Jeff Chostner has, ‘been at the center of water fights for the last decade’ — Chris Woodka

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

When Jeff Chostner becomes Pueblo district attorney in January, he will jump from one pool of water issues to another. It’s not the first time. Chostner’s been at the center of water fights for the last decade. “It’s bittersweet,” Chostner said, of leaving his current posts. “I’ve come full circle.”

Chostner was on Pueblo City Council when it voted on intergovernmental agreements in 2004 — he voted against them — that removed the city’s opposition to the controversial Southern Delivery System proposed by Colorado Springs and its partners to divert up to 78 million gallons of water daily from the Arkansas River to El Paso County.
In 2006, he was elected to the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners, and was part of the board when it staged public hearings on SDS and issued a 1041 land­use permit for the project in 2009. During that time, he became active on the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, and helped to form and now chairs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

In those roles, he has been a watchdog for the 1041 provisions of SDS, making sure they are followed and overseeing several changes that improved Pueblo County’s
end of the deal.

Now, moving into the district attorney’s role, Chostner will inherit a piece of the contentious dealings outgoing District Attorney Bill Thiebaut set in motion. A decision earlier this year by District Court Judge Victor Reyes ordered the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to rework the SDS waterquality permit.
The state and Colorado Springs have appealed the decision.

If the appeals court rules in favor of Reyes’ decision, it’s likely to be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. If it overturns it, Chostner would review whether to appeal. “If it goes against Colorado Springs, I would certainly defend a successful case,” Chostner said. “If it goes against us, I would have to read the language of the opinion before making a decision.”

Even though there will be three new county commissioners and a new county attorney after the first of the year, Chostner thinks Pueblo County staff is well aware of the conditions of the 1041 agreement. Three conditions, in particular, require Colorado Springs Utilities to fund projects affecting Fountain Creek. Colorado Springs also is required to make other improvements at property it owns south of Fountain under the 1041 conditions. The city also indicated it would fully fund stormwater projects.

Sewer lines

Colorado Springs Utilities is required to spend $75 million by 2024 to fortify sewer collection lines that cross tributaries of Fountain Creek. The county has to assure that the money is being spent on identified projects, and that the projects do not duplicate other regulatory efforts. So far, annual reports from Utilities indicate those payments are in line. In November, at a meeting to tackle regional stormwater issues in Colorado Springs, Chostner questioned Springs officials on whether any amount of the $28 million in stormwater projects would be applied toward the $75 million commitment. He was assured they would not.

Flood control

When SDS is complete, probably in 2016, Colorado Springs will make annual payments totalling $50 million over five years to the Fountain Creek district. “That money is to be spent in Pueblo County,” Chostner said. “At the time (2009), I talked to Sen. Ken Salazar, who agreed that $50 million was a good settlement and we would be able to parlay that into $100 million or $150 million for a dam or other water restraint systems on Fountain Creek. That money is there for a dam, if that’s what the district chooses to do.”

While The Pueblo Chieftain editorially has championed building a dam — the idea originally was proposed by Pueblo County water attorney Ray Petros — much of the discussion has focused on smaller detention ponds. Colorado Springs, at the insistence of Pueblo County, is helping to fund a federal study of hydrologic impacts of flood control structures, using part of the $50 million. Regardless of the final decision, Chostner is confident the money will be spent in Pueblo County.

Dredging

Chostner also has zealously guarded funding projects from the $2.2 million Colorado Springs paid the county in 2010 to satisfy a requirement for onetime dredging of Fountain Creek through Pueblo. Of the money, $350,000 already has been spent on a city of Pueblo demonstration project that includes a sediment collector, which removes sediment from the water as it flows. It was also suggested that some of the money could be used to remove a problematic railroad bridge from the creek bed. Part of the bridge has been dismantled by the Union Pacific Railroad. “I would stress that the use of that money is not a Fountain Creek decision, or a city of Pueblo decision, but solely a Pueblo County commission decision,” Chostner said. “My personal recommendation is to remove the bridge.”
Fountain Creek board

Chostner has spent the last year pushing the Fountain Creek district toward its ultimate task of asking voters in El Paso and Pueblo counties for a mill levy. He has met with the city councils of Pueblo and Colorado Springs, and other groups. He’ll step off the board in January. “I’ve tried to be active in the last six months, reminding people we’re still here and that we’re considering a mill levy,” Chostner said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

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