Pueblo West Utilities Board members and staff are trying to make sense of SDS MOU with Colorado Springs

June 18, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo West is pondering whether it even needs to turn on Southern Delivery System early after the metro district board waded through the process that led up to a controversial memorandum of understanding that would allow that to happen. The MOU apparently represents years of complex negotiations between Colorado Springs attorneys.

Three board members, Chairman Lew Quigley, Mark Carmel and Judy Leonard, voted on May 27 to talk about the MOU in open session, rather than behind closed doors.

But at Tuesday’s metro board meeting — devoted solely to water issues — board members and staff wrangled over what the document means and how it should be drafted.

The MOU could pave the way for Pueblo West to begin using a new 36-inch pipeline from the north outlet on Pueblo Dam ahead of schedule. It’s needed because Pueblo West is reaching the limits of its current delivery line, and to provide redundancy if anything should happen to its sole supply source, said Manager Jack Johnston. Johnston said the MOU was merely conceptual, and the argued that details of it needed to be explained in executive session.

“This is really our bus to drive,” Johnston said.

Carmel countered that a more open discussion in public among Pueblo West, Colorado Springs needed.

Pueblo County commissioners and attorneys objected to details of the agreement which required Pueblo West to obtain approval of 1041 permit conditions, saying Colorado Springs is attempting to bully the metro district.

“This was presented to me as an ultimatum. … I suspect this new board will go back to the drawing board to give you a new direction,” Carmel said. He wanted to delay action until a full board could act — board member Jerry Martin was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

Quigley objected to discussing the agreement in executive said that a meeting behind closed doors was needed to explain how the agreement related to several other lawsuits in order to protect Pueblo West’s legal position.

Board member Barbara Bernard favored discussing such an agreement in executive session if necessary.

“Yes, I want to know how we got to this point,” she said. “I need as much counsel as we can have.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities was trying to make sure the clock wouldn’t start ticking if Pueblo West got water early under a controversial agreement.

That’s how Mark Pifher, permit manager for Southern Delivery System, explained the situation Wednesday to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District during his update on SDS progress.

The agreement was to have been discussed in executive session on May 27 by the Pueblo West Metropolitan District, but newly elected board member Mark Carmel objected to talking about it behind closed doors, claiming the agreement would hold Pueblo West “hostage.”

The issue escalated when Pueblo County commissioners and attorneys claimed Colorado Springs was using bully tactics to pressure Pueblo West into gaining county approval of 1041 permit conditions from the county.

“Pueblo West wanted delivery of the water as soon as possible,” Pifher said. “The concern we had was that if the water is delivered to Pueblo West, will all the other conditions be expedited?”

Among those conditions is the beginning of $50 million payments to the Fountain Creek District and other Fountain Creek issues. Utilities and the Lower Ark have been in negotiations over Fountain Creek issues for the past nine years.

“What we’re asking is that Pueblo West go to the commissioners so those other conditions will not be triggered,” Pifher said.

The agreement also contained a provision that would require Pueblo West to stop using the new pipeline if Colorado Springs did not meet SDS conditions.

On Tuesday, the Pueblo West board discussed the agreement with Manager Jack Johnston and attorney Harley Gifford.

Carmel and board President Lew Quigley wanted an open discussion of the agreement. Johnston said it had been negotiated over several years by staff and attorneys. Gifford said it is tied to other legal issues that need to be discussed in executive session.

The 36-inch water line from the north outlet is nearly complete and would provide redundancy for the existing 24-inch line Pueblo West has connected to the south outlet. The new line would provide up to 18 million gallons per day in addition to the 12-million-gallon capacity of the existing line.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


“This proposed MOU is a heavy-handed tactic by [Colorado Springs Utilities]” — Ray Petros

June 3, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County officials believe Colorado Springs Utilities is trying to pressure Pueblo West for help in meeting 1041 permit requirements for the Southern Delivery System. After obtaining a copy of a draft memorandum of understanding that was to be considered by the Pueblo West metro board in executive session last month, two commissioners and the county’s water attorney say it’s the same type of coercion Utilities tried to exert on the county earlier.

“It’s bully tactics. I think it’s terrible and totally inappropriate,” said Terry Hart, chairman of the county commissioners. “This is the second time in a couple of months where Utilities is trying to negotiate approval of 1041 conditions. In this case, it pits Pueblo West against Pueblo County, when there’s no good reason to do it.”

Commissioner Sal Pace agreed: “Whether Pueblo West has access to its own water has nothing to do with conditions on Fountain Creek.”

Water attorney Ray Petros was equally blunt: “This proposed MOU is a heavy-handed tactic by Utilities to withhold water deliveries to Pueblo West as a lever against the county in the event the county had to consid­er suspending the SDS permit.”

Pueblo West has not approved the MOU, and Jack Johnston, the metro district manager, portrayed it as a working document “at the staff and attorney level.”

However, newly elected Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel objected at his first official meeting to considering the deal in executive session. He was backed by Chairman Lew Quigley and board member Judy Leonard.

Johnston said a document for public consideration would be ready for discussion in open session, probably in mid-June.

But the document provided to The Chieftain by Carmel, and shared with the county, asks Pueblo West to get the county to sign off on several conditions of the 1041 permit before Pueblo West can turn on SDS.

Among other things, the agreement instructs Pueblo West to obtain written confirmation from Pueblo County that four politically charged conditions of the county’s 1041 permit have been met or “will not be triggered . . . by use of SDS facilities.”

Those conditions include the payment of $50 million to a special district for Fountain Creek flood control, the Pueblo Arkansas River flow program, the adaptive management scenario for Fountain Creek and Colorado Springs stormwater management. Each of those has led to complicated political negotiations or even court cases for Colorado Springs. Pueblo West has been in court with Pueblo County over the flow program.

Pueblo County ran into the same tactics when it asked Utilities to release interest money from the $50 million early to fund dam studies on Fountain Creek, Hart and Pace noted.

“In any event, holding Pueblo West hostage casts Springs’ Utilities as a bully,” Petros said. “It’s certainly counterproductive to a cooperative approach for addressing environmental mitigation of the SDS Project.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Pueblo West: Metropolitan board approve $40,000 for pipeline easement costs

January 20, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

The Pueblo West Metropolitan District board took another step last week toward saving its precious water resources from evaporation. The board voted unanimously Tuesday to fund $40,000 worth of appraisals for its proposed Wildhorse Pipeline easement. The valuations will help the board reach agreement with property owners.

The board proposes to build a roughly 7-mile pipeline to prevent the estimated 70 percent loss of water due to evaporation or seepage as it is discharged from the Pueblo West treatment plant into Wildhorse Creek, where it is measured for water credit.

“If we can get a good portion of that 70 percent back, it would add up to roughly 1,000 to 1,200 acre-feet of water — enough to supply 2,400 to 3,600 homes annually. It’s a lot of water,” said Jack Johnston, district manager.

The district will need to secure 100 easements, about half of which are through Pueblo city-owned property. Because the district has not been able to reach agreement with the city of Pueblo, it filed a lawsuit in December seeking the right of eminent domain to condemn the property it needs for “the greater public purpose,” Johnston said.

“Water conservation is a statewide interest. We have just about 11,000 water taps but we are not done growing,” Johnston said.

In 2013, Pueblo West received 49 new home permit applications. Johnston said the district also would like to have more water available should a new manufacturing business require significant water.

“To add to our water portfolio for future growth is a solid investment for a community. We also are able to lease any excess water we have,” Johnston explained.

Johnston said the filing of the district court lawsuit was not a step Pueblo West leaders wanted to take. He said he still is hopeful of reaching an agreement with Pueblo officials before the case is heard June 12-13.

“For two government agencies to fight each other does not make sense to me,” said Lew Quigley, board member. “The taxpayers come out the losers.”

Meanwhile, Pueblo County has updated their 1041 regulations, partially in response to Pueblo West’s project. Here’s a report from The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

City Council adopted an arsenal of new land-use regulations last week that gives it more voice over the routes of new water pipelines, power plants, transmission lines and even new sewage treatment plants. The unanimous vote came Jan. 13 even as the city and the Pueblo West Metropolitan District are at odds over the route of the Wildhorse Reuse Pipeline Project.

That long-sought project would be a return-flow pipeline from the Pueblo West sewage treatment plant to the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam. The project has been on the drawing board for several years with agreement of Colorado Springs, Aurora, the Pueblo Board of Water Works — all players that have cooperated on a program to maximize flows in the river.

Pueblo city planners have challenged the proposed route of the pipeline, which Pueblo West officials want to acquire through eminent domain, including some city-owned land. The metro district filed a suit in Pueblo District Court last month to force Pueblo to comply.

On the advice of new City Attorney Dan Kogovsek, council adopted the broader land-use powers. They are commonly called 1041 regulations because they are named after a 1974 law granting local governments a voice over projects that cross multiple jurisdictions.

While Pueblo County attorney, Kogovsek was involved in enforcing the county’s 1041 regulations on Colorado Springs over the route for the Southern Delivery System water pipeline north from Pueblo Dam.

Kogovsek told council it should exercise more authority over projects that cross city lands or will require the extension of city services. He mentioned the Pueblo West pipeline project as well as the possible development of Pueblo Springs Ranch — a 24,000-acre proposed annexation north of the city.

Council approved the new regulations without much debate. Councilman Chris Kaufman asked for assurances the city’s broader power would not restrict business development and Kogovsek said it wouldn’t.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Restoration: Pueblo West is working with Chaffee County to revegetate the Hill Ranch buy and dry property

November 24, 2013
Hill Ranch photo via Colorado Central Magazine -- Mike Rosso

Hill Ranch photo via Colorado Central Magazine — Mike Rosso

From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):

After receiving information from soil tests, Pueblo West officials will meet with Chaffee County officials to develop the next steps for revegetation and weed control efforts at the Hill Ranch, next to U.S. 285 north of Centerville. Alan Leak, a consultant for Pueblo West from RESPEC Water & Natural Resources, met with Chaffee County commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday.

Pueblo West had soil samples from the Hill Ranch sent off for analysis, Leak said. The analysis showed that seed mixes used by Pueblo West more than a year ago “were not suitable” to soil acidic levels at the Hill Ranch. He said he does not have the complete analysis yet.

Larry Walker, Chaffee County Weed Department supervisor, said he would like to see the complete results once Leak has them.

From the soil analysis, Leak said they will get recommendations on what seeds to use on the property. Once he gets that information and the full report, which should happen by the end of the year, he will meet with people in Chaffee County and develop a plan for next year.

Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese said he would like to have Leak meet with the commissioners at their February work session to discuss the plan.

For next year, instead of just trying two test sites with the same idea, Pueblo West might try “a bunch of different things” and see what works. That way if one idea does not work, they do not waste the whole year, he said.

Pueblo West purchased the Hill Ranch water rights, and part of the purchase conditions require the municipality to revegetate the land with local grass before it can use the water right, county officials said previously.

Leak said he last met with the county commissioners during the summer, when they discussed Pueblo West’s summer and fall plan for the Hill Ranch. At the time he told commissioners about a proposed plan for weed control and two sites for test crops. He explained a process consisting of tilling two test sites, planting a sterile sorghum and mowing the property to keep weeds down. Each of the two approximately 50-acre test sites was tilled to mix peat in with the soil and planted with a sterile sorghum. Sorghum was planted to help reduce the acidity and build root mass in the soil. The efforts resulted in “a fair sorghum crop” at the test sites, Leak said. They also found that “in most parts the peat is not as deep as we thought,” he said. The test sites had irrigation water run onto them, about 1,500 acre-feet, Leak said. So far Pueblo West “has expended $115,000” this year on its Hill Ranch efforts, he said.

Walker said, considering the work he has done to help with the Hill Ranch revegetation and weed control efforts, he wonders if the county should perhaps get compensated as a consultant.

“Weed control was somewhat successful,” Leak said. The Hill Ranch was mowed three times, and the area had some selective grazing.

“The guy mowing did a great job – a month too late,” Frank McMurry, a rancher who lives near the Hill Ranch, said at the meeting. “We have a monumental weed problem, due to the timing.” When it comes to mowing to keep weeds down, timing matters, he said.

“We probably got up here a little late a few times,” Leak said. However, Pueblo West did make an effort to get Hill Ranch mowed. Next year, they want to get to the mowing earlier, he said.

Because the weather can change and affect the growth of weeds without much warning, McMurry said he thinks Pueblo West should hire someone local to monitor and manage the Hill Ranch site, not someone from Walsenburg. A local person could stay apprised of the conditions and know what they mean for growth on the site, Commissioner Dave Potts said.

Here’s some background from Ron Sering writing for Colorado Central Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

Rights to irrigate the area known today as Hill Ranch predate Chaffee County by more than a decade. Decreed in 1868, the rights permitted diversion of water for agriculture and ranching. And so it remained for more than a century, even after sale of the rights by the Hill family to Western Water Rights Limited Liability Partnership in 1986.

That all changed with the subsequent sale of the rights to the Pueblo West Metropolitan District (PWMD) in 2008. The PWMD, home to nearly 30,000 thirsty people, needed the rights to fuel a growth rate that remains among the fastest in the state. The rights are significant, totaling nearly 1,900 acre feet of water. An acre foot totals nearly 326,000 gallons. Under the decree, the rights would convert from agricultural to municipal. Included in the terms was the cessation of irrigation activities. The land would be dried up and restored to its pre-irrigation state.

The irrigation made growth possible for more water-loving vegetation, including aspen and cottonwood trees, and Russian thistle, a non-native species also known as tumbleweed. Under the rights transfer, the intrusive weeds must be removed and native grasses restored.

PWMD contracted with Denver-based WRC Engineering to perform the dry-up. The plan was to cease irrigation to dry up the land, defoliate the intrusive species and minimize windblown weeds and dust, followed by the introduction of a prescribed seed mixture from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


Southern Delivery System update: North outlet works ready to roll, most of the pipe is in the ground

September 22, 2013
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A major water pipeline through Pueblo County has moved quickly since construction began two years ago. A connection at Pueblo Dam is complete, all but a fraction of Southern Delivery System pipeline is in the ground and work will start soon on the Juniper Pump Station, Colorado Springs Utilities officials told Pueblo County Commissioners last week.

“There has been significant progress on construction in Pueblo County,” said John Fredell, SDS program director for Utilities. That includes more than 18 miles of pipeline through Pueblo West and the northern part of Pueblo County on Walker Ranches.

Under the 1041 permit, Colorado Springs also has committed to spend at least $145 million in mitigation. About $42 million of that has been spent so far.

Commissioners are reviewing Colorado Springs commitments made under the 2009 1041 permit. Terry Hart, Sal Pace and Liane “Buffie” McFadyen all joined the board this year, and were not on the board when the permit was issued. Friday’s meeting was an opportunity for them to evaluate SDS compliance.

SDS also benefits Pueblo West, by more than doubling its water supply capacity and giving it another way to deliver water from Pueblo Dam.

“On our own, it would have been difficult to accomplish this,” Pueblo West Manager Jack Johnston told commissioners. “It’s been a $6 million cost to Pueblo West of a $30 million project.” Pueblo West now has a line that delivers 12 million gallons per day from the South Outlet Works. When SDS is complete, it will have another 18 million-gallon line from the new North Outlet Works. “Everything they committed to has been exceeded,” Johnston said.

Pueblo County staff has received quarterly and annual updates on compliance with the 1041 regulations, said Keith Riley, deputy program director for SDS. During the four-hour hearing there were some complaints from Pueblo West landowners about the way they have been treated as the pipeline crossed their property. But Riley pointed out that condemnation of property was a last resort, and some of the purchases of houses along the route provided materials for Habitat for Humanity and training opportunities for firefighters. Any large project is bound to leave some people unhappy, he said. “My heart goes out to those who have been (adversely) affected,” Riley told commissioners. “Our staff does care about landowners and we plan to respond to each point.”

Hart, who chairs the commission, said the county plans to see that Colorado Springs lives up to its commitment. “We’ve directed staff to match the comments we heard today with the conditions in the 1041 agreement and see if we can settle the differences,” Hart said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While Colorado Springs officials painted a serene picture of compliance with Pueblo County 1041 permit conditions, local landowners offered different viewpoints. After listening to a presentation addressing major points of the Southern Delivery System by Colorado Springs Utilities staff, several people took issue with the rosy outlook.

Dwain Maxwell plopped down a 6-inchthick stack of paper and explained how a team of Colorado Springs lawyers outflanked him in court over what he says is a low-ball property appraisal for an easement on his property in Pueblo West.

LaVetta Kay told about how her complaints of workers trespassing on her property were disregarded by SDS management.

Engineer Laurie Clark showed photos of how large areas of pipeline revegetation areas on Walker Ranches have been washed out by relatively light summer storms.

Jane Rhodes talked about how unchecked flows on Fountain Creek continue to wash acres of her ranch land downstream. “I only have two acres, but they’re just as important to me as Gary Walker’s thousands of acres,” Maxwell told the board.

A Pueblo district court jury awarded Maxwell only $1,850, rather than the $2,200 Colorado Springs Utilities first offered him or the $18,500 his own appraiser valued the property. Commission Chairman Terry Hart asked Keith Riley, assistant project director for SDS, why Utilities did not pay Maxwell the amount it originally offered. “What I worry about when I hear about this is that Mr. Maxwell was not properly represented,” Hart said.

“The court ordered us to pay $1,850,” Riley replied.

Maxwell said the construction led to dust and disruption. Revegetation has created 4-foot tall weeds due to overwatering, but little grass. “Their promises have not been followed,” Maxwell said. Construction has created problems for Kay as well.

“I get no communication,” she said. “There’s no accountability. They disrespect me and disregard my property.”

Clark’s photos countered Utilities slides that portrayed orderly green­ belts along the pipeline route. Instead, large ravines that cross the pipeline route were gouged out, ruining revegetation that had begun. Utilities is aware of the problems and is working with Walker to solve them, said Mark Pifher, permit manager.

Rhodes’ problems relate to stormwater control, a long-standing problem on Fountain Creek that she believes will be made worse by SDS. “With all of the water coming from the north, when SDS gets done and in full force, we possibly won’t have any farms on Fountain Creek,” Rhodes said.

Commissioners directed staff to compile complaints according to conditions Colorado Springs agreed to in the 1041 permit and determine if they can be resolved. “This gives us an opportunity to address any issues out there and see where we are headed,” Hart said.

Colorado Springs indicated it would work with Pueblo County in resolving issues. “We take our obligations seriously and are sure that we could meet every one of them,” Utilities CEO Jerry Forte told him.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southern Delivery System construction has provided a shot in the arm to Pueblo County’s economy, commissioners heard during a meeting last week on the progress of SDS. “There has been a positive economic benefit to Pueblo,” said John Bowen, president of ASI Constructors.

The Pueblo West company won a $50 million contract for construction of the North Outlet Works at Pueblo Dam and some of the pipeline associated with SDS. “We’ve added employees during the recession,” Bowen said. “We are part of balancing the public trust with environmental concerns.”

It is important to ASI and Pueblo County for SDS to stay on course for its 2016 completion, because that will speed up work on Fountain Creek. ASI would be among bidders for future dam projects, he said.

Sherri Weber of M&S Trucking in Boone also spoke of the economic benefits. The company has hauled materials to construction sites for nearly two years under its SDS contract.

Overall, Colorado Springs Utilities said it has spent $60 million with more than 100 Pueblo County contractors. The total spent through the end of July on SDS construction was $382 million.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County commissioners Friday looked at a menu of issues ranging from economic benefits to environmental damage surrounding construction of the Southern Delivery System pipeline through the county. Hanging over the discussion like a storm cloud, however, was whether Colorado Springs is serious about reining in flood control, as its council once promised. “In light of the recent flooding in Colorado Springs, this is a timely meeting that brings up concerns that have been with us for a long time,” Commissioner Sal Pace said. “The low point was in 2009, with the elimination of the stormwater enterprise.”

It was a repeated theme throughout a four-hour meeting. Resolving Fountain Creek issues played a big role in years of discussions that led to Bureau of Reclamation approval of the $940 million SDS project.

The 1041 permit itself does not require any level of spending or even that a stormwater enterprise has to be in place. It only requires that return flows from SDS do not exacerbate flows, said Mark Pifher, SDS permit manager. That position is being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which this week decided to sue the Bureau of Reclamation, which issued a favorable record of decision for SDS based on the existence of a stormwater enterprise.

At Friday’s meeting, Jay Winner, Lower Ark general manager, asked Colorado Springs officials why council chose to drop the stormwater enterprise in 2009 while ignoring the main goal of the 2009 Proposition 300, which was to elimi­nate Utilities transfers to the city’s general fund. The move came after Springs voters defeated a 2008 issue to make stormwater payments voluntary. “As elected officials, we felt there was a message from voters that the stormwater fee should be stopped,” said Colorado Springs Councilwoman Jan Martin, the only council member still serving who was on the board in 2009. She voted to repeal the enterprise.

Martin is working on a stormwater task force that plans to put a ballot issue for a stormwater fee or tax on the November 2014 ballot in Colorado Springs and El Paso County. What appears on the ballot depends in part on a prioritization of needs ordered by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, who has not cooperated with the task force.

Dorothy Butcher, a former state representative from Pueblo, questioned how much of current stormwater spending in Colorado Springs, reported at $46 million, is addressing the issue of reducing Pueblo flood impacts. “With your potential 2014 ballot initiative, if it’s turned down, what source of revenue will you use?”

Martin said the council would transfer money from other sources, as it is doing now, adding that she is confident voters will support a ballot issue that clearly outlines its purpose, such as last year’s ballot measure to continue a transportation tax.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Pueblo West Metro District approves 8% increase in water rates and a 13.5% increase in sewer rates

December 31, 2012

lakepueblomarinanearpueblowest.jpg

From The Pueblo West View (Christing Ina Casillas):

Water and wastewater rates…will change come Jan. 1 for Pueblo West residents now that the budget process has been completed and approved unanimously by the Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors.

The 2013 proposed budget calls for an increase in both water and wastewater rates. A rate study presented to the board in early 2012 anticipated an eight percent increase in water rates and a 13.5 percent increase in wastewater rates, according to the budget.

Four new staff members will be employed in the Water and Wastewater Department and will consist of three utility workers and a water conservation/pretreatment coordinator. The coordinator is tasked to develop, implement and evaluate conservation measure and programs, develop manageable water-use plan for high water consumption customers, among other duties, according to the budget.

Along with water and wastewater, the district approved capital projects in this year’s budget, including $1 million for the Southern Delivery System, $1.8 million for river pump station connection to SDS, $4.2 million for the construction of the Wild Horse pipeline and $1.5 for the completion of the construction of the bio-solid stabilization pons in the wastewater enterprise fun.

More infrastructure coverage here.


The Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors approves raw water rate increase

June 22, 2012

pueblowest.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Christine Ina Casillas):

The Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors approved a raw water rate increase and are in discussions with cost options that include $1.15 with Southern Delivery Systems costs spread over 10 years, $152 with 2011 actual SDS costs or $1.73 with 2011 actual SDS costs, including Hill Ranch and Wildhorse Pipeline. According to a Pueblo West Metropolitan Dsitrict water and wastewater rate study, the rate revenue needed to meet revenue requirements, the study showed.

More infrastructure coverage here.


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