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

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeker: White River algae blooms topic of meeting

Bloom on the White River.
Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times (Reed Kelley):

More than three dozen people gathered at the sheriff’s office conference room in Meeker last Friday morning to continue addressing why we’re experiencing such bothersome summer algae blooms in the ecological heart of our community—the White River. Led by Rio Blanco Commissioner Si Woodruff, with Commissioner Jeff Rector at his side, the past meetings were acknowledged and the county laid out their proposal for moving forward. The proposal was that an action oriented advisory group, smaller than the whole group gathered Friday, be established which could better focus on needed actions.

In addition, the county proposed that the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts (CDs) take the lead in coordinating and facilitating meetings and electronic communications and serve as the fiscal agent to pursue and manage finances including grant applications and management for addressing the algae and overall health of the river.

Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the CDs, explained the discussions the CDs had held with the county and presented a possible scope of work to be carried out…

The advisory group proposed by the county initially includes representatives from the U.S. Geological Service (USGS), the county, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Towns of Meeker and Rangely, Meeker Sanitation District, Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the CDs. Interested vested stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and members of the general public are expected to be included at some point as well.

The assembled group Friday accepted the county proposal without objection. The advisory group itself met Friday afternoon.

The county’s concept was also to turn to the USGS to do much of the needed further research. USGS scientist Ken Leib of Grand Junction, who has been attending the county river algae meetings, gave a presentation to the whole group on what such a research effort should look like. Leib reviewed much of the information on the river conditions that have already been collected, and the further research and data gaps USGS would try to complete.

Hendrickson facilitated a round-robin collection of important pieces individuals at the meeting would like to see included in further study and action. Several group members urged that the advisory group not delay pursuing actual remedial actions regarding the algae that make sense in the short term while conducting longer term research.

Bridging troubled waters — Doug McPherson @MSUDenver

Gabrielle Katz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at MSU Denver, has been studying river hydrology and its impact on ecosystems for the last two decades. Photo by Alyson McClaran

Here’s the release from Doug McPherson writing for Metropolitan State University of Denver. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

When Colorado lawmakers wanted to know how the massive floods of 2013 affected plants along the South Platte River, they needed experts.

Enter Gabrielle Katz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Katz has been studying river hydrology and its impact on ecosystems for the last two decades.

“I’ve been fascinated by water management influences since my graduate research in the 1990s,” Katz said.

Specifically, she’s become an expert on how flood control downstream of dams affects plant structure and composition and how groundwater pumping and hydrologic restoration affect streamside plant communities.

Graduate watershed seminar discusses water quality regulations — @ColoradoStateU

The Poudre River is one of the sources of water used in the city of Fort Collins (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Trowbridge):

Watershed science majors listened to and discussed water quality control and clean water regulations for an interdisciplinary water resources seminar class Monday evening.

Patrick J. Pfalzgraff, the director of the Water Quality Control Division of the Local Public Health and Environment Resources Department, spoke to watershed sciences majors for a GRAD 592 interdisciplinary water resources seminar class, which are open to the public. Pfalzgraff works with regulations of water quality control in terms of clean water and drinking water.

According to the syllabus, the purpose of this course is “to prepare students in water resources by increasing their understanding of how water is actually managed in Colorado.” The seminar class brings in professionals in the water resources industry to speak about their work in the field.

The Water Quality Control Division issues regulations on water treatment, pollution control, and does some water tests, with regulation standards finalized by state politicians.

“Almost all of the decisions we make are based on some form of data, whether that is science data or weather data, we pull the data from these sources to determine the stream or lake health,” Pfalzgraff said.

The division also aides smaller communities with meeting water regulation standards by providing funds or services if the communities do not have access to them.

“A lot of small towns don’t have a lot of revenue because they don’t have a big population or industry, and they may or may not have the resources or revenue in order to do necessary upgrades,” Pfalzgraff said. “That’s where we can step in and get them back on their feet.”

Patrick J Pfalzgraff, the Director of the Water Quality Control Division of the Local Public Health and Environment Resources Department (Julia Trowbridge | Collegian)

Clean water, like the water in the Poudre River, have to pass regulations regarding pollution levels. A common pollution level issue is the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous in water levels, which can either come from human pollution or agricultural pollution.

High concentrations of these elements in water, called nutrient loadings, can make the crops have excessive amounts of these elements, and the crops might not pass regulation standards for consumption.

“We try to maintain that environmental balance with how pollutants are discharged throughout the state,” Pfalzgraff said.

Clean water and clean drinking water are completely different standards. Drinking water is regulated through chemically treating clean water to insure that the water is safe and clean to distribute out to the public to prevent things like waterborne diseases being distributed in the drinking water.

“In Puerto Rico, there are waterborne diseases,” Pfalzgraff said. “That’s not an issue in Colorado. We haven’t had a wate borne disease in the last five years.”

The study of watershed sciences and the design of water flow is especially important in Colorado. According to Pfalzgraff, the population of Colorado is predicted to double by 2050, which creates a strong need in water quality regulation and the delegation of water resources.

“There are a lot of uses on what are already stressed resources,” Pfalzgraff said.

Stressed resources has been brought up by groups like Save the Poudre, who advocate that diversion plans made by the Northern Integrated Supply Project would drain even more water from the already depleted river. The river also has to pass a minimum water flow, which could cause problems with these diversion plans.

Regardless, the growing population of Colorado needs to access water, whether it is by the proposed plan or another alternative.

Cache la Poudre River from South Trail via Wikimedia Foundation.

Denver: City Park Golf Course is scheduled to close for stormwater project on Nov. 1, 2017

Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin)
Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).

From 9News.com (Dan Grossman):

The $270 million project is part of a proposal to improve drainage and prevent catastrophic flooding to neighborhoods north of the park.

“Water goes where it wants to go and it wants to go here,” said Denver Department of Public Works communications manager Nancy Kuhn.

Kuhn was one of several city employees at the City Park Golf Course clubhouse Saturday for an informational session on the project.

It was the final one before the course closes on Oct. 31 until 2019.

“[This project] will greatly minimize the flooding potential to the homes to the north of here,” said Denver Director of Golf Scott Rethlake.

The project has been in the works for two years. The city says the course is the largest basin in Denver without a natural waterway. It means most of the area’s rain water trickles into it, where it pools and floods.

The plan would cut 261 trees on the course to make room for the ditches, but it would also replant nearly 750 more to make up for the lost canopy in 10 years.

The city would also relocate the club house and driving range, increasing the yardage from 240 to 320, which would allow for drivers, a club that can’t be used on the current driving range…

Eight people are suing the city over this project. A ruling hasn’t been made by the judge but the attorney on the case, Aaron Goldhamer says they are meeting with the judge for an update on Oct. 26.

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

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

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Lawsuit filed over September 2013 Olympus Dam releases

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From TheDenverChannel.com (Mark Belcher):

According to the lawsuit, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam, made the call to release a massive amount of water from the dam to protect its integrity, as it overflowed with floodwater from a heavy storm that continued to dump water on Sept. 12, 2013.

The plaintiffs in the suit say had they been warned of the massive release, they would have been able to move some of their property, but instead they were surprised to find homes literally washed away.

Details revealed in the lawsuit confirms the victims lost their homes and businesses in the flood, and are seeking compensation from the government for their losses.

The lawsuit says the Bureau of Reclamation “made the determination to take [the victims’] property through its actions in releasing water from the Olympus Dam due to its concern for the integrity of the dam and the greater public good in preserving the dam versus [the victims’] property.”

The victims and their attorney requested a jury trial to judge all issues laid out in the suit, however the trial has not yet been scheduled.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities