one wild card in the identified tools in the Water Plan is innovation, and I am a firm believer that Colorado has the innovators to bring different and effective tools to the jobs than anyone has yet.
The City of Colorado Springs says it has finished building a detention and water quality basin on the city’s northeast side as part of a new commitment to stormwater projects.
The city has committed to spending $19 million a year on stormwater projects.
The new detention basin at Woodmen Road and Sand Creek cost $3 million and is designed to reduce the velocity of flows in Sand Creek and to prevent downstream erosion while creating a more natural environment.
The city says 71 projects were selected based on negotiations with Pueblo County to identify and prioritize stormwater projects that would benefit both Colorado Springs and downstream communities…
All of the projects are designed to reduce flooding, provide improved water detention, and reduce flows, sediment and other pollutants entering drainages and going downstream.
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.”
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 email@example.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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
To take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch history of the Southern Delivery Click here and click here.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB
Fountain Creek Watershed
The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District
Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek during monsoon July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater in 2011 — photo via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.
Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB
Old railroad bridge over Fountain Creek near Pueblo
Fountain Creek Watershed
The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal
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.
Pueblo County and Colorado Springs continue to negotiate over the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, but there has been no resolution of issues regarding stormwater control.
“We’re still engaged in negotiations,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart told The Pueblo Chieftain this week. “We have made it clear that if we are able to pound out an agreement, it will be tentative and open to public review.”
Meanwhile, Pueblo West, an SDS partner, won’t jump into the fray.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers earlier this month laid out a plan to apply $450 million to stormwater projects on Fountain Creek and its tributaries over the next 20 years.
Many of those projects would benefit Pueblo County as well as Colorado Springs, and Pueblo County would have a say in prioritizing the projects, Suthers said.
The proposal is an attempt to make up for Colorado Springs’ decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise in 2009, and its failure to comply with state and federal stormwater permits.
Pueblo County officials publicly were cool to Suthers’ suggestion, pointing out that negotiations on several points have been underway for nearly a year. Meanwhile, Pueblo City Council and the Pueblo Board of Water Works adopted resolutions supporting Pueblo County in negotiations.
This week, Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member Mark Carmel attempted to get the board to weigh in on the negotiations, but other members of the board declined.
Carmel said the 20-year timeline proposed by Colorado Springs is too short and Pueblo could still be at risk from flooding on Fountain Creek caused by growth to the north. His proposal was not considered by the board.
As a result, Carmel is exploring his own candidacy for Pueblo County commissioner for the principle purpose to “influence a true agreement on SDS.”
“We need leaders who will not roll over and play dead to Colorado Springs; leaders who must remain vigilant to achieve a permanent solution to flooding before new SDS water magnifies the problem,” Carmel said.
Jerry Martin, president of the Pueblo West board, said he is generally satisfied with how Colorado Springs has treated Pueblo West in SDS.
Pueblo West became part of the SDS project in 2007, agreeing to take water from it rather than directly from the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam as a backup to its own pipeline from the dam and as a way to increase capacity of its water system. The agreement also designated Colorado Springs as the lead negotiator for SDS.
Pueblo West has used its connection to SDS twice, once last summer and the other beginning last month, as a way to get water. Agreements signed in relation to that settled issues among Pueblo West, Pueblo County and the city of Pueblo related to water issues, but not the 1041 permit with Colorado Springs.
“Colorado Springs has performed well during the disaster last summer and now,” said Martin. “We remain silent, because we’re not involved with Fountain Creek flooding. This current resolution is between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.”
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.”
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.
Mayor John Suthers is discouraged, frustrated and more than a tad disgruntled by Pueblo County’s failure to accept Colorado Springs’ offers of hundreds of millions of dollars for stormwater projects.
Friday, the county was to receive an offer to beat all previous propositions, one that also trumps the $15 million to $16 million annual expenditures under the city’s Stormwater Enterprise, a tax-funded program that ran from 2005 to 2009.
The new proposal calls for $445 million to be spent over the next 20 years through an enforceable intergovernmental agreement that carries $1 million penalties if the promised amounts aren’t spent.
In the first five years, at least $100 million would be spent, followed by $110 million over the next five years, $115 million over the ensuing five years and $120 million over what could be the final five years.
Why “could be”? Because if 73 targeted projects aren’t done by then, $24 million would continue to be spent each year until those fixes are finished.
The county’s consulting Wright Water Engineers and the city’s consulting MWH Global engineers mutually chose those projects to benefit Pueblo and Colorado Springs.
Since he took office in June, Suthers has stressed the importance of meeting the city’s obligation to Pueblo, vowing to spend $19 million a year, including $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities, to improve conditions along Fountain Creek and its tributaries.
The mayor, City Council and Utilities have upped the ante considerably, though, since Pueblo County threatened to withhold the 1041 permit that would allow Utilities to launch the Southern Delivery System, or SDS, on April 27…
Pueblo County isn’t the sole source of consternation, however. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found during an August inspection that Colorado Springs falls short on water quality and stormwater infrastructure. The EPA warned the city and the U.S. Department of Justice that it might sue to restrict the city’s MS4 water permit.
City officials have been busy since, hiring engineer Richard Mulledy to head a reorganized Stormwater Division, scurrying to clean weed-crowded culverts, scattered riprap in channels and sediment-laden pipelines.
Mulledy, who previously worked for Pueblo, is optimistic about Colorado Springs’ new program.
“The improvement plan is very good – detailed, actionable, realistic,” he said Thursday. “The city has incredibly talented, motivated professionals. That, with the plan, I think we have a great opportunity.”
But the challenges are immense, Mulledy acknowledged.
“Fountain Creek is one of the most unstable, flashy creeks in all the nation. It’s a unique animal.”
Flows can vary from a base flow of 120 cubic feet per second to 20,000 cubic feet per second 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 a sand. So it’s kind of the perfect storm.”
Pueblo knows that all too well. Colorado Springs’ growth has resulted in more impermeable pavement. But with the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012 denuding mountainsides, sediment in Fountain Creek increased at least 278-fold, pushing water levels far higher, Wright Water Engineers found in a 2015 study.
Plenty of federal and state grants helped Colorado Springs address that damage, and now the city is embarking on 73 projects designed to control flooding, reduce sedimentation and improve water quality.
Three-step process a beginning
First comes a $3 million detention pond along Sand Creek – “named appropriately,” Mulledy notes – to stop the sediment flow before it hits Fountain Creek.
Next is $2 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency projects from the presidential disaster declaration after the 2013 flooding, work that will rehabilitate wash-out areas, remedy sediment transport issues and improve water quality.
Then comes a $250,000 King Street detention pond off Fountain Creek, a retrofit to ensure full detention and address channel-forming flows.
“Instead of having just a flood-control facility, it manages that flow to more closely mimic natural discharge,” Mulledy explained. “And that’s a great thing, because what transports the most sediment is the everyday flow.
“Of course, sediment is the issue, because that’s what affects their levee levels” in Pueblo.
That’s only the start of the $445 million worth of work Colorado Springs promises to provide over the next two decades.
“Man, we put everything on the table,” Suthers said Thursday. “To the extent they’ve long cited that we did away with the Stormwater Enterprise, and we’ve offered far more than that. We’ve made offers to help with sediment issues and to push forward to fund the Fountain Creek (Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway) District.”
Colorado Springs Utilities is to pay that district $10 million a year for five years to perform more flood-control measures starting in December. But the district could get its first $10 million earlier if the SDS gets to start delivering water April 27.
“The other thing we’ve done, we’ve offered that any provisions in the EPA agreement to benefit them would also be put in the IGA,” Suthers said.
“We still don’t have an agreement despite the fact that we’ve stepped up,” the mayor said. “I’m very frustrated that we’re still so far apart. If we go to court, we’re going to say we’re in for far greater amounts. Litigation would simply not be a constructive way to resolve this.”
Pueblo County commissioners are set to meet at 9 a.m. Monday and Wednesday in the Pueblo County Courthouse, 215 W. 10th St.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
John Fredell, project director for Southern Delivery System, last week tried to build a case that the EPA’s enforcement action on the failure of Colorado Springs to maintain stormwater control is unrelated to SDS.
He told the Pueblo Board of Water Works that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS only applies to ensuring new development won’t increase Fountain Creek flows.
“It’s not all lumped into SDS,” Fredell said, trying to convince the water board of his position.
But a review of the history leading up to the county’s 1041 permit shows he is wrong.
The first sentence of condition No. 23 in the 1041 permit indeed mimics the incremental approach taken by the Bureau of Reclamation, holding Colorado Springs liable for new development as a result of SDS. That’s exactly the point Fredell made.
Further on in the condition, however, it states:
“Regulations shall comprehensively address peak flow conditions, runoff volumes, and flood hazards, incorporating at a minimum all relevant components of existing regulations of Colorado Springs.”
It also calls for maintaining all structures and complying with stormwater permits, things the EPA says Colorado Springs has not done.
Presumably, those regulations would not apply only to new growth, but to the entire city of 186 square miles that already exists — 20 percent of the Fountain Creek watershed.
Beyond that, Fountain Creek was always a big part of SDS.
Stormwater permits and the need to control flows into Fountain Creek are mentioned in the 2004 intergovernmental agreement that was used to get support for SDS from the city of Pueblo and the Pueblo Board of Water Works. On its face, Colorado Springs’ lapsed performance appears to put it in violation of the IGA.
When the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force began meeting in 2006, many conversations mentioned the increased flows that would occur when SDS was in operation. Planning for more flows was added to an ongoing effort to deal with flows that already had increased as Colorado Springs grew from the 1970s on.
The demise of Colorado Springs’ stormwater enterprise was foreseen by Pueblo County’s attorney in comments in 2008 as the environmental impact statement for SDS was being prepared by Reclamation.
Reclamation did not consider the possibility, saying comments about stormwater were unrelated to the federal permit in its responses. The record of decision that approved SDS made the assumption the stormwater enterprise would stay in place before and after the project was built.
So Pueblo County put additional assurances that Colorado Springs would be responsible for controlling water going into Fountain Creek. It also required the city to pay $50 million to a district that had not yet been created.
The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District was formed by the state Legislature in 2009 to improve Fountain Creek and administer those funds, and has taken Utilities to task over the timing of payments.
The county’s 1041 regulations also were written and adopted when a stormwater enterprise that generated $15.8 million in revenue annually already was in place.
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Who said this?
“The City of Colorado Springs is moving forward to address long-term stormwater management.”
No, it wasn’t Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett talking to the Pueblo Board of Water Works last week. The above quote came from Mayor Lionel Rivera during a presentation by Colorado Springs Utilities officials to the Pueblo City Council on July 11, 2005.
They were there to assure Pueblo that Colorado Springs was dead serious when it came to living up to the conditions of an Intergovernmental Agreement signed a year earlier. An agreement that would eventually pave the way for the construction of the Southern Delivery System.
More than a decade later, Colorado Springs Utilities and political leaders are back in town trying to head off a rising tide of outrage in Pueblo County that has been bubbling up the last two months. In November, Colorado Springs learned it faces Environmental Protection Agency enforcement action for failing to meet the minimum requirements of its state stormwater discharge permit.
“They come down here and tell us what they think we want to hear, and then they do nothing,” said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District General Manager Jay Winner. “How many times are we going to let that happen?”
Last week, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard what Colorado Springs had to say for itself. This week, Pueblo County commissioners and Pueblo City Council will get more of the same.
On Monday, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and others is scheduled to meet with commissioners at 1:30 p.m. and with City Council at 7 p.m.
What Colorado Springs is offering involves more than lip service. There are real dollars on the table.
The city will double the size of its stormwater staff by the end of 2017, and a new stormwater director will be on board within a month. About $12 million a year will be spent on capital projects to begin to address a $535 million backlog, and $7 million for maintenance. There is another $1.5 million from other city departments directed toward maintenance.
There will be 70 actions to meet the deficiencies outlined in the EPA audit, Utilities reported.
Several slides in the Colorado Springs presentation show before and after photos of neglected drainage ditches that were highlighted in the EPA audit.
Not everyone’s convinced this is a step forward.
“Those trees in the drainage ditches must have been growing for two years to reach that size,” Winner said. “When you look at the numbers they’re throwing around, you have to wonder what happened during the seven years they didn’t have a stormwater enterprise. Are they just playing catch-up, or is this a real improvement?”
That’s been a common pattern, a review of documents about stormwater collected over the past 11 years reveals.
For instance, the progress report of stormwater improvements given to Pueblo City Council in 2007 are identical to a list of unfinished business presented to Colorado Springs City Council in 2009 as it was demolishing the stormwater enterprise after it had been operating for two years on a $15.8 million annual budget. The list of most critical projects then totaled about $40 million and none of them had been touched.
The total backlog was about $500 million.
Although the Lower Ark district, then-Rep. Sal Pace, county commissioners and other local officials pressured Colorado Springs on stormwater, there was little action for two years. The city adopted a new strong-mayor form of government and its council membership completely turned over in a four-year period. At one point, the city failed to send an elected representative to meetings of Fountain Creek district for six months in 2011.
Finally, in 2012, the city’s attorney advised then-Mayor Steve Bach that, in his legal opinion, Colorado Springs ought to be spending at least $13 million annually to control stormwater. Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners answered by forming a regional stormwater task force, which Bach opposed on the grounds that Colorado Springs should manage its own storm systems, ultimately dooming regional stormwater control.
By 2014, the $500 million project list was scrapped after a stormwater task force decided it was old and outdated — largely because of new damage from the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 and to a smaller degree, the Black Forest Fire in 2013.
In a new study, CH2MHill came up with 239 projects totaling almost $535 million in Colorado Springs, carefully weeding out obsolete and duplicated projects. Of those, 44 totaling $160 million were called high priority, which indicated there are public health or safety issues evident, according to the engineers’ report.
The regional cost, which included all needed work on Fountain Creek and its tributaries in El Paso County, was $723 million.
Later in 2014, El Paso County voters rejected a proposal by the task force to raise $40 million annually with a regional drainage district to address all those issues.
The huge backlog was mentioned at both the water board and Lower Ark meetings, with some trying to do the math at how long it would take to address the problems if the $12 million annual capital expenditure stays in place — say 40 or 50 years.
But Colorado Springs backs away from saying those lists will ever be completed or that they even mean anything.
At the Lower Ark meeting last week, Colorado Springs Utilities consultant Mark Pifher called the $534 million figure a “wish list,” insisting that projects with the highest priority would be tackled first. Utilities board Chairman Andy Pico told the water board that work will start soon on the highest priority projects.
Meanwhile, Colorado Springs has found the $841 million needed to build SDS, a project that will supply the city with the water it needs for the next 40 years, completing all major construction in just five years.
“They’ve done what they wanted to do, while doing the minimum to comply with their obligations to Pueblo,” Winner said. “How much longer are we going to put up with that?”
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.”
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board of directors determined to send letters to the Board of Reclamation and the Pueblo County Commissioners at their Monday meeting.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board of directors determined to send letters to the Board of Reclamation and the Pueblo County Commissioners at their Monday meeting. They also heard informative reports, backed a youth program for the Colorado State Fair, and gave Mark Pifher a dubious reception on the latest Colorado Springs stormwater control program.
Attorneys Melissa Esquibel and Peter Nichols prepared letters to the Bureau of Reclamation and to the Pueblo County Commissioners concerning the stormwater issue with Colorado Springs. Mark Pifher was present to represent Colorado Springs and presented their new plan, which sounded suspiciously like their old plan to the LAVWCD. “We’re sketchy,” said Nichols. Nichols asked for a copy of the plan.
The letter written by Attorney Melissa Esquibel and board member Anthony Nunez of Pueblo asked the Board of Reclamation to review the contract for the Southern Delivery System and suspend it until Colorado Springs can prove it has a stormwater system. At the meeting, Manager Jay Winner and Chairman Lynden Gill established the plan as presented by Pifher has no oversight, other than the city itself.
The letter drafted by Peter Nichols at Winner’s request, is to Pueblo County commissioners. It cites provisions in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws.
Reeves Brown asked for a contribution from the Board of $1,872 initially and $400 a year, for as long as they wanted to be members, for the 1872 Club, a part of a foundation for the support of State Fair activities. This club supports the young exhibitors, the FFA and 4-H members who participate in the fair competitions each year. The board agreed with and passed his request.
Hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer, United States Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service, explained the Snotel program for reporting snowpack and its effect on stream flow and water supply in Colorado. Snotel stands for SNOwpack TELemetry system. It is a data collection system that works through radio transmission to the ionosphere, where the information is bounced back to centers which collate and put the data on the Internet. There are 183 Snotel sites, 114 in Colorado, 20 in Wyoming, 27 in New Mexico and 22 in Arizona. In addition, there are 95 snow courses in Colorado. The shelter with instrumentation weighs the snow and the precipitation gauge checks the moisture content. There is one problem: animals tend to wander in; a dead elk once made the report look as though there was a large snowfall in one isolated area.
At present, the Arkansas River Basin is 112 percent of normal and 102 percent of yearly accumulation. Working with figures from the snowpack, engineers can predict water supply available in the state.
Judy Lopez, program director, Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative, made a presentation for Environthon, an educational competition for students in grades 9 through 12. Environthon focuses on five areas: 1. aquatics and water usage and laws, 2. soil and land usage and agriculture, 3. forestry, 4. wildlife, bugs to large animals, 5. weeds and other non-native critters which shouldn’t be here. They hope to encourage future hydrologists, foresters, and others who serve the environment. She asked the LAVWCD Board to become a banner sponsor, at the $1,000, $1,500, $2,000, $2,500 or up level. They took the matter under advisement.
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 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.
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 ocials 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.
“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.
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.
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…”
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.”
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.
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.
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 aect the Clean Water Act Section 401 and 404 federal permits issued for SDS.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):
The Southern Delivery System, due to become operational next year, hasn’t cost as much as predicted in 2010, which led to lower and fewer rate increases since that time. Originally, Colorado Springs Utilities planned to increase water rates by 12 percent per year for six years. Instead, rates went up by 12 percent each in 2011 and 2012 and 10 percent each in 2013 and 2014.
That said, revenue hasn’t generated as much money as CSU planned, according to a City Auditor’s Office assessment of water rates released this month.
When the costs of the pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs came in some $400 million less than originally projected, that meant the city had to borrow less, the audit reports…
In any event, Springs Utilities proposes to change gas, electric and water rates in 2016. The water rate increase would increase the typical residential bill from $57.07 a month this year to $59.62 next year, an increase of $2.55 per month, or 4.5 percent…
Rates changes will become effective January 1 if approved by City Council, which doubles as the Utilities Board.
Colorado Springs Utilities got a clean bill of health from Pueblo County’s weed manager Monday and answered questions raised at a Sept. 25 hearing about revegetation along the 17-mile route of the Southern Delivery System through Pueblo County.
Still, commissioners want more time to study documents submitted and continue a public hearing on SDS 1041 permit commitments to 9 a.m. on Dec. 8.
Utilities needs to fulfill conditions of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS in order to turn on its pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs next April. Revegetation compliance also would release $674,000 Pueblo County is holding under of the permit.
Utilities revealed it has spent more than $5.3 million on revegetation work already.
Colorado Springs provided point-by-point assurances on 17 issues raised on Sept. 25, when experts from both camps agreed Utilities had tackled the problem with state-of-the-art methods. Utilities also provided documentation from contractors that the work was done correctly, and that most landowners were satisfied with the work.
“We need to work through the (final) issues to protect the citizens of Pueblo County,” said Commissioner Terry Hart, who made a motion to take the comments under advisement and continue the hearing. “What we’re trying to do is look at the work in its totality.”
Hart, along with Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen and Sal Pace, had little criticism of Utilities’ report, which pledged further work with landowners as well as reviewing procedures already put in place to bring land disturbed by SDS construction back to its original condition or better.
“It’s light years ahead of other projects,” Hart said.
Bill Alt, who manages Pueblo County’s weed control program through the Turkey Creek Conservation District, agreed. Alt toured the pipeline route last week and said Colorado Springs has lived up to its responsibilities to reseed ground disturbed by SDS.
“The grass is up and doing well,” Alt said.
“Some of the tamarisk has been dug up by the roots and removed, and the topsoil has been replaced as in any mining operation.”
The problem is that the areas on either side of the 150-foot path of SDS are still susceptible to tumbleweeds (Russian knapweed) and tamarisk, which could still find their way back onto the treated area, particularly on the route north of U.S. 50, Alt said.
Some landowners have mowed or grazed the revegetated areas prematurely instead of allowing new grasses a chance to get established, he added.
“Everything is fine for what we looked at,” Alt said. “We did not go on Walker Ranches, although I would like to go because that’s where the erosion is.”
The Walker Ranches crossing is being handled under a $7.4 million settlement as a result of a jury verdict.
Colorado Springs also said it is working on a settlement with Dwain Maxwell, a Pueblo West resident who complained about the project at an earlier hearing. Utilities also has taken on a separate project to divert floodwater around a property just south of Walker Ranches in Pueblo West.
As part of the deal, the utility company had to repair the land after digging up 50 miles of dirt to bury the 66-inch pipe, restoring at least 90% of the vegetation that was in place before. CSU showed the county that they have gone above and beyond the requirements, but commissioners have not yet released them from the commitment.
“The work that we’ve got done so far is already light-years ahead of other projects,” admits commissioner Terry Hart. Pueblo County commissioners applauded CSU for its nearly $5.4 million efforts to re-seed and irrigate the lands it plowed through to plant the SDS pipeline.
Landowners agree, giving high praise in a report to the way workers left things better than before.
CSU’s SDS permitting and compliance manager Mark Pifher says, “We put in a very extensive irrigation system. If I had to guess, it’s probably the biggest irrigation system ever installed in Colorado.
Commissioners had lots of questions when they first met to review the re-vegetation process in September, many of which addressed future concerns over erosion and management of the property. Pifher says doing a good job is about more than protecting the pipeline; it is about respecting the landowners as well. “It’s important that you do it with a mindset that this is like your property,” says Pifher, “how would you like it restored and put back into its historic condition, if you will.”
Bill Alt has been working closely with the group to oversee the management of noxious weeds throughout the easements, which have been removed on the property in question, but remain nearby and are likely to spread. Alt suggests CSU send a notice to the owners about maintaining the landscaping moving forward. “It needs some tender, loving care,” says Alt, “and it’s good for your property because it keeps the property value up. It’s not something you’re ashamed to show a realtor or other people.”
Commissioners will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities again Dec. 8 to make sure no other questions arise before checking re-vegetation off the long SDS checklist. The only other big issue standing in the way of water flowing north is Colorado Springs’ stormwater management efforts.
To access all official documents on the SDS, including CSU’s latest report, click here.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers made a strong statement for stormwater funding in his state of the city speech Wednesday.
In doing so, he prominently highlighted the reason it is needed is to reduce the harmful impact to Pueblo from increased flows on Fountain Creek caused by growth in Colorado Springs. Spring rains caused millions of dollars in damage in both counties this spring.
“As recently as the late 1960s, our neighbor to the south, Pueblo, was larger than Colorado Springs. Since then Colorado Springs has grown to be about four times the size of Pueblo and that means considerably more impervious surfaces contributing to stormwater flow into Fountain Creek, with impacts on Pueblo,” Suthers said.
The mayor carefully reviewed the history of the stormwater enterprise approved by Colorado Springs City Council in 2005. It generated about $15 million per year until 2009, when council abolished the fee on a 5-4 vote in an interpretation of a public vote.
In the meantime, Colorado Springs negotiated a 1041 permit with PuebloCounty for the Southern Delivery System that included reliance on the stormwater enterprise.
“Pueblo contends that in issuing the permit they were relying on the fact Colorado Springs would continue funding a stormwater enterprise and is considering a lawsuit to revoke or amend the permit,” Suthers said. “I and members of the City Council, which also serves as the utility board, have been negotiating with Pueblo in an attempt to resolve the matter.”
Pueblo County has hired Wright Water Engineers to document the relationship of higher impact flows on Fountain Creek and growth in Colorado Springs.
“We would like to avoid litigation that would delay SDS from going online in 2016,” Suthers said.
Suthers and council are proposing a plan to provide $19 million annually for at least 10 years, and highlighted specific budget areas where the money would come from. He also referred to last year’s vote where Colorado Springs and El Paso County voters narrowly rejected a regional drainage authority.
“While Pikes Peak area voters declined to pass a stormwater proposal in November 2014, this is a complex problem that is not going away and needs to be addressed,” Suthers said. “And I emphasize that this is a public safety issue for the citizens of Colorado Springs as well as those of Pueblo.”
Decades of planning and an $829 million investment in Colorado Springs Utilities’ biggest water project ever will be put to the test next month, and the folks behind the Southern Delivery System can’t wait.
Like children anticipating new bicycles for Christmas, project leaders are eager – not anxious – for the tests to begin. Their confidence is matched only by their pride in the project…
The water will flow from the Pueblo Dam through three new pump stations to a 100-acre water treatment plant built in Colorado Springs. The plant’s developed area alone could hold 77 football fields, noted Kim Mutchler, of CSU government and corporate affairs.
The entire system is to begin water delivery next April. But before it does, more tests will be done through September and October.
Since pipeline construction began in 2011, every piece of pipeline has been tested upon arrival, with each section water-tested once installed. Pump station testing started in July and is continuing into the fall, and small tests have been done for several months at the treatment plant.
Next month, tests are expected to begin sending water through multiple stages of treatment. Then several system-wide tests will be done through the fall before SDS starts serving customers next year…
Some of the biggest savings, says SDS Program Director John Fredell, came from the 3.62 percent interest rate on $180 million in 40-year bonds issued in September 2010. In all, $475 million in bonds have been issued.
But unforeseen cost cuts came, too, as engineers and others reviewed completed designs and plans, then unabashedly pointed to better, less expensive ways to accomplish what needed to be done.
– The sprawling campus envisioned for the water treatment plant and its 10 million-gallon tank was reconfigured to put all essential functions under one roof, saving 4 miles of piping and more than $65 million.
– A contract engineer from the Broomfield-based MWH insisted that the three pump stations could be built for under $100 million, contrary to the contractor’s contention. So the project was rebid and built for $75 million. “Those are the benefits of having a really experienced engineer on your projects,” Fredell said.
– Several million more dollars were saved when a program leader noted that single welds instead of double welds could be used on pipes not handling high pressure.
– Another $10 million was saved when Dan Higgins, then the SDS construction manager, decided the pipeline beneath I-25 and Fountain Creek should be one long tunnel rather than a series of short tunnels using extensive open trenches, as envisioned by a consulting engineer. The new method also minimized impacts to floodplains, wetlands and mature trees.
SDS leaders also changed the type of pumps used, opting for more expensive $1 million vertical pumps – 11 in all – that will last longer, have lower electric costs and produce a higher discharge pressure, so another pump station didn’t have to be built in Pueblo.
“The most expensive commodity is electricity to push the water,” Fredell said.
But the humongous project also has brought financial benefits hidden to the casual observer.
When the SDS started in 2009, along with the recession, “We wanted this to be our own stimulus,” Fredell said. “We went on the road to Pueblo and El Paso and Fremont counties and did workshops on how to work with us.
“Only one company in Colorado can build this size diameter pipe. We got other companies from out of state to bid. But they (the Colorado firm) got over $100 million worth of business during the recession. This project helped keep them from having layoffs.”
Contracts set a goal of giving 30 percent of business to Colorado companies, with a penalty for those that didn’t.
“They’ve exceeded the local spend,” Fredell said. “We’ve had over 300 Colorado companies involved and spent $650 million through June, total, and $550 million has stayed in Colorado – $269 million to employers in El Paso County” plus $73 million in Pueblo County and $208 million elsewhere in the state.
The toughest part of the project has been the permitting and planning, he said, with more than 200 major permits obtained, and about 350 total.
The greatest challenges there were creating the 3,000-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which took five years, and obtaining the 1041 Permit from Pueblo County.
The EIS was handled by Keith Riley, SDS deputy program director for CSU, with help from Bill Van Derveer, assistant SDS program director with MWH.
“The two of them were just brilliant in the way they approached it, got the science for the EIS, got all the people together, and worked well with all the agencies, including the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency),” Fredell said.
Two other key players, both now retired from CSU, were Gary Bostrom, chief water services officer, and Bruce McCormick, also a water services officer.
“That’s one of the things I’m proudest of, the people we’ve had work on this thing. They were just ingenious,” Fredell said. “The credit goes to people like that.
“This project has been so much fun. I’ve gotten all my white hair on this project. It’s definitely challenged everybody.”
Colorado Springs Utilities will have an easier time meeting conditions of its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System with Pueblo County as a result of a settlement agreement with Walker Ranches.
The $7.1 million settlement reached June 16 includes $5.78 million to pay a $4.75 million judgment awarded by a Pueblo jury in May plus interest dating back to 2011. Another $1.34 million covers the court costs and expenses incurred by Walker Ranches.
But the agreement does much more.
Pueblo County commissioners are making plans for a compliance hearing later this year on several conditions included in the 1041 permit, including Colorado Springs’ promises to revegetate the entire route of the SDS pipeline through Pueblo County and the provision that landowners would not pay out-of-pocket expenses.
But any issues concerning Walker Ranches are resolved, according to the settlement.
The Pueblo Chieftain obtained a copy of the confidential settlement agreement through a Colorado Open Records Act request after the document was alluded to at the June 26 meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The agreement blocks Gary Walker, principal owner of the ranches, and Utilities from discussing its contents without mutual consent.
Walker had been vocal about damage to the ranchland before and after the jury trial.
The agreement specifies three conditions and accompanying mitigation appendices in the 1041 permit that pre-empt any complaints about compliance from Walker Ranches.
It still leaves open the question of Pueblo County determination of compliance regarding revegetation.
In return, Colorado Springs will address several of Walker’s concerns which it fought in court.
Those include fencing off the area being revegetated, paying Walker $300 per acre annually for the area that is being fenced, working with Walker on improving drainage and modifying the language in its easement if it interferes with future conservation easements.
Future construction activities on the easement are to be addressed separately, according to the settlement.
In addition to revegetation questions, the county is looking at whether Colorado Springs is complying with its commitment to control stormwater.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and City Council President Merv Bennett outlined plans for stormwater funding to Pueblo City Council this week. Suthers also has met individually with Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, Terry Hart and Sal Pace.
Colorado Springs wants to include Pueblo County and other entities in a stormwater agreement that would provide input about whether stormwater improvements benefit Pueblo. Stormwater control is important because of the increased base flow in Fountain Creek as a result of more water coming through the SDS pipeline.
Utilities announced the settlement Thursday. It had appealed the jury decision May 7, followed by Walker’s appeal May 14. Under the settlement, both appeals will be dismissed.
The city-owned utilities company also will fence revegetated areas on the ranches to protect them from cattle and will erect berms to reduce erosion across the 5.5-mile easement Walker provided for installation of the Southern Delivery System pipeline.
The rancher and Utilities had agreed that the easement was worth $82,900, and the pipeline was installed there in 2012…
But the SDS easement caused problems, Walker said at trial, with rain eroding the pipeline scar and Utilities introducing soils contaminated with seeds of invasive species. He also said the pipeline jeopardized a $25 million conservation easement he was negotiating with the Nature Conservancy for $1,680 an acre on 15,000 acres.
The settlement says both parties are committed to work together to manage and maintain the right-of-way.
Utilities said the pact gives it “additional certainty” about SDS costs, thus minimizing risk to ratepayers.
“It has always been our intent when working with property owners to use the court process as a last resort,” SDS program director John Fredell said in a news release. “By successfully resolving these issues with Mr. Walker, we can focus on completing the required revegetation on his property and finishing the SDS project on time and under budget.”
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo County rancher Gary Walker have come to terms to settle a lawsuit over land needed for the Southern Delivery System water pipeline.
The city-owned utility will pay Walker Ranches $7.1 million, ending litigation that led to a jury award of $4.75 million earlier this year and subsequent appeals filed by both the city and Walker.
Colorado Springs Utilities and Gary Walker have reached a $7.1 million settlement for the damage to Walker Ranches from the Southern Delivery System pipeline.
The pipeline crosses 5.5 miles of the 63,000-acre property on its route from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. The $841 million SDS project is scheduled to go online next year and will supply water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.
On May 6, a jury awarded Walker $4.75 million, which included a $4.665 million judgment beyond the $82,900 stipulated value of the easement across Walker Ranches. Damages plus interest would have brought the total payment to $5.78 million, according to a joint press release.
Utilities disputed the amount, and filed an appeal on May 7. Walker Ranches appealed the decision on May 14. Those appeals were dismissed as part of the settlement reached June 16, but announced on Thursday.
The final agreement resolves all claims for $7.1 million, the press release said.
Utilities will also install fencing on Walker Ranches to prevent cattle from entering the area of the SDS pipeline scar that is being revegetated, and will work with Walker to erect berms on the property to reduce erosion.
The agreement also commits both parties to work together in the future to protect the right of way.
Utilities said the settlement provides more certainty about the ultimate cost of the project, reducing the possibility of an expensive appeals process.
“It has always been our intent when working with property owners to use the court process as a last resort,” John Fredell, SDS program director, said in the news release. “By successfully resolving these issues with Mr. Walker, we can focus on completing the required revegetation on his property and finishing the SDS project on time and under budget.”
Walker, when contacted by The Pueblo Chieftain , declined to comment because of the conditions of the settlement.
During the trial, Walker claimed the SDS project had compromised a $25 million conservation easement on 15,000 acres he was negotiating with the Nature Conservancy. He has used about $13 million from past easements to expand the ranches, which is part of a long-term plan to prevent further urban sprawl in northern Pueblo County.
Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s special counsel, said he has not seen the settlement agreement, so he is uncertain about how the county’s 1041 permit for SDS would be affected. The county is teeing up compliance hearings later this year on revegetation and Fountain Creek flood control, which are referenced in conditions that are part of the 1041 permit.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.
If rushing water had to threaten a county road, the timing couldn’t have been better for the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners.
The commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a contract with Wright Water Engineering to the accompaniment of text messages from the public works department informing them that the surging Fountain Creek was threatening a portion of Overton Road.
The $115,000 contract will allow the county to tap into Wright Water’s expertise as it continues to evaluate whether Colorado Springs has complied with provisions of the permit regarding stormwater control that allowed Colorado Springs to build the Southern Delivery System water pipeline from the Pueblo Dam to Springs.
County Land Use Attorney Gary Raso said that in his conversations with the engineers at Wright, they were very familiar with the Fountain Creek and its issues in the past.
The Fountain serves as the primary drainage for Colorado Springs, along with other communities including Fountain, Monument, Security and Widefield.
“Pueblo County is incurring significant costs due to the failures of the north,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.
But the study focuses on Colorado Springs, particularly whether the city’s lack of any sustainable funding for stormwater improvement projects that would mitigate the impacts to Fountain Creek is a violation of the agreement.
The county is waiting until August to decide whether to issue a showcause hearing to Colorado Springs on whether to revoke or make significant changes to the agreement.
Again, the commissioners discussed the impact of the various burn scars in the area, including the Waldo Canyon burn scar.
But Commissioner Sal Pace noted that the Springs had eliminated its stormwater enterprise long before the Waldo Canyon Fire devastated the community.
“I think talking about the burn scar is a distraction,” Pace said. “These problems existed before the Waldo Canyon Fire. It implies that this is a new problem because of an act of God, when it was an act of man.”
Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen noted that the burn scar brings the overall lack of stormwater infrastructure into greater focus.
“This particular set of storms, combined with the burn scar, combined with the lack of infrastructure, will give Wright engineering a worst-case scenario,” she said.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.
Pueblo County is a step closer to calling for a hearing to decide whether to repeal or significantly alter the provisions of a 1041 permit allowing the Southern Delivery System to be built through the county.
On Monday, commissioners gave direction to staff to release a report to Colorado Springs detailing the progress of an investigation into whether that city’s lack of any specific funding for storm water permits constitutes a violation of the permit.
According to the report, staff’s recommendation is that, so far, the investigation shows there’s enough evidence to go forward with a show cause hearing on the 1041 document. But staff also asked for permission to hold off on issuing such an order until the first of August.
Waiting two months would give staff time to continue working with Colorado Springs, hire Denver-based Wright Water Engineering as a storm water consultant and give the new mayor and city council in Colorado Springs time to assess the issues for themselves.
“I am confident that there is some probability of success in coming up with some solutions to bring to the board, either as revised conditions or new amendments to the agreement,” said Ray Petros, water counsel to Pueblo County.
Petros said that it’s been six years since there was any dedicated funding in place for Colorado Springs’ storm water improvements and in that time, the number of infrastructure improvements that could help mitigate flows and improve water quality in the Fountain Creek have backlogged to the point that nearly $534 million worth of projects are awaiting completion.
Staff has been investigating the issue since April. Petros said it has been difficult to ascertain what high-priority projects have been completed or what kind of money has actually been spent on projects that would be beneficial to Pueblo County.
At the core of the investigation is the Springs’ decision to disband its storm water enterprise in 2009, along with the failure at the polls in 2014 of a measure to establish a new enterprise.
“Our issue has been from Day 1 that the 1041 permit requires some kind of dedicated funding,” said Commissioner Terry Hart. “No pun intended, but it’s been six years of water under the bridge and we’re painfully aware of that.”
Petros quoted a few passages within the 1041 permit that mentioned the funding source specifically, including the environmental impact statements attached to the permit.
The original staff report noted that the delay also gave Colorado Springs Utilities time to respond to information requests, but Hart said he felt Pueblo should set the timeline on that response.
Public Works Director Alf Randall said that the information requested by staff wasn’t complicated but understood if Colorado Springs staffers preferred to wait until the new mayor and council were sworn in.
Randall also said it would be good to have the information once Wright Water’s contract with Pueblo was finalized.
“I don’t understand what would be highly complex about providing staff a list of projects in 2015,” Randall said.
He said he thought it could be done by June 1.
The commissioners then directed that the June 1 deadline be included in the memo to Colorado Springs.
There are likely more investigations to follow. Commissioner Sal Pace asked staff to consider land purchases, reclamaneighbors. tion issues and potential impacts to Pueblo West homeowners in the investigation.
But the investigation came from a resolution focusing specifically on storm water issues.
All three commissioners said they would like to see future investigations into those other issues.
The commissioners also noted that the past week’s rainfall was a reminder of the urgency for the improvements, as runoff from Colorado Springs churned mud and debris in Fountain Creek and eroded property along Overton Road.
“We have a job to advocate for our constituents and I think the representatives from Colorado Springs, whether they like the process or not, would agree there’s been an impact to the community,” said Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.