Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities has spent $26.6 M on land-related expenses

April 19, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs has spent $26.6 million to acquire land for its $984 million Southern Delivery System. Most of the money was spent in El Paso County, although properties in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches were purchased either permanently or for temporary easements.

Pipeline easements totaled $961,681 for 388 acres in Pueblo County, compared with $2.5 million for 486 acres in El Paso County.

Another $1 million was paid to buy homes in Pueblo West.

The big money was paid for other features of the project in El Paso County, a total of about $22 million.

“It would be misleading to simply do the math on the values above and conclude that more was paid for land in El Paso County than Pueblo County,” said Janet Rummel, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, in an e-mail responding to a request from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Permanent easement prices ranged from 50-90 percent of fee value, while temporary easements are valued at 10 percent per year, varying from one to four years.

“The fee value of land depends primarily on location, but also is subject to size, shape, development entitlement and improvements, if any,” Rummel explained.

“Within the raw water pipeline alignments for SDS, fee values for easements and facilities ranged from $1,389 per acre to almost $20,000 per acre,” Rummel said. “Pueblo West properties were generally valued in the range between $10,900 to $13,000 per acre.”

At the high end of that scale were 6 homes on about 10 acres in Pueblo West purchased for $1.044 million.

But even below that scale were 103 acres, two-thirds in permanent easements, on Walker Ranches, which could be purchased for $82,900, or about $804 per acre. Utilities also paid Walker $600,000 to relocate cattle during construction, as required by Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Gary Walker will contest the amount of the easement payment in court this November, one of four cases still in dispute.

Walker also has raised complaints, most recently during a county public hearing, about erosion along the pipeline route. The bulk of the money, however, has gone for the treatment plant, pump station and reservoir sites in El Paso County.

Utilities paid $259,519 for 43 acres for the Bradley Pump Station; $2.4 million for 124 acres at the treatment plant and $19.3 million for a future reservoir site on Upper Williams Creek.

At the reservoir site, T-Cross Ranches, owned by the Norris family, received $9,500 per acre for 791 acres ($7.5 million), while the state land board received $10,500 per acre for 1,128 acres ($11.8 million).

SDS is a pipeline project that will deliver up to 96 million gallons of water daily from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

The figures do not include money Utilities paid to purchase homes in Jimmy Camp Creek at a reservoir site that later was abandoned.


Flood control solutions for Fountain Creek are far from settled

April 6, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The type of storm that would creating the worst flooding on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River east of Pueblo might just seem like another rainy day for much of the region. But the lessons of floods in 1965 and last September’s close call for Pueblo show that Fountain Creek can froth up in a hurry when rains hit El Paso County to the north. Putting a small dam here and there would not be the most effective way to stop the water.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey study of dams on Fountain Creek shows that an 85-foot tall dam north of Pueblo would be the single-most effective way to mellow out flood waters and trap sediment. The drawbacks of the dam are that highways, railroad crossings and utilities might have to be relocated. There would also be the chore of removing sediment after large storms.

Smaller detention ponds, with dams no higher than 10 feet, are touted by many as a better alternative. But as Colorado Springs and Pueblo already are discovering, smaller ponds also require high maintenance. Similar dams failed to hold stormwater in the South Platte during last September’s record rains. And the cost of flooding to utilities and roads was a major side effect of the 1965 flood.

A different study of flooding was done by the USGS in 1974, nine years after the disastrous 1965 flood. Unlike the current study, it largely eluded the spotlight and has not been widely cited during the 40 years since it was written. It looked at floods in the Arkansas River basin in three states, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico and assessed the causes, effects and damage caused by heavy rains from June 13-20, 1965. The study chronicled $60 million of damage overall, with $40 million in Colorado. In today’s dollars, that would be about $300 million. Of that, 55 percent of the damage was to agriculture; 20 percent to roads and utilities; and 25 percent to cities and businesses, with about 85 percent of that amount in Pueblo.

The study also looked at peak flows within the basin during the 1965 flood and compared them to other major floods, particularly the 1921 flood on the Arkansas River. The flows were considerably less in 1965 than in 1921, mainly because storms were centered over tributaries that fed into the Arkansas River below Pueblo, rather than in the watershed upstream from Pueblo.

The study found a huge benefit to Lamar from John Martin Reservoir, which cut two-thirds of the peak flows raging from upstream. The Lamar area did not escape the wrath of the storm, however, because of large storm cells centered above Two Buttes and Holly. The Arkansas River stayed swollen for days after the rains.

The heaviest rainfall in the 1965 storm came from Colorado Springs and the Holly-Two Buttes area, where 12-18 inches fell over a four-day period. Pueblo saw only a couple of inches during that time. The ground already was saturated from rains the previous two months throughout the region. Flows on Fountain Creek reached 47,000 cubic feet per second at their peak, while neighboring Chico Creek hit 52,000 cfs.

The 2014 study by the USGS modeled a 100-year storm that would send about 37,000 cfs from Colorado Springs to Pueblo and then looked at hypothetical dams along the way.

“A dam at any location could be modeled,” said David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office.

The intensity of that storm would not be as great as the 1965 flood. In addition, Colorado Springs today has five times as many people and many more square miles of parking lots, roof tops and streets that shed water quickly and would make flooding that much worse for Pueblo.

Levees were built on Fountain Creek to protect Pueblo, but sediment has reduced their effectiveness. Some structures meant to protect Pueblo were damaged by the relatively small flow last September.

The attention in Colorado Springs is focused on the accelerated runoff from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. Structures are being built. Town meetings are preparing neighborhoods for flooding. A vote to create a regional stormwater fee is heading for the ballot in November.

Colorado Springs also made a commitment to Pueblo County in its permit process that new development from the Southern Delivery System won’t worsen the condition of Fountain Creek.

While the rains may hit Colorado Springs first and make flooding more intense because of the fires, the 1974 USGS study shows the bigger wallop would come to Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


Colorado Springs: 100+ attend Camp Creek flood meeting #COflood

April 3, 2014
Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

A crowd of more than 100 people echoed a mantra in unison that multiple Colorado Springs officials stressed at a flood preparedness meeting on Tuesday night.

“Up, not out,” the said loudly after being prompted by police Lt. Dave Edmondson…

City officials, including Emergency Manager Brett Waters and others talked about the 2013 floods that struck the city and El Paso County in July, August and September. Waters said his colleagues and the residents need to “take flood risk very seriously,” noting that flash floods coming out of the Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar are going to be an issue “for at least the next 10 years.”

Tim Mitros, the city’s development review and stormwater manager, showed slide after slide of the dangers that lie in the Camp Creek drainage in the hills to the west of Colorado Springs. The pictures illustrated barren, burnout out slopes that have already, and could, send tons of dirt rocks and other debris into the channel along Garden of the Gods Park. and into the Pleasant Valley neighborhood.

“We’ve got to keep the sediment up in the burn area,” Mitros said.

Mitros said city crews will begin building a large sediment detention pond on the east end of Garden of the Gods Park in the next month. At that time, workers will also begin doing repairs to the channel in the middle of 31st Street near Pleasant Valley. They will be adding a “protective layer of concrete” to badly damaged parts of the creek between West Fontanero Street and Echo Lane.

The work is the beginning stages of a $37 million project to rebuild the channel from Garden of the Gods Park to Colorado Avenue, Mitros said. The city already allotted $8.8 million to do work in Camp and Douglas creeks. MIiros said the final designs for the entire project will be unveiled at another Camp Creek watershed public meeting from 5 to 7:30 p.m. April 29 at Coronado High School.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Stark also talked about the dangers of debris in the Camp Creek and Douglas Creek areas. She said storms in September that ravaged the Front Range from El Paso County north to the Wyoming border left tons and tons of debris sitting just above the city.

“The next big rain event could bring that stuff down,” she said.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


Colorado Springs: The Waldo Canyon Fire restoration will cost $ millions and take at least 10 years

April 3, 2014
Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar

Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The images of a glowing sky that filled the air with choking smoke won’t soon fade, but the damage to forested hillsides charred by the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 will be more troublesome for years. Colorado Springs had a taste of things to come during last September’s torrential rains, but it will take millions of dollars and at least a decade to recover the damaged landscape.

“We built basins to collect sediment over a 10-year period, but they filled up during the flooding last September,” said Tim Mitros, Colorado Springs stormwater manager, during a media tour of projects Wednesday.

So now the city is building a series of ponds that will trap floodwater, along with making other drainage improvements on North Douglas Creek, South Douglas Creek, Queens Canyon, Cheyenne Creek and Camp Creek on the west side of Colorado Springs. Altogether the projects will cost $8.8 million in additional stormwater funding from federal, state and city sources.

The catch basins worked, but filled too quickly, Mitros explained during a tour of one on North Douglas Creek on the Flying W Ranch. The idea behind them was to allow new vegetation to sprout as they filled, but the storms left a bed of gravel that would just sheet off water in the next storm.

Jason Moore, director of land management for the Flying W, explained how downed trees are criss-crossed along the creek bed to slow down minor flows.

“They’re in a W shape, so we call them Flying W’s,” Moore joked.

The ponds are being constructed with the cooperation of landowners, but must be cleaned by city crews after each storm dumps its load of sediment. Mitros said the city is fortunate because it is working with only two large landowners, the Navigators and Flying W, and both have been cooperative.

“Without the ponds, the sediment will continue to fill the concrete channel below and put them in danger of being overtopped,” Mitros said.

That will continue to be a big job. Colorado Springs still is hauling 6,000 cubic yards of sediment — 600 truckloads — that washed into Garden of the Gods Park after last summer’s storms. There would be some benefit to Pueblo, because anything done high up in the watershed helps to slow down the water reaching Fountain Creek, Mitros said. Primarily, however, the projects are being undertaken to protect the homes and businesses in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood that was decimated when the Waldo Canyon Fire burned 347 homes. Those homes are being rebuilt, but now face a different threat. They lie below valleys that are normally dry, but which become running rivers when it rains. Because the fire burned off much of the vegetation, any flood becomes about 10 times as powerful, said Leon Kot, restoration coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Besides the new threat of runoff, Colorado Springs also is dealing with miles of concrete storm ditches, some more than 50 years old, that have fallen into disrepair. About 1,000 feet of 8-foot diameter pipeline buried near Eighth Street and Cheyenne Boulevard was overwhelmed by the September flooding and is being replaced in a $750,000 project.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


Colorado Springs Utilities has acquired most of the land access needed for the Southern Delivery System

April 2, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic/Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic/Reclamation

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Outside of a handful of parcels tied up in eminent-domain court actions, the city has amassed the vast majority of land needed to complete the 66-inch-diameter line across Pueblo and El Paso counties. And as for those in court, Utilities has been granted possession; at issue is determination of their value.

Which leaves only one other property acquisition needed for the pipeline itself, and a couple dozen others for related projects. Overall, the land-acquisition project is on schedule, if significantly over budget.

“We are pleased to be nearly complete with acquiring the land needed for SDS,” says Utilities project manager John Fredell in a statement. “We have worked hard to be fair with property owners and appreciate their cooperation to advance this critical project for our community and partners.”[...]

The city’s initial foray into acquiring property for the project, in 2003 and 2004, caused an uproar, and a tightening of city real estate acquisition procedures. Utilities, in some cases without Utilities Board approval, had made offers for homes near Jimmy Camp Creek, northeast of the city, for up to three times the homes’ assessed values, plus six-figure moving costs — in one case, $340,000. The city paid $6.1 million for 14 properties and then allowed the former owners to rent for $300 a month indefinitely.

Within a few years, the city abandoned the Jimmy Camp area as a reservoir site due to archaeological values and other factors, and instead chose Upper Williams Creek near Bradley Road.

In 2009 and 2010, Utilities tangled with Pueblo West residents and left some hard feelings in its wake. The buried pipeline, which traverses the back portions of residential lots, can’t be built upon, which residents say renders their yards unusable.

Resident Dwain Maxwell, who’s forced Utilities into condemnation court, says he was paid $1,850 for land his appraisal said was worth $16,500. Meanwhile, he estimates Utilities has spent four times that amount on attorneys. “I feel like they’ve not been honest with us,” he says today.

Gary Walker of Pueblo County is also still in condemnation court with the city, and declined to be interviewed for this story. But he notes in an email that he’s been recognized repeatedly for his stewardship of the land at his ranch, and was the first to sign up for the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret under federal rules. “How do you put a price on the destruction of something so important as our environment?” he asks.

In 2012, Utilities went up against the Norris ranching family for a chunk of land for Upper Williams Creek Reservoir. After the Norrises moved to create their own reservoir, a deal was reached in which the city paid the family $7.5 million for 791 acres.

But the biggest single acquisition was land next to the Norris property owned by the State Land Board. The city paid more than $11.8 million for 1,128 acres, the highest per-acre price paid for pipeline property…

Utilities needs to acquire about 15 additional properties for the reservoir site, but the reservoir won’t be built until SDS’ second phase, from 2020 to 2025, as demand requires. The city also needs 11 more properties for a section of pipe for treated water, Rummel says.

So far, the city has spent $34.6 million on land for SDS. That’s about 38 percent more than the $25 million estimate in 2009 for 274 parcels in Phase 1 and reservoir land. If costs for surveys, appraisals, real estate fees and closings are added, the cost is $45 million, or 22 percent more than the 2009 “all-in” estimate of $37 million.

Water rates, meantime, haven’t increased as much as earlier predicted. Ratepayers saw 12 percent hikes in 2011 and 2012, and 10 percent increases in 2013 and 2014. A 5 percent hike is expected in 2015. Previously, 12 percent annual jumps were forecast from 2011 through 2017.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


‘We have to have detention ponds there, so it doesn’t wash out what we are doing in Pueblo’ — Eva Montoya

April 1, 2014

Photo via The Pueblo Chieftain

Photo via The Pueblo Chieftain


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Three contracts totaling more than $600,000 were approved Friday by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board. The contracts are funded by state grants. They include two contracts for $502,000 for the Upper Fountain Creek and Cheyenne Creek restoration master plan, and another for $107,000 for the Frost Ranch restoration project. The three projects are among five projects the district is directly coordinating throughout the watershed. They also include a flood detention demonstration pond in Pueblo, located behind the North Side Walmart, and a project on Monument Creek.

In addition, the district has cooperated in obtaining other grants for communities along Fountain Creek.

Those efforts include a sediment collector in the city of Pueblo, which is being evaluated by the city, and a Great Outdoors Colorado grant that included funds for a wheel park, expanded park and beach area on the East Side just south of Eighth Street.

During discussion of flood control alternatives on Fountain Creek, Pueblo Councilwoman Eva Montoya said projects to the north are needed to control Pueblo flows.

“We have to have detention ponds there, so it doesn’t wash out what we are doing in Pueblo,” she said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


The Fountain Creek District is studying the potential effects of flood control dams

March 29, 2014
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to fix Fountain Creek wants to begin looking more closely at the feasibility of flood control alternatives meant to protect Pueblo.

“This is a good start to beginning to understand the volume of water and the impact of dams, but we need to do an analysis to figure out cost options,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

Hart is the county’s representative on the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which met Friday to receive the final report on a Fountain Creek dam study.

A computer simulation by the U.S. Geological Survey looked at 13 scenarios by centering a 100-year storm over Colorado Springs and measuring the impact on reducing flood waters in Pueblo by constructing dams at various points in the watershed.

“It did not look at property and water rights issues,” said David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office.

The most promising alternatives, in terms of protecting Pueblo, were to build a series of small dams south of Colorado Springs, or one large dam near Pinon, just north of Pueblo.

Hart asked Mau whether it would be possible to model a larger off-channel diversion near the Pueblo County line.

“You could look at that using the model,” Mau confirmed.

Mau said the alternatives presented in the study were those suggested by the district’s technical committee, and do not represent the only choices. The study focused on small dams because dams under 10 feet face less regulatory issues. An 85-foot-high dam 10 miles north of the confluence with the Arkansas River was modeled, but would not be the only alternative for a large dam, he said.

Dams in other areas of the watershed might have more localized benefits, Mau added.

“What’s important is the volume of water and where it is stored,” he said.

The district will not have any money to begin construction until Colorado Springs pays the remainder of the $50 million it agreed to provide the district under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County.

It would need about $60,000 in grants to drill down to cost estimates on two or three of the alternatives, said Larry Small, executive director. A feasibility study would look at land acquisition, permits, construction issues and how long it would take, Small said.

“We need to get going as quickly as we can,” said Richard Skorman, a board member from Colorado Springs.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Southern Delivery System on track to be online in 2016

March 20, 2014
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):

he Southern Delivery System is on course to begin operating in 2016.

“It will be complete for testing purposes in 2015,” SDS Permit Manager Mark Pifher told the Lower Arkansas Conservancy District in an impromptu update Wednesday.

SDS is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. When completed, it will serve Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West. Nearly all of the pipeline is in the ground, and construction has begun at three pumping stations, including one near Pueblo Dam, Pifher said. While all parts of SDS will be complete by next year, the system will require months of testing before it is put into use.

“When it’s finished, the water won’t be delivered,” Pifher said. “It won’t be pushing water to customers until 2016.”

The Lower Ark district has been in negotiations for years with Colorado Springs on the impacts of SDS, particularly increased flows on Fountain Creek. Pifher updated the Lower Ark board on the progress of stormwater meetings in Colorado Springs.

A committee of El Paso County citizens is working toward putting a stormwater enterprise proposal on the November ballot. Fees would be about the same as under the former enterprise, which Colorado Springs City Council abolished in 2009, Pifher said.

The Lower Ark board also got a review of the U.S. Geological Survey of dams on Fountain Creek from USGS Pueblo office chief David Mau. Noting the study was funded by Colorado Springs (under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County), Pifher said an alternative for 10 side detention ponds south of Fountain held the most promise for reducing flood impacts on Pueblo. Pifher also downplayed the immediate impacts of SDS on Fountain Creek.

“When we turn it on, it will carry 5 million-10 million gallons per day,” Pifher said.

Over 50 years, that will increase flows up to 96 million gallons per day.

“It will take some time to grow into demand on that system,” Pifher said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Arkansas Basin RT Gary Barber steps down as chair #COWaterPlan

March 9, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Gary Barber, who has chaired the Arkansas Basin Roundtable since 2007, is stepping down in order to concentrate on finishing the group’s contribution to a state water plan.

“I’ve always tried to do what’s best for the roundtable and for the basin,” Barber said.

Barber has been working on the Arkansas Basin plan that will be part of the state water plan, which comes out in draft form later this year. As chairman, Barber prepared many of the documents that will be used in the plan, but he is now a paid consultant.

“I needed to devote all of my time to the plan,” Barber said.

Vice chairman Betty Karnoski, a Monument real estate broker, will act as chairman of the roundtable.

Barber has been a central fixture in Arkansas Basin water issues for more than a decade.

As an agent for the El Paso County Water Authority, he contributed to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s understanding of the Arkansas Valley’s municipal water gap in the 2004 Statewide Water Supply Initiative. He was a frequent critic of the Southern Delivery System, saying it did not have a wide enough regional focus, and an advocate for groundwater storage in El Paso County. Barber became a charter member of the roundtable in 2005, helping to organize the group from the beginning. He served as secretary until Alan Hamel stepped down as chairman in 2007.

In 2008, while working for El Paso County water interests, he made offers to buy farms for their water on the Bessemer Ditch, triggering a successful counteroffer by the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

In 2009, he helped to write state legislation that formed the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District after three years of meeting with the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force. Within a year, he was chosen as its first executive director.

In 2011, he went to work for Two Rivers Water Co., which has bought Pueblo County farms, and tried to expand its scope to include municipal consulting in El Paso County.

Last year, he joined WestWater Research, a Western U.S. water marketing firm, and secured a roundtable contract. He retained his position as chairman of the roundtable after an open discussion of whether the contract represented a conflict of interest.

Despite, or maybe because of, his forays into valley water activities, Barber commanded respect from other roundtable members because of his ability to sort through differences.

He nearly always ends discussions of complicated water issues with the statement: “We have consensus by the absence of dissension.”

He often interjects humor into those conversations as well. For instance, referring to Aurora’s water buys in the Arkansas Valley, he once said: “Aurora is the brother-in-law you wish your sister had never married. But he does the dishes at Thanksgiving, so you learn to live with him.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


CDOT will be working on Fountain Creek flood mitigation for a month or so #COflood

February 23, 2014

Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed


From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

Travelers using U.S. 24 west of Manitou Springs will face some severe delays over the next month as the Colorado Department of Transportation upgrades a culvert under the highway near the mouth of Waldo Canyon.

According to CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson, the $1.4 million flood mitigation work began Wednesday. Wilson said one lane in each direction will be closed until 6 p.m. daily through Friday. Crews will work full force beginning Saturday, when CDOT will shut down both eastbound lanes around the clock. The westbound side of the divided highway will have one lane open in each direction.

“People will have to add a little extra time for their travels,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson, the eastbound lanes will be closed for about two weeks. Once the culvert is installed under that side of the highway, the project will shift and the westbound lanes will be closed.

Wilson said CDOT will install a 24-foot wide and 10-foot high culvert that will be “10 times larger than the pipe that’s under the highway right now.” He said the current 72-inch pipe is a choke point when heavy rains hit the more than 18,000 acre Waldo Canyon burn area. The fire that began June 23, 2012, destroyed 347 homes in western Colorado Springs and killed two people.

CDOT estimates the culvert project will be finished by the end of April.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


El Paso Couny: ‘The stormwater task force is leaning toward a new regional authority’ — Mark Pifher

February 20, 2014
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

El Paso County is moving toward a regional stormwater authority that could be formed in an election this November. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard that news Wednesday from Mark Pifher, Colorado Springs Utilities permit manager for the Southern Delivery System.

“The stormwater task force is leaning toward a new regional authority that would be funded by a fee rather than a sales tax or property tax,” Pifher said.

The fee would be based on square footage of impervious surfaces, such as other cities throughout the state, including Pueblo. While no public vote is required for a fee, El Paso County officials recognize that a vote would be prudent to form the authority that would assess the fee, Pifher said.

The latest estimate of stormwater needs in El Paso County is at $724 million, with $192 million in critical needs. Of that, $534 million is needed for Colorado Springs, with $161 million in critical projects. An additional $40 million is estimated so far to deal with impacts from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires.

The Lower Ark board still is looking at a possible federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation for its refusal to reopen an environmental impact study for SDS that calculates impacts without a stormwater system in place. The district is concerned that increased flows from SDS development will worsen conditions on Fountain Creek. Reclamation issued a record of decision for SDS in early 2009, which became the basis for contracts issued the following year. Later in 2009, the Colorado Springs City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise it had formed in 2005 based on its interpretation of a ballot question sponsored by Doug Bruce, who referred to the fee then in place as a “rain tax.”

The stormwater task force formed in 2012 in response to a city attorney’s opinion that the city was obligated to deal with stormwater in order to operate SDS.

More stormwater coverage here and here.


Southern Delivery System: CSU amends water court applications to remove facilities that will not be built

February 16, 2014
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):

With Southern Delivery System well under construction, Colorado Springs Utilities is cleaning up water court applications that dealt with alternatives that are now off the table. Specifically, a recent amendment to Colorado Springs’ water exchange rights on the Arkansas River removes Elephant Rock reservoir in Chaffee County and a diversion near Penrose in Fremont County as points of exchange.

“Clearly, with the North Outlet Works almost completed, we’re not going to be building a diversion at Highway 115 (near Penrose),” said Brett Gracely, water resources administrator for Utilities.

The plan for Elephant Rock reservoir near Buena Vista met with protests when it was first suggested in Colorado Springs water plans in the 1990s. Colorado Springs kept the plan on the table in several court filings over the years, but looked to Pueblo Dam to build SDS.

Signs that read, “Don’t dam this valley” remained in view of travelers on U.S. 285 for years.w

The signs were taken down after Colorado Springs officials formally declared the Elephant Rock plan dead during a 2012 ceremony in Salida, Gracely said.

The amended application, filed last month in Division 2 water court, allows Colorado Springs to return flows to the Arkansas River from SDS on Fountain Creek for out of priority storage in Lake Pueblo.

The proposed structures in Chaffee and Fremont counties will be removed as they come up for review in water court, Gracely said.

The first phase of SDS should be online in 2016.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: ‘A vision plan is only as valuable as its ability to be implemented’ — Jeff Shoemaker

February 8, 2014

Fountain Creek

Fountain Creek


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

If you wanted to make a really fun toy, you would first have to go through the relatively boring process of building a factory.

So, after a mundane afternoon of listening to all of the problems of how fixing Fountain Creek has to meet the needs of state water planning, funding challenges, water quality and flood control, the crowd of 40 elected officials and business people finally got to the fun stuff.

Jeff Shoemaker, executive director of the Greenway Foundation in Denver, told the group how to turn a $125 million investment over 40 years into $12 billion in economic development benefits.

Now that’s fun.

“We like to call it a 40-year overnight success,” Shoemaker told the group, assembled by the Southern Colorado Business Partnership at Pikes Peak International Raceway Wednesday. “A vision plan is only as valuable as its ability to be implemented.”

There are parallels between the current effort to fix Fountain Creek and the Greenway Foundation’s unceasing quest to improve the South Platte River through Denver.

In 1965, that reach of the South Platte was a miserable, forgotten waterway. Trash and sewage were dumped in it with little thought. That changed when Joe Shoemaker, Jeff’s father, convinced the state to create the Denver Urban Drainage District in 1974. The district provided the canvas for the Greenway Foundation — in partnership with government and the private sector — to paint the future of Lower Downtown Denver, now among Colorado’s most valuable real estate.

“And we’re just getting started,” Shoemaker said.

Fast forward to 2009.

A vision task force convinced the state to form the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which since has struggled simply to find a way to fund its own existence. The district is patterned after the Denver Urban Drainage District and encompasses Pueblo and El Paso counties. Other speakers throughout the afternoon had dwelt on the problems and challenges of fixing Fountain Creek, which periodically sends sheets of water Pueblo’s way compounded by development in Colorado Springs and the surrounding area.

They spoke about flood control, mitigation projects and the need to protect agriculture while serving growing municipal needs through projects like Southern Delivery System.

So far, it has been optimistic frustration.

“Fountain Creek has been an amenity for academics,” joked Larry Small, director of the Fountain Creek district, referring to the volumes of past studies, which largely gather dust on shelves.

Projects themselves — SDS, flood control and creek improvements — have brought several million dollars into the area, but much of it has been government-driven.

Meanwhile, the South Platte has grown rich on the back of flood control projects like Chatfield Dam, and draws thousands of people to the river through an ambitious network of parks and recreation activities, Shoemaker said.

“Everything we do has a water-quality component,” Shoemaker said.

That type of thinking can benefit Pueblo, said Eva Montoya, Fountain Creek board president and a Pueblo City Council member.

“We got many of our ideas from the Greenway Foundation,” she said, referring to a new wheel park that is being designed for Pueblo’s Historic East Side.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


The Pueblo County Commissioners are looking at using SDS interest to fund the Fountain Creek district

January 28, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker):

Pueblo County commissioners Monday studied whether nearly $300,000 in interest payments for Southern Delivery System could be used to provide interim funding for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. Interest of an estimated $291,000 is expected to be paid by Colorado Springs Utilities on the balance of $50 million it promised to the district upon completion of the Southern Delivery System.

Under terms of Pueblo County’s 1041 land-use regulations, the interest began accruing in 2012 and will continue to add up until 2016, when SDS is expected to go online. At that time, Colorado Springs will begin making $10 million annual payments to the district. The specific amount is being negotiated, since it was not clearly defined in the 1041 conditions. The money is scheduled to go toward flood control measures that benefit Pueblo, including the construction of a dam or series of dams on Fountain Creek.

Paying the interest in advance would allow the district to use that money to leverage more grants to start work on rehabilitating the creek, said Commissioner Terry Hart.

Right now the district, which includes all of El Paso and Pueblo counties, is out of money and is relying on passing the hat among governmental entities in both counties for operating costs.

Interest payments would be credited back to Colorado Springs Utilities in 2016 when the final fee payment is made.

The commissioners took no formal action, but instructed water lawyer Ray Petros to draft a resolution.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


‘Eva Montoya was elected to chair the [Fountain Creek district board] last week’ — Chris Woodka

January 26, 2014
Fountain Creek

Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya was elected to chair the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board last week. Colorado Springs Councilman Val Snider will serve as vice chairman. The board’s top job rotates between elected officials in El Paso and Pueblo counties annually. The board has nine members — four from each county and one from the citizens advisory group.

Other Pueblo County members are Commissioner Terry Hart; Melissa Esquibel of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board; and Jane Rhodes, who owns land on Fountain Creek.

Other El Paso County members are Commissioner Dennis Hisey, Palmer Lake Trustee Michael Maddox, and Fountain Mayor Gabe Ortega.

Richard Skorman, of Colorado Springs, represents the CAG, which is made up of members from both counties. On Friday, the board also approved 14 appointments each to the CAG and its Technical Advisory Committee.

The board also renewed Executive Director Larry Small’s contract at $30,000 per year.

Meanwhile the district is keeping an eye out for project dough from Colorado Springs. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Will the City for Champions drive to boost tourism in Colorado Springs detract from funds for flood control? The question was raised Friday by Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart at the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, who heard the comment in a recent television report.

El Paso County members of the district immediately assured him the funding streams are separate and would not impair a drive to get some sort of stormwater fee or tax on this November’s ballot.

“If we see another major project competing, we sit up and take notice,” Hart said. “We’re looking for a dedicated revenue source for stormwater.”

The question of Colorado Springs stormwater funding has vexed Pueblo County officials since 2009, when City Council abolished a stormwater enterprise created four years earlier and funded for just three years. As part of conditions for a 1041 land use permit for Southern Delivery System, Colorado Springs pledged to keep its stormwater utility in place. The permit even requires other communities that tie onto SDS to have an enterprise like Colorado Springs had in place.

A regional task force began meeting in 2012, when Colorado Springs leadership admitted it should be funding $13 million-$15 million in stormwater projects annually. Two of the largest, most destructive fires in the state’s history have compounded the potential damage from flooding. Richard Skorman, a former Colorado Springs councilman who has worked with the stormwater task force, said it is moving toward a way to fund stormwater improvements on a more permanent basis and place a measure on the November ballot.

El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey and Fountain Creek district Executive Director Larry Small, another former Springs councilman, said Mayor Steve Bach’s City for Champions proposal uses a sales tax incremental financing plan, rather than a direct tax or fee. City for Champions is a $250 million package to fund an Olympic museum, stadium, arena and other improvements designed to draw tourists to the Pikes Peak region. Meanwhile, El Paso County is faced with a backlog of about $750 million in stormwater projects. The city also has shortfalls in transportation and parks funding, Small said.

The Fountain Creek district has the ability to assess a 5-mill tax on property owners in El Paso and Pueblo County under the 2009 law that created it. Last year, the Fountain Creek board agreed to hold off on asking for any tax increase until Colorado Springs and El Paso County dealt with the stormwater issue.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


El Paso County: ‘Once you have built a structure, you have to maintain it’ — Andre Brackin

January 18, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While needed capital stormwater projects that benefit Fountain Creek top $750 million, El Paso County still is lagging in maintaining its current infrastructure. El Paso County needs to be spending at least $5 million a year more to maintain the stormwater structures it already has in place, County Engineer Andre Brackin told elected officials Thursday.

“There has been a lack of long-term maintenance and monitoring these structures over time,” Brackin said. “Once you have built a structure, you have to maintain it.”

In addition, many of the older structures in Fountain Creek are the wrong type because they move water faster to the stream rather than allowing it to infiltrate as it did before development, he said.

New structures have to be able to handle intermediate floods rather than the 100-year or 500year monsters that cause extensive damage. To do that, El Paso County has to put more emphasis on regional planning and time projects for the most benefit.

“We can’t move ahead without a master plan,” Brackin said.

Besides the gap in maintenance, the revised list of flood control projects for Colorado Springs and El Paso County, finalized this month, fails to fully take into account the mitigation that will be needed for the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.

Mayors from the incorporated cities in the county began the process of discussing how costs will be shared on Thursday.

More stormwater coverage here.


Colorado Springs Mayor Bach touting regional stormwater solutions, eschews tax increase to pay for them

January 17, 2014
Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Mayor Steve Bach acknowledged that Fountain Creek stormwater control is a regional issue, but said his job is to look after his own “sandbox.”

“We know it has to be a regional solution,” Bach told a gathering of El Paso County elected officials, including mayors from five other cities, Thursday. “But don’t expect me to sign off on a tax increase.”

That said, Bach said it would be the job of Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners to determine the budget, but his responsibility is to make sure the money is spent wisely. He acknowledged that upstream users have an obligation to relieve downstream problems caused by development or deteriorating infrastructure.

Bach provided a list of stormwater projects in this year’s budget that total $24.8 million. The money will make a small dent in the city’s $534 million backlog of stormwater projects. The figure includes $11 million in new funds and $13.8 million in carryover funds from 2013 — money that was budgeted but never spent. It also includes wildfire mitigation funds that were not envisioned in 2009, when Colorado Springs made commitments on Fountain Creek flood control to downstream users in Pueblo County as part of its permit process for Southern Delivery System.

At the same time, El Paso County has a backlog of $189 million in stormwater projects, some of which overlap Colorado Springs boundaries. Meanwhile, Fountain has compiled its own list of $40 million in needed flood control projects.

Councilwoman Jan Martin repeated council’s concerns that a sustainable funding source is needed to meet SDS requirements and to protect Colorado Springs.

“I think the public is looking for us to come up with one solution, not multiple solutions,” Martin said. “We’re not that far apart.”

After the meeting, Council President Keith King said Pueblo needs to be included in regional discussions.

“I would hope that any regional solution includes Pueblo County and the city of Pueblo,” King said. “We need to look to the Fountain Creek watershed district for a solution.”

A regional task force that has been meeting for the past two years plans to make recommendations for a sustainable funding solution by the end of February, El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen said.

In the past, Bach has resisted any solution that would increase taxes.

Meanwhile here’s a report about a recent study of stormwater issues from Matt Steiner writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:

Dave Munger, of the Pikes Peak Runoff and Flood Control Task Force, which is comprised of business leaders, city councilors, county commissioners, water district representatives and Colorado Springs Utilities representatives, presented the results of the November survey at the [El Paso County] commissioners regular meeting on Tuesday. The survey of 402 county voters showed most favor a regional solution with a steady stream of funding, but are adamant that the money shouldn’t come from added sales and property taxes or fees for El Paso County residents.

Hisey stressed that in order to find a long-term solution, however, new taxes and fees will likely be an inevitable reality…

Munger’s presentation Tuesday showed that flood coverage by media and several public meetings have kept awareness high since the first flash flood closed Highway 24 near Cascade on June 30, 2012, shortly after the Waldo Canyon Fire was contained.

While 61 percent of those surveyed said they had not been personally impacted by the flooding, 64 percent said flood control and storm runoff is “very important” to the entire Pikes Peak region.

The survey also took into consideration a series of mid-September floods that reached from southern El Paso County along the entire Front Range north to the Wyoming border. During those storms, thousands of people were displaced, roadways were washed out and 10 people were killed, including two in El Paso County.

Hisey said the next step in battling floods and regional stormwater issues is to “come up with some good ideas that might solve the problem” that will compliment several projects that have already been done by the county, the city of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Department of Transportation. He said the task force plans to heed the results of the survey and have solid recommendations by the end of February for the best possible long-term plan.

More stormwater coverage here.


The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District scores $175,000 from the CWCB

December 10, 2013
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

Larry Small of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District announced plans Monday to sponsor a study to identify potential projects stemming from storms and floods that hit the Pikes Peak region in July, August and September. Much of the damage along Fountain Creek came during flash floods in early July and Aug. 9, while that near Cheyenne Creek happened during torrential rains that occurred in El Paso County north to the Wyoming border.

El Paso County’s John Chavez called the assessment a “fill in the gaps project” that will further point out post-Waldo Canyon fire weaknesses in the watersheds. The project is expected to run through the end of 2014, Small said at Monday’s monthly Waldo Canyon Fire Regional Recovery Group meeting. The fire ravaged the mountains west of Colorado Springs in June 2012, killing two people, burning more than 18,000 acres and destroying 347 homes.

The Upper Fountain Creek and Cheyenne Creek Flood Restoration Master Plan comes more than six months after two studies in the Waldo Canyon burn scar and area watersheds were completed.

Small said his organization was approved Friday for a $175,000 grant from Colorado Water Conservation Board. The entire assessment will cost $437,500, with the remainder of the money coming from the City of Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Colorado Springs Utilities and other area municipalities and organizations.

Officials with CDOT, who also were at Monday’s meeting, highlighted two more projects along Highway 24 that they hope will keep debris flow off the roadway and alert responders before large floods strand motorists.

CDOT plans video cameras, flow gauges, online monitoring and road closure gates.

One set of monitoring equipment was installed the week of Nov. 12 about 1.5 miles up Waldo Canyon. That project cost $100,000, and CDOT said Monday that it has $200,000 more to spend on two more sites. Dave Watt of CDOT said they are looking at Williams Canyon and areas above Cascade as potential candidates. The United States Geologic Survey is working with CDOT on the project.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

November 24, 2013
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water rights and cost issues still must be decided, but a study of the effectiveness of dams in Fountain Creek should be finalized in January. The study’s release was delayed a month because of a federal government shutdown, but the results have been reported for months.

“There has been no study of costs and benefits,” David Mau, head of the Pueblo office of the U.S. Geological Survey told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday. The USGS did the study in conjunction with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The local share of funds for the $500,000 study was provided through $300,000 paid by Colorado Springs Utilities as part of its Pueblo County 1041 permit conditions for the Southern Delivery System.

The study looks at a 100-year storm centered over downtown Colorado Springs, and the effectiveness of dams or diversions at various locations along Fountain Creek. The most effective alternatives were a large dam on Fountain Creek or a series of detention ponds south of Colorado Springs. Mau said the number of ponds was not as important as the volume of water that could be stored.

There were some snickers in the room when Mau pointed out that roads and railroad tracks would have to be moved to build a large dam approximately 10 miles from the confluence of Fountain Creek. But it was pointed out that a large flood also could relocate roads, railroad tracks and utility lines, as was the case in Northern Colorado in September. Pueblo County lost the Pinon Bridge in the 1999 flood.

Mau said the amount of sediment trapped by a dam would amount to 2,500 truckloads, but said smaller ponds also would require extensive maintenance to remain effective.

Board member Vera Ortegon asked Mau which alternative he would recommend.

“We look at the science,” Mau said. “I could give you my personal opinion, but I won’t.”

Meanwhile property owners continue to chip away at the Fryingpn-Arkansas Project debt. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Property owners in nine counties will continue to make a dent in the federal debt for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project next year. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the agency in charge of repaying the debt, will collect another $6.5 million in property taxes next year, most of which goes toward reducing the debt. The board reviewed the budget Thursday and is expected to pass it on Dec. 5. The district began paying off $129 million in federal loans in 1982 on a 50-year loan. The amount represents the region’s share of the $585 million cost to build the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project. About $36 million of the debt will remain at the end of the year, Executive Director Jim Broderick told the board Thursday.

The district collects 0.944 mills in property taxes in parts of Bent, Chaffee, Crowley, El Paso, Fremont, Kiowa, Otero, Pueblo and Prowers counties. Of that, 0.9 mills goes toward federal repayment and the rest toward operating expenses.

It also will collect $5.3 million in pass-through revenues from El Paso County to repay the federal government for building the Fountain Valley Conduit.

The district also collects funds through sale of Fry-Ark water, fees and grants.

The district’s operating budget is $2.24 million next year, with an additional $1.07 million in capital projects planned.

The enterprise budget, paid mostly by user fees, totals $2.8 million, which includes $880,000 in capital projects.

The district is responsible for paying the Bureau of Reclamation to operate and maintain the project. The district also allocates water to cities and farms, and provides legal protection of Fry­Ark water rights.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


The Arkansas Basin Rountable approves $100,000 for new Big Johnson Reservoir outlet works, silt removal

November 15, 2013
Big Johnson Reservoir via Dan Aquino

Big Johnson Reservoir via Dan Aquino

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An El Paso County reservoir that has become heavily silted over the last century could get a new lease on life. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week passed a grant request of $100,000 for work that would double the capacity of the reservoir to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The CWCB still must approve the grant.

Local water providers will chip in $250,000.

The Big Johnson Reservoir, located southeast of Colorado Springs, was completed in 1910 to support agriculture on the Fountain Creek Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch, said Gary Barber, roundtable chairman.

Barber has worked as a consultant in the past for the water providers.

As Fountain, Security, Widefield and Stratmoor Hills began to grow, the municipal areas bought ditch shares. After the 1996 well rules, Big Johnson became important to well augmentation plans of the cities. Over the years, the reservoir has silted up, cutting its court-decreed capacity of 10,000 acre-feet in half. The failure of the dam also could result in flooding much of downtown Fountain, Barber added. The grant would slightly enlarge the dam, remove sediment and improve the outlet works. It also would enhance recreational opportunities on nearby trails and an open space area. The goal is to restore storage to its decreed capacity, making it more useful to area water providers.

“It’s a 100-year-old dam in need of a new outlet works,” Barber told the roundtable.

Meanwhile, the roundtable also approved $250,000 for the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District according to this report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Sometimes, it can be expensive just to continue pumping water. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week approved $250,000 in state grants to accompany a $280,000 state loan for a project that would allow the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District to use water from a ranch it is buying to augment other water rights. The money will be matched by $50,000 of the district’s own money to build a small augmentation pond that will remove and return water to the Huerfano River at appropriate times to make up depletions from well pumping. The gravityflow system will run through 8-inch-diameter pipes.

The grant and loan follow a $2.2 million loan to the district last month by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The district will repay the loans using a property tax.

The district plans to purchase the Camp Ranch and Red Wing Reservoir water rights to support a regional augmentation plan for users on the Huerfano River, said Sandy White, a district board member.

“There are a flock of out-of-priority diversions that have operated for the past five years on substitute water supply plans,” White said, showing the general areas on a map. “Five years is the magic number. Now we need an augmentation plan.”

The area, generally southwest of Walsenburg, has many older communities that rely on wells drilled years ago. In recent years, many of the domestic wells were found to be out of compliance. White said the situation shows that not all pressure on water resources is caused by large cities. There has been some oil and gas exploration in the area.

“We don’t have municipal and industrial uses in the Huerfano River watershed. There are no large cities,” White said. “We have domestic and industrial uses.”


Colorado Springs Utilities budget details

November 13, 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 Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Other budget highlights include $44 million in payments and transfers to the city budget, which includes surplus payments; franchise fees from two water districts; payments to the city attorney office; and fees for permits and projects. This year, Utilities issued $130 million in bonds for the major capital projects with a 30-year payback. That puts Utilities’ total debt up to $2.4 billion compared to $4 billion in assets. It means that 16 percent of a customer’s utility bill goes strictly to paying down the debt.

The tentative budget also includes $6.6 million for stormwater-related projects, $5 million for regularly scheduled maintenance and $178 million for the Southern Delivery System project.

More infrastructure coverage here.


An approach to stormwater management is the talk of the town in Colorado Springs

October 26, 2013
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor Steve Bach continue to wrangle over how stormwater funding will be handled. Council president Keith King on Friday said council does not want to expand city government, after Bach chastised council earlier in the week.

Colorado Springs Utilities committed to mitigation of floodwater on Fountain Creek in 2009 as part of its conditions when it obtained a 1041 land-use permit from Pueblo County for Southern Delivery System.

“We’d like to clarify that council is not endorsing the creation of a physical department nor do we have plans to expand city government. We are advocating for the creation of a virtual department, or more accurately, a stormwater appropriations or dedicated funding source,” King said. “This virtual department is strictly an accounting mechanism to inform citizens of how much revenue we are allocating to stormwater and ensures that the funds are solely dedicated to stormwater.”

Council has proposed using $2 million from this year’s fund balance to begin work immediately.

Earlier this week, Bach told council he does not favor creating a new department after the council sent him a letter Oct. 14 saying it would propose a stormwater appropriation department. A “virtual” department would assure the public that stormwater needs are being considered, King said.

“We must commit money from of our general fund for operation and maintenance. We must show our citizens we are serious about addressing the stormwater drainage issues. We must show our friends in Pueblo that we are resolute about how much we are spending,” King said. “Most importantly, we must make sure, as council, that we can audit the numbers and prove our expenditures to the citizens.”

Bach claims $25 million for stormwater, including wildfire mitigation, is included in his budget proposal for next year. The mayor wants to extend current bonds to pay for $100 million in the most critical stormwater needs over five years. Colorado Springs stormwater needs are estimated at about $535 million.

Council is working with an El Paso County stormwater task force to develop a sustainable funding source for projects, as well as a regional approach.

From KRDO (Jonathan Petramala):

Thursday, a couple dozen residents showed up to the first “Stormwater Solutions Town Hall” at the Conservation and Environment Center. Officials sat back and let residents pick through possible solutions to come up with what they believe is most feasible.

“The solution is a regional approach,” said homeowner Sharon Owen.

A regional approach and a willingness to invest in stormwater infrastructure were shared by those in attendance.

“This is what happens when you don’t invest,” said homeowner Bruce Fogarty. “It’s going to be expensive but it’s something that absolutely needs to be done.”

After nearly an hour of residents brainstorming and presenting their ideas, task force members say they plan on taking the ideas brought forward here and at two more town halls to come up with what they hope is a final solution.

“If you don’t plan it, if you don’t do it right you’re wasting your time and energy,” [El Paso County Commission Chairman Dennis Hisey] said.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

“We don’t want to grow government,” Bach said in his remarks to City Council this week.

Bach was reacting to a letter the nine council members sent him earlier this month outlining their plan to create a Stormwater Department and take $2 million from the city’s 2013 rainy day fund to start it.

The idea, said council president Keith King, is to get moving immediately on stormwater projects. He said it would show residents that the city is spending money from its general fund on stormwater projects. And it could be viewed as a good faith commitment should the city council ask residents to approve a fee or tax to pay for stormwater projects, he said.

Bach said his plan to pay for stormwater projects does not require a new tax or fee.

“The prior city council imposed a fee,” Bach said. “It was well meaning, but it didn’t resonate well.”

A short-lived Stormwater Enterprise and its fee was rescinded four years ago and left the city without a dedicated funding source to pay for millions in stormwater and drainage needs, which has been the focus of nearly two years of meetings and discussions. Colorado Springs sits in the northern section of the Fountain Creek Watershed – a 927-square mile watershed that includes three counties and eight municipalities. Legally, the city is responsible to keep the community safe and move stormwater through the city to avoid flooding, keep a safe environment and ensure water quality.

Bach wants residents to extend the voter-approved Springs Community Improvement Program, which was the sale of $88 million in municipal bonds and paid for 29 capital improvement projects. The projects were completed in 2004 and the debt, paid for from the general fund, is scheduled to be paid off in 2016. If voters extended the bond program, the city could spend $175 million on projects in five years and pay back the debt in 20.

The money also could be spent on other city capital improvement projects that have been on hold, Bach said. Road improvement, bridge repair and building repair and renovations have gone untouched for years. Bach’s idea about renewing the SCIP bond program would spend $20 million a year for five years on stormwater projects, $11.5 million on roads and bridges and set aside $1 million a year for city park improvement, he said. And instead of a new city department, all of the projects would be handled by the city’s public works department.

But City Council said the mayor’s plan does not address regional stormwater concerns. A regional stormwater task force, for nearly two years, has described stormwater issues as regional saying that if money is spent north of the city, in the county limits, it benefits entities downstream. The taskforce envisioned a regional tax or fee that would be a permanent source of money for the stormwater and drainage projects, which by some estimates is nearly $700 million. This approach would be a pay-as-you-go method and a fee or tax also would cover the estimated $11 million in ongoing maintenance needs to keep the existing stormwater channels, drainage ponds and other systems in good shape.

“One of the things we need to look at is the entire watershed, from the top of El Paso County to Pueblo,” King said.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The dust-up between City Council and Mayor Steve Bach over stormwater took another turn today when Council President Keith King issued a statement disputing remarks Bach has made in recent days.

As reported on the Independent’s blog on Oct. 16, Council issued a letter to Bach seeking more detail on the 2014 budget and declaring it wanted to create a stormwater department.

More stormwater coverage here.


Fountain Creek: CH2M’s stormwater assessment ready

October 25, 2013
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Rebecca Tonn):

Earlier this year, the Regional Storm Water Task Force presented details of the area’s stormwater mitigation needs.

On Oct. 9, engineering firm CH2M Hill released its comprehensive City of Colorado Springs Stormwater Needs Assessment to Mayor Steve Bach and City Council. CH2M Hill was contracted by the city to give a third-party overview on the scope and depth of the task force’s stormwater assessment. The city released the report Tuesday, Oct. 15.

The full report can be viewed online at the city’s website.

More stormwater coverage here.


Colorado Springs’ Mayor Bach includes $25 million for stormwater projects in his 2014 budget

October 17, 2013
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater in 2011 -- photo via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater in 2011 — photo via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach says his 2014 budget contains $25 million for stormwater projects. The amount breaks down to $9 million for new construction, $7.2 million in pending grants and $8.8 million in emergency funds related to fires. A list provided by city staff shows that $14.25 million would go to high-priority projects identified in the recent stormwater needs assessment by CH2MHill.

“The City of Colorado Springs is not standing idly by when it comes to our stormwater needs as we head into 2014. The $25 million we anticipate spending in the next year includes numerous projects identified as high priorities in the recent CH2MHill Stormwater Needs Assessment. We are finding efficiencies and repurposing dollars wherever possible to address this critical need in our city,” Bach said in a press release.

Bach is at odds with Colorado Springs City Council, El Paso County and communities on a regional task force over the approach to stormwater. The mayor wants to redirect existing funding to cover needs, while the task force wants a long-term, sustainable approach.

Pueblo County commissioners have asked Colorado Springs to identify projects that help protect Pueblo from flood impacts as part of an ongoing inquiry into conditions agreed to in a 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

Meanwhile Colorado Springs Utilities is proposing rate hikes for 2014. Here’s a report from Abbie Burke writing for Fox21News.com. Here’s an excerpt:

…the rate hike for water was approved back in 2012.

“We already had approved a 10 percent increase for water services,” Bill Cherrier, Chief Planning and Finance Officer for CSU, said.

The water rate increase was approved to help pay for the Southern Delivery System.

“That is our new water system to provide more water supply and redundant water supply to the community,” Cherrier said…

“When we look at the residential bill it’s expected to go up about 4.75 percent in the next year,” Cherrier said.

For the average customer, with a $200 bill, that’s about $10. The rate increase will go before city council for approval at the end of November. A public rate hearing will be held November 12, which will be open for comments.

More stormwater coverage here.


Fountain Creek: ‘We don’t think sustainable funds are there through a sales tax’ — John Cassiani

October 12, 2013
Fountain Creek

Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Businesses, not just government, want to see a higher level of commitment to stormwater funding in Colorado Springs. “We’re looking for an ongoing commitment, with a dedicated funding source that’s stable,” said John Cassiani, a real estate consultant who has served on El Paso County’s stormwater task force.

“When you look across the state and see that we are the largest city in Colorado without a stormwater fee, we need one,” Cassiani said. “We don’t think sustainable funds are there through a sales tax.”

The task force wants to base assessments on square footage of property creating either a separate authority or a stormwater district within the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The assessments would appear on property tax bills to avoid the kinds of non-payment issues associated with Colorado Springs’ stormwater enterprise when it collected fees from 2007-09. Communities would sign on, agreeing to maintain at least the current level of funding for maintenance. The money collected would be spent on critical projects that cross political boundaries, but returned to communities proportionately over time.

Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners have voted to support the plan, and to gather public input prior to making a suggestion of how to proceed.

No set amounts for stormwater funding have been set, or a timetable developed for when projects would be constructed, City Council President Keith King said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Mayor Steve Bach calls his plan to address flooding a “Storm Water Hybrid.” He proposes regional cooperation through an authority managed by Colorado Springs.

“We have the lion’s share of responsibility and I am not comfortable with the city delegating that to another entity,” Bach said.

Bach plans to use current funding levels on Springs Community Improvements Program bonds that were approved by voters in 1998-99.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While the number of Colorado Springs stormwater projects dropped, cost estimates rose for the remaining projects in an engineering report released Friday. The CH2MHill report was ordered by Mayor Steve Bach, who was alarmed that the city’s stormwater backlog costs apparently rose from $500 million in 2009 to almost $688 million in last year’s estimate by a stormwater task force. The new amount was about $535 million.

The engineers started by looking at a list of 282 projects within Colorado Springs, as well as reviewing stormwater documents going back 40 years, project manager Mark Rosser explained. Those projects were part of the task force’s larger study that identified $850 million in backlog for all of El Paso County, as well as nearly $11 million in operation and maintenance needs.

The consultants removed 44 projects that had been constructed, duplicated or that no longer existed. One of those was a $138 million project to replace all corrugated metal pipe drains in the city.

The remaining projects were rated according to urgency, and in some cases broken out into multiple projects.

“We were dealing with long reaches of streams,” Rosser said.

From that list of 239 projects, about 44 were given high priority, with a total cost of $162 million — more than twice the amount critical projects were estimated at in 2009.

The longer Colorado Springs waits to begin addressing projects, the worse things will get, he added.

“The work doesn’t consider what happened in September and October.”

CH2MHill is working on a similar estimate for El Paso County, expected to be completed in December.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County commissioners Terry Hart and Sal Pace don’t want to wade into El Paso County politics, but would like to see tangible results on protecting Pueblo from the ravages of Fountain Creek.

“What are you doing today to protect us and how can we rectify that?” Hart asked El Paso County and Colorado Springs officials at a meeting this week.

The commissioners want to hold Colorado Springs to its commitment to help control stormwater made while seeking federal and county permits for the Southern Delivery System.

Pace, who represented Pueblo in the state House at the time, has always been critical of the decision by Colorado Springs City Council in 2009 to abolish the stormwater enterprise.

While most of council at that time — just one of the nine members sat on the board then — thought voters meant to end what tax crusader Doug Bruce called a “rain tax,” others found the message unclear. That does nothing to help Pueblo, which will spend about $200,000 to clean up after the latest downpour in September.

The city also must convince the Army Corps of Engineers to repair its damaged reinforcement of the bank at 13th Street, where a freeway interchange, railroad tracks and flooding are threatened.

Hart wants county staff to review which of the projects are designed to protect Pueblo as flows cross the county line.

“I’m concerned about the patience level of our community,” Hart said. “It is difficult, given what has occurred. The amount of funding over several years seems to have been drained.”

Pace also is concerned about how recent accounting of stormwater projects has changed in Colorado Springs after the large wildfires denuded huge swaths of landscape.

“The two fires create more of an issue, but it’s been an issue before,” Pace said. “We had large trees uprooted here, and smaller rain events are creating larger flood events. Whatever path is chosen, we have to know it will be successful. There is a lot of skepticism in Pueblo.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: ‘We certainly have to plan for more than a 10-20 year event’ — Dennis Hisey

October 11, 2013
Fountain Creek Watershed via the Colorado Springs Gazette

Fountain Creek Watershed via the Colorado Springs Gazette

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A special district formed to improve Fountain Creek should be looking at what it would take to build a large flood control dam, officials from two counties agreed Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s too early to begin looking at a dam, when you look at the events up north,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace said during a workshop with El Paso County and Colorado Springs officials.

Smaller retention ponds in Boulder and Larimer counties were overrun by the force of water from 500-year storms, while larger dams in the Denver area held, Pace said.

“There is a lesson to be learned. Do we need a large flood control structure on Fountain Creek?” Pace asked.

“In my view, that has to be driven by science and the Fountain Creek district needs to be involved in it,” said Dennis Hisey, an El Paso County commissioner. “We certainly have to plan for more than a 10-20 year event.”

The U.S. Geological Survey is completing a study for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District that shows a large dam is equally effective as 44 small retention ponds.

The cost of building and operating either type of system remains an unknown.

“I hope our next step (for the Fountain Creek district) is to look at the cost of each of the options,” said Terry Hart, chairman of the Pueblo County commission.

“If an event (like last month’s Northern Colorado storms) hit us next season, it would be incredibly devastating to all of our jurisdictions,” Hart said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Army Corps of Engineers is being asked to repair a project it completed just four years ago to stabilize a critical portion of bank along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. Repairs made in 2009 washed out during a Sept. 13 storm that also damaged other portions of Fountain Creek throughout the city of Pueblo. The Corps repairs would be in addition to an estimated $200,000 of work by the city in the Fountain Creek channel.

“I don’t know how long the process would be,” said Daryl Wood, Pueblo stormwater coordinator. “We’ll rely on the Corps to rebuild the embankment.”

The washout occurred on about 165 feet of a wire-wrapped levee at 13th Street. The area is critical, because the bank is just a few feet away from Union Pacific railroad tracks and a few yards from the 13th Street interchange of Interstate 25. The railroad has been notified.

While the Fountain Creek levee protects the Downtown area, washouts could affect its effectiveness at that point. Fountain Creek hits and departs the bank at a 90-degree angle under the current alignment. The Corps would have to decide if the alignment of the waterway could be changed through that section.

Prior to 1999, Fountain Creek flowed parallel to the area. Some large boulders set to protect the 13th Street area washed out in subsequent storms, and the wire-wrapped rip-rap that replaced them washed out this year.

The Eighth Street Bridge is located just downstream and several large trees were left strewn in the channel after the Sept. 13 storms, creating the potential for clogging the waterway as well.

“When the storm happened on Sept. 13, there were 2.8 inches of rain above Pueblo in a 24-hour period,” said Will Trujillo, levee safety program manager for the Corps. “In spot locations, there were 12-13 inches of rain.

When we receive that type of storm we notify any public sponsor in that section.”

The sponsor in this case is the city of Pueblo, which now has the job of detailing the damage to the project.

The Corps will schedule an inspection, determine the extent of damage and make any needed repairs, Trujillo said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Stormwater: Springs’ Mayor Bach has proposed a combination of debt and redirected general fund cash to fund needs

October 10, 2013
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From KOAA.com (Steve Folsom):

Key facts of an independent study requested by Colorado Springs Mayor, Steve Bach were presented Wednesday. The independent engineering firm CH2M Hill was called in for a second opinion after a local storm water task force came back with storm estimates showing a jump from 500 to around $800 million regionally.

The independent audit looks only at the Colorado Springs portion of the storm water needs. It shows there are over 225 projects that need to happen totaling nearly $535 million. That is $152 million decrease from the report earlier in the year, but it also shows there are $162 million in projects that need to be treated with urgency, which is an $80 million increase. It is a total that is down, but also a need for more cash to quickly get moving on repairs and improvements.

Ideas on how to pay for it are causing debate. Mayor Bach unexpectedly presented and idea to combine borrowed money from bonds with funds redirected from the city’s general fund. There are many other elected leaders from the region who want to hold town meetings and discuss with voters the possibility of asking for a storm water property fee or tax on the ballot.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Mayor Steve Bach’s proposal to roll stormwater into the city’s other capital needs got a cold shoulder Wednesday from members of a task force that has worked for more than a year — and from Pueblo County.

Bach laid out his plan for funding critical stormwater needs to City Council, county commissioners and nearby communities following the unveiling of a study that prioritizes projects. “We’ve already stubbed our toe once on stormwater,” Bach said. “The worst thing that can happen is that we get turned down again (by voters). We’ve got to get it right.”

He proposed spending $100 million over the next five years, lumping it into a $175 million plan that also would fund streets, roads, bridges, public safety vehicles and parks. It would take 20 years to pay off the bonds. While the bond issue would require a vote, there would not be a tax increase since payments would be similar to the current bond structure.

Bach also made an overture to create a regional stormwater authority, but said it should be funded through contributions from individual communities, funded proportionately and managed by Colorado Springs. He also said the city could review progress and determine if more funding would be needed at the end of the five-year period.

But other public officials criticized Bach’s plan for failing to address regional issues and providing a stable, sustainable source of funding. “I’m alarmed by the mayor’s proposal, which seems to be a stopgap way of funding the needs. It kicks the can down the road,” said Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s water attorney. He said it does not fulfill the promises of Colorado Springs Utilities to have a stormwater funding mechanism in place when it obtained a 1041 permit from Pueblo County for the Southern Delivery System.

“We are willing to listen to constituents and we want to hear from the community,” said Keith King, council president.

The council and El Paso County commissioners are planning three town hall meetings to discuss stormwater before finalizing funding plans. The intention is to allow county voters the chance to approve a tax, fee or some other way to fund stormwater by 2014.

But the task force members emphasized no method has been selected. No dollar figure or timetable for capital projects has been developed either. Commissioner Amy Lathen called Bach’s proposal “uninformed,” because the mayor has not been meeting with the task force.

Commissioner Dennis Hisey, who serves on the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, said regional cooperation is needed rather than Bach’s approach. “Stormwater starts high in the watershed

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


‘When the big one [flood] comes, there will be added damage from growth in Colorado Springs’ — Sal Pace

October 5, 2013
Cherry Creek Flood August 31, 1933 -- photo via the Denver Public Library

Cherry Creek Flood August 31, 1933 — photo via the Denver Public Library

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A large dam on Fountain Creek is needed to prevent the kind of damage from flooding witnessed in Northern Colorado last week, a county commissioner says.

“When the big one comes, there will be added damage from growth in Colorado Springs and the burn scars of two large fires. The flooding will be worse than ever,” Commissioner Sal Pace said Thursday.

“We only have to look at the tragic events in Boulder and Larimer counties, in Lyons and Estes Park, to see what could happen.”

Floods, some rated as 500-year storms, overcame numerous small dams. Larger dams, such as Bear Creek and Cherry Creek reservoirs in the Denver Metro area, held up, he pointed out.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: The El Paso County Board of Commissioners approve stormwater regional solution resolution

October 4, 2013
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater in 2011 -- photo via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater in 2011 — photo via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

The Board of County Commissioners voted on the resolution Tuesday, passing it by a 3-2 vote. Lathen said Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton cast the dissenting votes, noting that they wanted to wait until an Oct. 9 presentation by Mayor Steve Bach and consulting firm CH2M Hill before they gave their OK.

The City Council approved the same resolution 7-1 on Sept. 24. Helen Collins opposed it and council member Andy Pico was absent.

Bach has opposed the resolutions while awaiting the consultant’s input.

The commissioners had voted unanimously to approve a resolution in February, but the City Council waited until April after Bach insisted that a private study needed to be done. The mayor also said in February that the decision needed to wait for the new council, which was seated in April.

The outgoing council defied the mayor’s request and passed a regional stormwater resolution as one of its last actions. Scott Hente, the outgoing council president, said after the April 9 vote, “Stormwater is not politics. Stormwater is floods coming into your home. This is something that’s important to the community,” he said.

Lathen echoed Hente’s statement Wednesday when asked why the city and county needed to pass the recent resolutions after both government bodies had already voted in the joint effort. The commissioner stressed that this time, City Council and the BOCC each endorsed the same plan.

“This one is the same resolution signed by both bodies, and we’re excited about that,” Lathen said.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

For more than a year, local officials have been trying to figure out what to do about drainage. The long-overdue debate has centered on whether it’s best for Colorado Springs to go its own way, as Mayor Steve Bach wishes, or whether all agencies in the watershed need to cooperate to tackle the problem, which by one estimate will cost nearly $1 billion.

Next week, things will come to a head when Bach unveils his long-awaited proposal, along with a report from consultant CH2MHill about whether the city’s projects list alone really totals some $700 million.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Apparently, Fountain Creek is a moving target when it comes to Bureau of Reclamation environmental impact studies. Buried in the documents regarding the Arkansas Valley Conduit and master storage contract for Lake Pueblo released in August is Reclamation’s response to a concern raised by Pueblo County last year.

In a Nov. 30, 2012, letter, Pueblo County’s water attorney Ray Petros asked about the discrepancy of flows on Fountain Creek between the EIS for Southern Delivery System and the conduit when it comes to Colorado Springs’ repeal of its stormwater enterprise in 2009.

Petros also asked if Reclamation intended to reopen the SDS environmental study in light of the stormwater repeal, especially looking at the cumulative impacts of both projects.

Reclamation responded that it would not open a new investigation of Fountain Creek flows because additional storage contracts for some El Paso County cities that are tied into the conduit EIS would have only negligible impact on Fountain Creek.

With regard to the discrepancy in flows on Fountain Creek — they are reduced by 12 percent in the conduit-master contract study — Reclamation responded that different time frames were used. The SDS study looked at 2006 and compared it to 2046 projections, while the conduit study looked at 2010 and compared it to 2070.

The lack of a Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise is of concern to Pueblo County commissioners because it was in existence when a previous board issued a 1041 land-use permit in 2009. Commissioners are evaluating Colorado Springs compliance with 1041 conditions.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is preparing a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation over its lack of action on a request to reopen the EIS for SDS because of the stormwater issue.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Several El Paso County water suppliers are interested in Southern Delivery System deliveries

September 25, 2013
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic/Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic/USBR

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Even before a drop of water flows through Southern Delivery System, other El Paso County communities are making plans to hook up to the pipeline.

Donala Water & Sanitation District, which serves 2,600 people north of Colorado Springs plans to begin an environmental impact statement process with Bureau of Reclamation within the next two weeks in order to obtain a long-term storage contract in Lake Pueblo.

Cherokee Metro District, serving about 18,000 people in a community surrounded by Colorado Springs, wants to hook up to SDS in the future.

Those communities will be held to the same environmental commitments, including federal environmental review and stormwater management, under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Donala purchased a ranch south of Leadville for its water rights in 2009, but will need SDS to deliver about 280 acrefeet annually — about 25 percent of its needs. “We have been talking to the city for years,” said Kip Peterson, manager of the Donala District. Donala already has a temporary contract in place to use Colorado Springs water delivery systems to deliver water from the ranch.

Stormwater controls are problematic, because 95 percent of the land in Donala already has been developed, but the district is looking at how to amend its plan to address stormwater, Peterson said.

Like Donala, Cherokee has a contract to buy water from or have its water delivered by Colorado Springs Utilities. Cherokee has a two-year lease from the Pueblo Board of Water Works. Cherokee gets most of its water from wells, but needs additional sources to round out its supply. “Unlike Donala, we don’t yet own any water we could store in Lake Pueblo,” said Sean Chambers, Cherokee manager.

But Cherokee is interested in using SDS for the long-term. Like Colorado Springs, it has some water and wastewater lines that cross Sand Creek, a tributary of Fountain Creek. Those would be held to the same level of scrutiny as Colorado Springs lines.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and 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.


The Lower Ark District is moving to file a complaint against Reclamation over SDS Record of Decision

September 20, 2013
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A federal decision on the Southern Delivery System is headed to court. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is preparing a complaint to file in federal court over the Bureau of Reclamation’s refusal to reopen its record of decision on SDS. The central issue is the abolishment of the Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise in 2009, which was in place when Reclamation granted approval of a 40-year contract for storage, exchange and connection at Pueblo Dam for SDS.

“I’m asking our board to draft a legal complaint against the Bureau of Reclamation,” said Melissa Esquibel, a Pueblo County board member. “We’ve asked the Bureau of Reclamation to reopen the record of decision, and gotten no action. We need to direct staff to draft a lawsuit.”

Lower Ark board members say SDS should not be allowed to deliver water until the stormwater issue is resolved. “If there had not been a stormwater enterprise, SDS never would have gotten a 1041 permit,” said Anthony Nunez, a Lower Ark board member who was a Pueblo County commissioner in 2009.

Last year, the Lower Ark district sent letters to Reclamation asking to reopen the record of decision on the stormwater issue. Reclamation declined to take any action.

This will be the second lawsuit the Lower Ark district has filed against Reclamation, if the board approves it at its October meeting. In 2007, the Lower Ark sued Reclamation over a 40-year storage and exchange contract with Aurora, claiming it illegally allowed the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the Arkansas River basin. The lawsuit was settled in 2009, after Aurora and the Lower Ark signed an agreement for mitigation of some of the issues surrounding the contract.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flood protection for the Lower Arkansas Valley should not be an afterthought. That message was delivered to Colorado Springs Wednesday during a presentation about regional stormwater efforts in El Paso County to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Protection District. “We quibble about data. What I want to see is the problem fixed,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told Mark Pifher, point man for the Southern Delivery System.

Colorado Springs Utilities disputes the Lower Ark’s interpretation of state and federal data about water quality. The Lower Ark claims it shows higher flows have increased sedimentation and bacteria in Fountain Creek since Colorado Springs got rid of its stormwater enterprise in 2009. Pifher countered that’s just because of higher peak flows in the past three years. Fountain Creek monitoring has begun and safeguards are built into the Bureau of Reclamation’s contract through an adaptive management program if unexpected pollution occurs, he said. A stormwater task force and Mayor Steve Bach are close to coming to consensus and moving a stormwater issue to the 2014 ballot.

All of which served to aggravate Pueblo County members of the Lower Ark board:

“My heartburn is that the discussions center around the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon as far as Fountain Creek is concerned, but nothing for us” said Melissa Esquibel. “I don’t think anything substantive has happened.”

“It’s been a fractured thing up there since I was a commissioner. It almost doesn’t seem real. We’ve heard the same thing over and over and over,” said Anthony Nunez. “I have to say there is a small amount of trust.”

“We have to put limits on SDS until the stormwater issue is taken on,” said Reeves Brown.

Colorado Springs voters defeated a Doug Bruce measure in 2008 to make payment of stormwater fees voluntary by 30,000 votes, but City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise after a second ballot measure that did not even mention it by name passed in 2009, Winner said. While Bruce campaigned against a “rain tax,” the 2009 Proposition specifically tried to sever utility payments from the Colorado Springs general fund. Council has not ended Utilities payment in lieu of taxes, Pifher said in response to a question by Winner.

Pifher said stormwater fees would be collected again beginning as soon as 2015 if voters approve it in 2014. That didn’t do much to allay fears. “You got what you needed and the stormwater enterprise went away,” Winner said. “Do you see the pattern here?”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: ‘People who have never thought about stormwater are thinking about it now’ — Mark Pifher

September 18, 2013

fountaincreekwatershed.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

After a week of rain, the time seems right. “People who have never thought about stormwater are thinking about it now,” Mark Pifher, Colorado Springs Utilities point man for the Southern Delivery System, told the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday. Rainy days, coupled with mudslides off forest lands that burned in the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire have made stormwater an in-your-face reality for El Paso County communities in the Fountain Creek watershed.

Meanwhile, there is a lingering concern about whether enough is being done from Pueblo’s point of view. “This is a vital concern to Pueblo and downstream communities,” said Mike Cafasso, chairman of the Pueblo water board.

“This community has been waiting,” added board member Tom Autobee. “It’s kind of come to a head with what we’ve seen in the last few days.”

A ballot issue asking for a stormwater tax or fee is headed for the 2014 ballot, Pifher told the water board. A final recommendation about the specifics of the proposal, form of payment and amount of funding is expected by January. “What happens if it doesn’t pass?” board member Nick Gradisar asked.

“There’s the possibility that some funds can be shifted,” Pifher said.

Colorado Springs has spent or pledged to spend more than $300 million on stormwaterrelated activities since 2000, including $173 million for sewer line fortification after damage from flooding in 1999 and more than $130 million for mitigation related to SDS.

Pifher detailed the progress of an El Paso County stormwater task force that formed last year, explaining that the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires have added to a backlog of projects that totals $900 million. He also touched on the internal politics between Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, City Council and El Paso County commissioners. Bach chose not to participate in the task force.

Pifher disputed charges by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District that water quality in Fountain Creek has worsened and flows have increased because of inaction on stormwater. He plans to address those issues with the Lower Ark board today.

Colorado Springs is not required under SDS permits to spend a certain amount on stormwater or have an enterprise in place, although other communities seeking to use SDS are required to have stormwater controls similar to Colorado Springs in place, Pifher said.

He touted the city’s drainage criteria manual as a unifying document that should improve regional storm controls. “We know we need to address stormwater issues in order to make regional alliances,” Pifher said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: ‘What I would like to see is for Pueblo to stop being flooded’ — Buffie McFayden

September 3, 2013

fountaincreekmonsoonjuly2012.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Fountain Creek connects Pueblo with Colorado Springs, and controlling it remains a key issue if the Southern Delivery System is to be turned on in three years. So there is bound to be a torrent of discussion on a stormwater enterprise, dams on Fountain Creek and water quality over the next few months.

Pueblo County commissioners set the stage last week for a Sept. 20 meeting to air issues surrounding the county’s 1041 permit for SDS. While there is a varied menu of issues that were hammered out over several months back in 2008-09, it’s clear that Fountain Creek is at the top of the agenda. “I don’t know if any of this works, because I’ve seen the power of the water,” Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen said last week after reviewing a federal study of dams on Fountain Creek. “What I would like to see is for Pueblo to stop being flooded and for people in north Pueblo County to keep from losing their land to these floods.”

The commissioners — none of whom were on the board when the 1041 permit was negotiated — also are working through the details of exactly how to handle $50 million, plus interest, that was pledged by Colorado Springs to protect Pueblo from flooding that will be made worse by SDS. Their lawyers are focusing the board on what it can do to keep Colorado Springs on track with the conditions agreed to in the 1041 permit.

But a different set of issues is swirling around the sides.

Chief among them is stormwater. It was taken for granted by the Bureau of Reclamation in the studies leading up to a 40-year contract for SDS to operate from Pueblo Dam. In the 1041 conditions, only the incremental flows directly caused by SDS are mentioned. “It’s a moral question and potentially a legal question,” Commissioner Sal Pace said.

In July, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District claimed flooding has worsened and water quality deteriorated after Colorado Springs City Council eliminated its stormwater enterprise fee in 2009. Commissioners want to hear that report, as well as the rebuttal from Colorado Springs Utilities.

Last week, public wrangling over the stormwater question broke out again in Colorado Springs. Mayor Steve Bach was quoted in the Gazette as favoring a city stormwater fee, while Council President Keith King argued for a regional approach — possibly extending to the confluence and including Pueblo.

The Colorado Springs Council plans hearings of its own in the next few months to sort out which approach voters would be most likely to favor.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: Pueblo County DA asking the state Supreme Court to overturn the July appeals court decision

August 29, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A dispute over water quality is heading to the state Supreme Court. District Attorney Jeff Chostner today is asking the state Supreme Court to overturn a July 18 appeals court decision that Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes erred in ordering the state to redo its assessment of impacts of the Southern Delivery System on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

Reyes issued his decision last year, siding with former District Attorney Bill Thiebaut in finding that the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission ignored its own standards and accepted a “gut feeling” methodology in issuing a federal permit required for SDS.

Attorney John Barth of Hygiene, who has represented both Chostner and Thiebaut in the case, argued that a scientific methodology, including a numeric standard is needed. He argued increased flows on Fountain Creek and changes in the flows of the Arkansas River through Pueblo could increase pollutants like selenium and sediment.

Colorado Springs attorney David Robbins presented counterarguments that water quality issues would be addressed as they arose through an adaptive management plan outlined in the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for the project.

During a deposition for a December 2010 hearing, the state employee who performed the analysis for the SDS impacts said he relied on a “gut feeling” in his assessment of impacts.

In the brief that is being filed today, Barth argues that selenium levels through Pueblo will double or triple under SDS changes, yet the state determined there would be “no degradation.”

At the December 2010 hearing, Robbins and Colorado Springs Utilities officials made the case that impacts from SDS won’t show up for years, so numeric standards now would not be applicable.

Reyes ordered the commission to hold new hearings and develop a permit based on scientific standards. A panel of three appeals court judges rejected the Reyes decision, largely on procedural grounds because he did not do a “rigorous investigation” of claims.

Meanwhile, monsoon rains have caused a good deal of damage to Colorado Springs’ stormwater facilities. Here’s a report from Bill Folsom writing for KOAA.com:

Emergency repairs are necessary to the Colorado Springs storm water system following last weeks unusually heavy rain storm. Storm drains have been exposed, there is damage to detention ponds, and erosion has compromised infrastructure.

Storm water mangers have been running the numbers and calculate nearly four inches of rain fell in just hours on the far north side of the city. The amount equals what they call a 200 year storm. “We do not design for a 200 year storm. We’re up to 100 years,” said Colorado Springs Storm Water Manger, Tim Mitros, “So this was a rarity and our storm sewer system was just totally overwhelmed.” The price tag for the damage to the storm water system is approaching one million dollars.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Southern Delivery System: Pueblo County is setting the stage for 1041 hearings

August 27, 2013

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It looks like Pueblo County is about to get back in court with Colorado Springs, this time over compliance with the 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System (which is largely complete in the county). Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Stormwater, revegetation, roads and other details of a county permit for the Southern Delivery System will be discussed at a public meeting next month. The Pueblo County commissioners want to hear comments from the public and discuss the progress of the project with Colorado Springs Utilities, leaving open the possibility of 1041 permit compliance hearings at a later date. “What we envision is a chance for Colorado Springs to respond to questions,” said Terry Hart, chairman of the commission. “We definitely want the ability for public participation.”

The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 20 in the commission meeting chambers at the Pueblo County Courthouse.

Commissioners Monday reviewed issues surrounding SDS that have surfaced in recent months. They include issues of revegetation on Walker Ranches in northern Pueblo County.

Also at issue is a dispute over the interpretation of Colorado Springs stormwater data by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Colorado Last month, water attorney Peter Nichols told the Lower Ark board storm flows have worsened and water quality deteriorated, while stormwater funding decreased from 2009-12. Mark Pifher, SDS permitting manager, responded that there is no correlation between the demise of the stormwater enterprise in 2009 and water quality or volume of flows. He disputed the trends that Nichols found.

Commissioners plan to get more information from Nichols in advance of the Sept. 20 meeting.

At Monday’s meeting, commissioners also looked at the possibility of prepayment on interest from the $50 million Colorado Springs pledged for Fountain Creek flood control.

They also want to review the U.S. Geological Survey study that shows the effectiveness of dams throughout the Fountain Creek watershed.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


The Fountain Creek district approved a Colorado Springs Utilities’ SDS mitigation wetlands project on Friday

August 26, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities’ plan to improve a portion of Fountain Creek as part of mitigation for the Southern Delivery System got unanimous approval Friday from a board formed to improve Fountain Creek. Meeting in Pueblo, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District approved a new alignment for the creek and wetlands creation about 25 miles north of Pueblo near Pikes Peak International Raceway.

Allison Mosser, a Utilities engineer, explained the project, which was listed as the No. 5 priority in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of projects that could improve Fountain Creek. The project also is among those listed in the district’s corridor master plan. The area is one of the worst on the creek in terms of erosion and sedimentation, she said.

The alignment would mean moving some structures and reinforcing other parts of the bank on the property, which is owned by Utilities. A small part of the creek on the Hanna Ranch also is included, but all costs would be paid by Colorado Springs. Some native willows would be planted for bank stabilization and wetlands would be created or improved. Water for initial seeding of the wetlands would use water from rights owned by Colorado Springs at Clear Springs Ranch, Mosser said.

The Bureau of Reclamation would have final authority over approval of the wetlands, because it holds the SDS permit.

Construction would begin in November and take three months, while planting the wetlands would be completed later in the year.

Monitoring the wetlands would continue for three to five years.

More coverage of the Fountain Creek district meeting from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

A district formed to improve Fountain Creek will team with the U.S. Geological Survey to measure water quality changes caused by runoff from recent fires. The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday approved a contract that will measure the impacts of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire and this year’s Black Forest Fire.

The Black Forest Fire was the most destructive in Colorado history in terms of homes and vehicles destroyed, and could increase the concentration of certain elements.

The total contract will be $18,000, with $6,000 in federal funds, and the other $12,000 contributed by the district and several El Paso County sources.

Samples will be taken as storms occur. “We’ve already missed three or four opportunities,” said Larry Small, executive director of the district. Two sites on Monument Creek and four on Fountain Creek would be sampled. More than 100 constituents will be tested for contaminants like lead and E. coli.

The USGS indicated last month that it has baseline data. “I think this is an important first step. We’ve been talking about impacts since the Waldo Canyon Fire last year,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

Melissa Esquibel, a board member from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, questioned the value of the study, since it would not thoroughly identify sources and problems caused by subsequent storms.

Hart said this study would provide evidence for more detailed studies later.

Jane Rhodes said more studies are needed downstream to see if fires are impacting Pueblo County, because the study sites are in El Paso County.

“We need to find out what’s in the water to protect our population,” added Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Colorado Springs Utilities and the Lower Ark District are still scuffling over stormwater and Fountain Creek

August 25, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities disagrees with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s interpretation of the city’s stormwater discharge data.

Last month, Lower Ark attorney Peter Nichols said the data showed the volume of discharges had gone up and increased sedimentation and E. coli bacteria in Fountain Creek. Nichols said the data were taken from Colorado Springs state stormwater reports, and his comments were reported in a Chieftain story.

In response to the story, Colorado Springs Utilities looked at the same data and believes there is no correlation of flows or increased contamination due to the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise. Mark Pifher, Southern Delivery System permitting manager for Utilities, made the comments in an Aug. 14 letter to the Lower Ark district. If anything, there is evidence that there is a downward trend of flow, sedimentation and contamination based on reports from a continuous gauge at Security. “Springs Utilities would like to reiterate that it takes stormwater control and water quality within the Fountain Creek basin very seriously,” Pifher wrote in the letter.

He repeated the stance that Colorado Springs officials have taken that a stormwater enterprise or a certain level of funding for stormwater is not required by Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS.

He added that a U.S. Geological Survey study shows there is more benefit to Pueblo from building stormwater retention ponds downstream from Colorado Springs than by building retention ponds within or upstream from Colorado Springs. Pifher said he wants to talk to the district about its conclusions.

More stormwater coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: Colorado Springs’ city council is looking at resurrecting their stormwater agency

August 23, 2013

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Across the state, municipalities have created enterprise programs that collect fees for stormwater and drainage projects without first seeking voter approval, which is legal. Colorado Springs did, too, implementing a stormwater enterprise fee in 2005 without asking voters if they were willing to pay for such projects as channels, detention ponds and maintaining pipes and water basins.

The program ended in 2009 after Colorado Springs voters approved Issue 300, which precluded enterprises from giving money to the city’s general fund.

The city won’t do that again, council members said.

Council members and commissioners met Wednesday to discuss stormwater funding. They agreed to “scrub” the city and county budgets to find money to pay for a backlog of stormwater projects estimated to cost more than $700 million.

But operations and maintenance would cost $11 million a year, and they doubted the city and county budgets could come up with that kind of cash.

Elected officials are sure they are headed toward a ballot question, but they don’t know what the question will be or who will be in charge of managing a stormwater program – the city, the county or a regional authority.

The Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force has presented two funding options – an authority that collects fees or an authority that collects taxes – but the elected officials are not ready to commit to either option.

“All options need to remain on the table and we shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions,” said Councilman Merv Bennett…

Additionally, Pueblo County commissioners are growing impatient over the absence of a plan by El Paso County and Colorado Springs to address stormwater projects, the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper reported earlier this week.

Pueblo County commissioners have argued that Colorado Springs must complete some mitigation projects connected to the Southern Delivery System by 2016 to ensure that flows in Fountain Creek don’t exceed levels of 2009.

However, there is strain between the counties, city and utilities over what the mitigation projects should be and who has ultimate authority under the existing permits…

[Pam Maier] believes residents are ready to tax themselves to pay for the stormwater projects. “This town supports saving residents from suffering from floods and other disasters that occur when you don’t have a stormwater program in place,” she said.

More stormwater coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: ‘At some point, this board is going to lose its patience’ — Buffie McFadyen

August 20, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County commissioners are more than happy to throw some money into the hat to keep a Fountain Creek district afloat. At the same time, patience is wearing thin for El Paso County to come to grips with stormwater funding. “At some point, this board is going to lose its patience with the largest city in the state without a stormwater fee,” said Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “I feel like we’re standing knee-deep in water and not going anywhere.”

Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, asked commissioners Monday to consider the district’s plan to patch funding until 2016. The district is nearly out of funds, and is asking county and city governments to come up with $50,000 to meet administrative needs in 2014. Pueblo County’s share would be $10,000.

If Southern Delivery System comes online in 2016, as projected, the district would begin receiving payments from Colorado Springs toward the $50 million negotiated in the Pueblo County 1041 process. That money is earmarked for Fountain Creek flood control projects that protect Pueblo. Interest from the $50 million could be used as soon as next year to begin planning flood-control projects that could benefit Pueblo. But commissioners still are sore that Colorado Springs City Council eliminated its stormwater enterprise in 2009 and has not replaced it.

Colorado Springs City Council is seek­ing a regional solution to meet $900 million in identified projects in El Paso County. Nearly 80 percent of those are in Colorado Springs. Mayor Steve Bach is pursuing a separate course to prioritize projects. While that discussion continues, the Fountain Creek district has put its own plans for a mill levy election — the district can assess up to 5 mills of property tax — on hold just in case there is an El Paso County stormwater fee election in 2014. “The longer (the Fountain Creek district) goes without passing a mill levy, it limits the time you’re able to do projects,” said Commissioner Sal Pace.

Small pointed to a U.S. Geological Survey study that showed 10 retention ponds south of Fountain would provide protection for Pueblo by cutting 46 percent of the peak flow off a 100-year flood. The SDS money would all go toward those types of projects, or a large dam, an option that is unlikely. But commissioners want results sooner. “If we put the district in mothballs for too long, we defeat the statutory mandate,” said Chairman Terry Hart.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.


AWRA Colorado Section summer field trip recap: What happens when you dig a 40 foot hole in the ground?

August 18, 2013

 

Coffee and bagels at Denver Water just before heading to Pueblo Dam

Every now and again you sign up for the right water tour. The American Water Resources Colorado Section tour of the Southern Delivery System — which is slated to move Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water to serve several Arkansas Valley communities — turned out great.

First off, we visited the valve house for the project at the base of Pueblo Dam.

Valve house north outlet works Pueblo Dam, August 2013

Folks from Colorado Springs Utilities and USBR detailed much of the design and proposed operational facts about the outlet works. The release to the Arkansas River was engineered for 1120 CFS. One of our hosts smiled as he said, “You can feel a vibration when it’s open.”

Valve test north outlet works Pueblo Dam via MWH Global

We also visited the site where CSU is building a new treatment plant out by the Colorado Springs airport. That’s where the MWH Global project manager explained that they had spent most of the week pumping stormwater out of the 40 foot hole that they dug in the wind blown sand soil at the site. It seems that one of those monsoon storms dumped an inch or so of precipitation in 30 minutes. They had accomplished pouring one section of the slab base for the plant that day.

New CSU water treatment plant site, August 2013

Converstion on the bus between stops ranged from the cultural differences between white europeans and the native american tribes to the announcement earlier in the day from Reclamation of a 24 month operating plan for Lake Powell that would reduce deliveries downriver to Lake Mead.

We heard about Castle Rock’s plans to move to 75% renewable supplies from their director, Mark Marlowe.  They’re hoping to eventually only use their wells  to get through a drought.

We also heard some roadside geology from one of the folks at the Colorado Geological Survey. He explained a bit about the Denver Basin Aquifer System and hydraulic fracturing in the Niobrara.

More Southern Delivery System Coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: Mayor Bach takes position that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit is non-specific with respect to projects

July 31, 2013

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From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

After Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King sent a June 6 letter to Pueblo County misstating the facts about Colorado Springs Utilities’ permit to build the Southern Delivery System (“Storm brewing,” News, July 17), they corrected the record with a new letter sent July 19.

In the June 6 version, the city said a Stormwater Enterprise projects list was submitted “as part of” the 1041 construction permit process for the water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir. There was no such project list or dollar figure submitted by the city as part of the 1041 permit itself, records show, meaning the city made no concrete pledges to spend a certain amount of money on stormwater or to do certain projects.

Rather, the permit, issued in April 2009, simply requires the city to ensure that Fountain Creek peak flows that result from new development served by the water pipeline are no greater than prior peak flows.

Although City Attorney Chris Melcher said in a statement to the Indy on July 15 that the June 6 letter “was accurate,” Bach and King wrote a new letter on July 19 “to clarify any potential misunderstanding of our letter of June 6, 2013.”

This letter also said that while there were “conversations” about stormwater projects, “it is clear that the 1041 Permit itself does not require or adopt any specific list of capital projects that must be implemented … [n]or does the 1041 Permit require a specific dollar amount to be allocated.”

The July 19 letter prompted Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace to tell the Pueblo Chieftain he was “furious” and “confused.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: Study of dams for flood control a big project for the USGS

July 30, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It was a massive task. The question was simple: What are the impacts of building dams at various points on Fountain Creek? To do that, the U.S. Geological Survey broke the 932-square-mile drainage area into 72 subbasins, looked at 1,900 cross-sections and relied on historic information from more than a dozen stream gauges. “We used the information that was available, but engineers always want more information,” David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office, told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District last week.

He was careful to point out that funding, property acquisition and water rights questions were not addressed by the study.

Mau released preliminary findings that show Pueblo would get equal protection from flooding by building one large dam or a series of 44 retention ponds along the creek. Most surprising was the relatively strong protection provided by just 10 detention ponds south of Colorado Springs. But the $570,000 study, expected to be finalized later this year, is just the beginning of protection for Pueblo from the highly variable and sometimes destructive flows of Fountain Creek. The political battles over stormwater still are being waged and the costs of alternatives largely unknown, but it is clear that building a series of smaller structures rather than a large earthen dam would cost less.

The district also must determine in the next few years how to spend $50 million coming to it from Colorado Springs as a condition of its 1041 land-use permit with [Pueblo County].

FOUR CHOICES

Four potential scenarios are among 14 modeled by the U.S. Geological Survey:

1. Build 44 detention ponds from the Air Force Academy to the confluence of Fountain Creek at the Arkansas River. Reduction of peak flows: 59%. Reduction of sediment: 18%.

2. Build an 85-foot earthen dam north of the confluence: Peak flows: 56%; sediment: 62%.

3. Build 10 detention ponds between Colorado Springs and Pueblo: Peak flows: 47%; sediment: 8%. 4. Build a diversion channel at the El Paso-Pueblo County line to channel flows into Chico Creek: Peak flows: 42.5%; sediment: 8.4%.

Numbers are based on a 100-year storm centered over downtown Colorado Springs. Peak discharge without any dams is 37,500 cubic feet per second, measured at Pueblo. Sediment load without any dams is 104,000 tons.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: Detention ponds can accomplish nearly as much as a flood control dam, according to USGS

July 28, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A series of detention ponds south of Colorado Springs to Pueblo could do nearly as much to reduce the impacts of a severe flood on Fountain Creek as one large dam. That’s the preliminary finding of a three-year study by the U.S. Geological Survey which will be completed later this year. The results were shared last week by David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office. “The report does not address water rights, transit loss or funding issues, just the hydrol­ogy and hydraulics,” Mau cautioned the Fountain Creek Watershed district board Friday.

The most effective means of reducing the impacts of a big flood for everyone along the creek would be to construct 44 detention ponds — water holding areas behind 10-foot berms that would not fall under the state’s classification of dams — up and down the creek to the confluence with the Arkansas River. It would include ponds on Monument Creek, the Upper Fountain and major tributaries. Combined, they would retain about 30,350 acre-feet of water and reduce the peak flow of a 100year flood by 59 percent, while reducing sediment by 18 percent.

Ponds would require regular maintenance.

An 85-foot tall dam 10 miles north of the confluence would provide nearly the same protection, reducing peak flows by 56 percent. It would retain far more sediment, reducing it by 62 percent, Mau said. That creates its own problems, however. About 64,000 tons of sediment — 2,500 truckloads of sand — plus trees and other debris would need to be cleared after a 100-year flood. The dam would have a permanent pool of 25,700 acre-feet and capture 25,000 acre-feet of flood water, as modeled in the study. It would also require moving railroad tracks and gas pipelines in Fountain Creek, as well as building a levee to protect Interstate 25.

Ultimately, the reservoir would help Pueblo, but would do little to protect El Paso County communities from flooding. It would cost hundreds of million dollars. Cost estimates have not been done in more than 40 years. Another option, however, would protect Pueblo almost as well, again with little benefit to El Paso County.

It would involve building just 10 detention ponds from Jimmy Camp Creek to Pueblo, and would have the potential of cutting the peak flows by 47 percent. The ponds would also trap less sediment, presumably requiring less maintenance and generating fewer complaints from downstream farmers who rely on flows of sediment. The ponds would have the effect of reducing a 1965-type flood to a less-damaging 1999-type flood. “When we get the $50 million from Colorado Springs, it may be a quicker fix,” said Richard Skorman, a Colorado Springs businessman and former councilman who is a member of the El Paso County stormwater task force. Skorman speculated that it would allow more time for the northern communities to solve internal stormwater problems while giving Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley more peace of mind.

The detention areas could cost up to $1 million each, based on the demonstration project already in place on Pueblo’s North Side. But land acquisition costs could be higher, since the city of Pueblo already owned the land in the pilot project.

ABOUT THE STUDY

A study of dam sites on Fountain Creek by the U.S. Geological Survey won’t be finalized until later this year.

The $570,000 study included $300,000 funding from Colorado Springs as part of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit conditions for the Southern Delivery System.

It looked at 14 scenarios ranging from a few detention ponds on Monument Creek to a big dam on Fountain Creek itself.

Engineers used available records to assess how much the peak flow and sedimentation would be reduced as a result of projects at varying points along Fountain Creek.

Meanwhile the board is holding firm on their authority to review the Southern Delivery System’s potential impacts to Fountain Creek streamflow and water quality. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Southern Delivery System should still be subject to review by a district formed to protect Fountain Creek, the district’s board decided Friday. Colorado Springs Utilities plans to cross Fountain Creek with its pipeline under the SDS plan. The Fountain Creek district was given primary land-use authority in the flood plain between Fountain and Pueblo, but last month El Paso County claimed that authority for utility projects.

The board plans to tell El Paso County commissioners that the county’s newly adopted 1041 regulations do not supersede the authority of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District under powers given to it by the state Legislature in 2009. A 1974 law, HB1041, allows counties to regulate projects with statewide impacts. “Why were we established?” board member Jane Rhodes asked in frustration.

“These tools on land use are tools we can use, and powers given to us by statutory right,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said, adding that the nearly broke district cannot afford its own legal counsel to protect that power.

Other Fountain Creek board members agreed and directed Executive Director Larry Small to relay their concerns to El Paso County commissioners at an Aug. 6 meeting. Even Dennis Hisey, an El Paso County commissioner, was taken aback by his board’s stance. “I don’t see how it would take our right away from this board,” he said, adding that although he directed the action, he was not among those who drafted language in the 1041.

Hart said Pueblo County has interpreted its own 1041 regulations as a layer of authority, not an absolute power. “I think our position is that any design still has to be approved by the district,” Small said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: Will Mayor Bach get on board with the pending El Paso County stormwater study?

July 27, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to fix Fountain Creek is anxious to see how Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach will react to findings of an El Paso County stormwater task force. The question was raised at Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District by Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart. “The district has a statutory function to tackle flood control,” Hart said. “We have a major role.”

While most of the participants in the stormwater task force are also represented on the Fountain Creek board, Pueblo County’s interests can be incorporated through the district.

But Hart questioned El Paso County and Colorado Springs representatives about Bach’s willingness to allow the stormwater study and funding recommendations to move forward. Bach balked at the task force findings in January that Colorado Springs has a backlog of $680 million in stormwater projects. He ordered up a separate study to verify those needs.

The task force is wrapping up phase II of its study and will issue another report in October. “Hopefully, when the report comes out, (Bach) will jump in,” said Gabe Ortega, Fountain mayor pro-tem, who chairs the Fountain Creek board. “The majority of the region is on-board and ready to move forward.”

Richard Skorman, a former Colorado Springs councilman who lost to Bach in the 2011 election, said the task force is sorting out the possibilities of how funds to address stormwater could be raised — through a fee based on area or sales tax, for instance — and has not reached a recommendation.

Whichever method of funding is chosen, a public vote is likely to be required, and officials are aiming for a 2014 election date.

“I think the mayor is willing to sit down and look at a regional meeting, but he’s not embracing the task force,” Skorman said.

Why it matters

Pueblo officials have sought protection from floods on Fountain Creek while Colorado Springs worked to expand its water system to accommodate the rapid growth that has occurred in the past four decades by providing redundancy in water supply and to meet the needs of future growth.

Having a stormwater enterprise in place was listed as a given in Colorado Springs Utilities permits for its $940 million Southern Delivery System.

Last week, Bach and City Council President Keith King told Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace that the city is not required to have an enterprise in place or fund stormwater projects at a specific level.

Pace disputed that, but Pueblo County commissioners would have to hold a formal hearing to determine if Colorado Springs has violated the conditions of its 1041 permit for SDS.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has asked the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for SDS because stormwater control has deteriorated since 2009, when Colorado Springs City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise, based on its interpretation of a municipal ballot question.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


The Pueblo County D.A. will appeal reversal of Judge Reyes’ order for a CWQCC redo for certification of SDS

July 26, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner will ask the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling on Fountain Creek.

Last week, a three-judge appellate panel overturned District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to redo its certification of Colorado Springs’ mitigation plan for Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River. The case was originally filed by former District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. “I think there are contradictions within the opinion about what Judge Reyes could and couldn’t do,” Chostner said Tuesday. “They were also wrong on the facts and in saying that he acted in a capricious way.”

One of the major criticisms in last week’s reversal of Reyes’ order was that he chose to adopt Thiebaut’s complaint almost in its entirety. “It’s not unusual for a judge to pick one side over the other,” Chostner said. A petition for a writ of certiorari will be filed with the Supreme Court by the Aug. 29 deadline, Chostner said.

John Barth, a Hygiene water attorney hired by Thiebaut, and Chostner’s staff will work on the appeal.

Reyes issued the order last year for the commission to re-evaluate its certification for Colorado Springs Utilities’ plan for mitigation of impacts from the Southern Delivery System on Fountain Creek and the reach of the Arkansas River from Pueblo Dam to Avondale.

Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition opposed the plan, mainly because it relies on an adaptive management program that was spawned in the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for SDS. The opponents argued for a numerical standard instead.

The state certification is necessary for Army Corps of Engineers’ approval to work in Fountain Creek under the federal Clean Water Act.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


‘They [Colorado Springs] disguise their intentions and do nothing’ — Jay Winner

July 24, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs leaders have told Pueblo County commissioners the city is not required to address specific stormwater projects or spend a set amount under its Southern Delivery System 1041 permit. It’s infuriated Commissioner Sal Pace, because the position apparently contradicts an June 6 letter in which Colorado Springs pledged to address the needs identified in the permitting process for SDS, a pipeline that will deliver water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County. “I don’t know if I’m more furious or confused,” Pace said. “All one has to do is read the SDS environmental impact statement and see that the stormwater enterprise is mentioned over and over. In the June 6 letter, they indicated they were committed to addressing their stormwater needs. Now, in one simple letter, the city has reversed all that.”

As a state lawmaker, Pace challenged the elimination of the stormwater enterprise and continues to question the decision as a commissioner.

Pueblo County commissioners are seeking a meeting with Colorado Springs officials to discuss SDS compliance, but no date has been set. Violations of the 1041 permit would have to be addressed at a formal compliance hearing, and are not subject to the individual opinions of commissioners. Apparently, Colorado Springs is taking the position that it is only required to pay $50 million to a Fountain Creek improvement district, spend $75 million on bolstering sewer lines and ensure that SDS does not increase flows under the county permit for its $940 million water supply project. “It is clear the 1041 permit itself does not require or adopt any specific list of capital projects that must be implemented to address Fountain Creek peak flows, run-off volumes or other flood hazards,” Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King wrote in a letter to Pace last week. ‘’Nor does the 1041 permit require a specific dollar amount to be allocated toward stormwater projects.”

Comments in March 2012 by City Attorney Chris Melcher that Colorado Springs should be spending at least $13 million annually on stormwater touched off a flurry of stormwater activity three years after council abolished the city’s stormwater enterprise.

An El Paso County task force identified $900 million in capital projects, $686 million in Colorado Springs. Bach launched an independent review of Colorado Springs’ share.

During that time, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District asked the Bureau of Reclamation to reopen its environmental analysis of SDS because it originally assumed the stormwater enterprise was in effect. Last week, the district released figures showing the city’s expenditures on stormwater dwindled to nearly nothing in 2012.

Colorado Springs is spending $46 million on stormwater projects this year, with more than half going toward dealing with impacts from the Waldo Canyon Fire.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The burden of meeting water quality standards will increasingly fall on farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley as a result of inaction on stormwater in Colorado Springs. “It’s outrageous that they do not want to take the responsibility for stormwater,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Pueblo and the Lower Ark district have tried to cooperate, but it seems that every­ The federal Food Modernization and Safety Act passed last year puts increased responsibility for water quality on farmers who irrigate and market raw food, Winner said. Lower Ark district studies show that water quality on Fountain Creek has continued to decline since Colorado Springs abolished its stormwater enterprise.

Winner was reacting to news reported in The Chieftain Tuesday that Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King say their city is not obligated to do any specific projects or fund stormwater at any certain levels under Pueblo County permits for the Southern Delivery System.

Bach and King made that clear in a letter to Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace last week.

That’s a slap in the face to Winner, who received assurances stormwater would be funded at Colorado Springs City Council meetings in 2005, when the stormwater enterprise was formed, and in 2009, when it was dissolved. But a recent analysis by the Lower Ark district shows funding dropped to almost nothing in 2012. It has increased to $46 million this year, largely because of concerns about funding levels for SDS permits raised by Colorado Springs attorney Chris Melcher last year and the after-effects of the Waldo Canyon Fire. “The enterprise was supposed to fund the backlog of projects,” Winner said. That backlog now is estimated to be $686 million, a figure Bach questions. “They disguise their intentions and do nothing.”

Winner said the stormwater enterprise was listed as reasonably foreseeable in the 2009 environmental impact statement for SDS by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It has to be in place before one drop of water moves through SDS,” Winner said.

Conversely, Reclamation says a stormwater enterprise in Colorado Springs or El Paso County is not reasonably foreseeable in its current evaluation of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. But Reclamation has not reopened the EIS for SDS, despite a Lower Ark request last year.

Winner also questions whether the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is weighted too heavily in favor of El Paso County. He is critical of the district for focusing on impacts of Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs rather than downstream impacts. The district was formed in part to satisfy how $50 million in payments from Colorado Springs to improve Fountain Creek would be handled under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS. The district played a role in the current discussion over stormwater in El Paso County, backing a study that showed Colorado Springs’ stormwater funding lagged far behind other Front Range communities.

However, Colorado Springs leadership has at times ignored the district. For six months in 2011 no representative from Colorado Springs attended Fountain Creek meetings, as reported in the Sept. 24, 2011, Pueblo Chieftain. “I don’t recall that Mayor Bach ever has attended a Fountain Creek board meeting,” Winner added.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Appeals court reverses Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes’ order regarding the SDS’s 401 permit

July 19, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Colorado appeals court Thursday reversed Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the state to re-evaluate its assessment of the impacts of the Southern Delivery System on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

Reyes issued an order on April 12, 2012, for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to reopen hearings on a 2011 Water Quality Act Section 401 permit for SDS. The permit is necessary for construction of the SDS pipeline across Fountain Creek because it is tied to Army Corps of Engineers permits.

Colorado Springs Utilities is building the $940 million pipeline, which will take water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County.

The state decision was challenged by former Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition.

They argued that a numerical water quality standard was needed rather than relying on an adaptive management program that the Bureau of Reclamation established as part of an environmental impact statement leading up to approval of SDS.

They also challenged the way public notices were made and said the state failed to look at the possibility of further degradation of Fountain Creek from population growth in Colorado Springs.

The appeals court opinion said the Water Quality Control Commission did not violate applicable water quality standards, reversing Reyes’ decision.

Judge Stephanie Dunn wrote the opinion, with Judges Nancy Lichtenstein and James Casebolt concurring.

The opinion criticizes Reyes for adopting most of the wording in his decision from the complaint filed by Thiebaut and the coalition, saying it is not the court’s role to reverse a state agency’s decision without more rigorous investigation.

“Where, as here, a district court adopts an order drafted by counsel, we scrutinize the order more critically,” Dunn wrote.

The opinion also said Reyes erred by citing Colorado Springs Utilities’ land condemnation cases in Pueblo West when writing his order. Reyes “made credibility determinations based on information outside the administrative record.”

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Amy Gillentine):

The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a Pueblo County judge’s ruling against a state water quality certification for the SDS project, which will bring water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, the biggest water project in decades for Colorado Springs Utilities. The multi-million project is well underway, with miles of pipeline already finished and construction started on water treatment plants The appeals court ruled that the state Water Quality Control Commission was correct in approving the SDS water quality certification, according to a press release from Colorado Springs Utilities.

The decision reverses Pueblo County District Court Judge Victor Reyes’ April 2012 ruling against the Water Quality Control Commissions’ unanimous decision approving the 401 water quality certification.

“We are pleased that the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled in support of the 401 water quality certification for SDS,” said John Fredell, SDS program director. “We always believed that the state Water Quality Control Division did a thorough and complete evaluation of SDS and correctly decided that it would meet State water quality standards. We are pleased that the Court of Appeals has recognized that. It is unfortunate that this matter had to be resolved in the courts, which is a costly process and one that goes against our approach of collaborating with other local governments and stakeholders.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Even before he took office, District Attorney Jeff Chostner realized he would have a decision to make on a case he inherited from Bill Thiebaut. Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes ruled in Thiebaut’s favor in April 2012 on a challenge to a Colorado Water Quality Control Commission decision to certify Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System, a pipeline to deliver water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County.

On Thursday, an appeals court overturned Reyes’ order, saying opponents failed to prove their case.

It’s unknown if there will be an appeal to the Supreme Court. “Jeff Chostner is not in his office today, so I have not even been able to talk to my client. I haven’t had time to carefully read the decision,” said John Barth, a Hygiene attorney. “We’re still reviewing the decision and evaluating our options.”

Those options include a petition for rehearing or calling for a writ of certiorari, which would ask to overturn the appeal decision.

Before he took office, Chostner told The Chieftain that an appeal is not automatic. “If it goes against Colorado Springs, I would certainly defend a successful case,” Chostner said in December. “If it goes against us, I would have to read the language of the opinion before making a decision.”

Colorado Springs Utilities officials were happy with the appeals court decision. “We are pleased that the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled in support of the 401 water quality certification for SDS,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director. “We always believed that the state Water Quality Control Division did a thorough and complete evaluation of SDS and correctly decided that it would meet state water quality standards.”

From the Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Colorado Springs Utilities has done all the necessary work to ensure that its Southern Delivery System does not wreck water quality in Fountain Creek, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. The ruling is a big win for the utilities’ $1 billion dollar pipeline project and creates “a clean path” for the project to continue, said Keith Riley, deputy program director for SDS. “It means we go forward as planned without adding additional mitigation,” Riley said.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

“Pleased” probably doesn’t even get close to the feeling of those at Colorado Springs Utilities, given a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling upholding the state’s approval of a certification for the Southern Delivery Pipeline water project. Nevertheless, that’s the word used in a news release by John Fredell, SDS program director, regarding the water quality permit issue. The ruling means a hurdle that has been cited by Pueblo County in correspondence with the Interior Department as a roadblock for SDS has been removed.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


It turns out the Colorado Springs did need a stormwater enterprise after all, Fountain Creek water quality has declined

July 18, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Stormwater flows, sedimentation and E. coli counts on Fountain Creek increased after Colorado Springs eliminated its stormwater enterprise in 2009. That’s not idle speculation, but an analysis provided by Colorado Springs to the Colorado Water Quality Control Division.

Preliminary results of the analysis were given to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday by Peter Nichols, the district’s water attorney. “At the same time, staffing and budgets have decreased, despite what they say their plans are,” Nichols told the board. “Funding has declined and bottomed out in 2012.”

Water quality data from Colorado Springs Utilities required by the state for the city’s stormwater permit from 2008-12 was used in the study by Nichols, a former director of the state water quality agency.

Flows on Fountain Creek increased from an average of 149 cubic feet per second in 2009 to 419 cfs in 2012 at Security, despite drier overall conditions in 2011-12. Similar increases were seen elsewhere in Colorado Springs.

At the same time, E. coli levels and sediment loads increased. Staffing for stormwater by Colorado Springs dropped from 47 in 2007, the first year of the stormwater enterprise to just 9 by 2012. Spending declined from $16.7 million in 2007 to just $1.8 million in 2012.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Mayor Steve Bach seems hellbent on forcing Colorado Springs Utilities to fund the city’s stormwater needs, and he’s made yet another maneuver that could harm the city’s $1 billion Southern Delivery System pipeline project from Pueblo Reservoir.

Bach and City Council President Keith King, who is against a tax increase for stormwater, wrote a letter last month to Pueblo County Commission Chairman Sal Pace saying that Utilities had promised years ago to spend $17.6 million annually on stormwater mitigation to secure a construction permit from Pueblo County. Written as a follow-up to a meeting Bach had with Pueblo County officials May 3, it states the city has made “excellent progress” on the stormwater issue.

The city this week confirmed that the letter’s $17.6 million claim is accurate. But according to records and sources, it’s not — which would represent the second time in less than a year that Bach’s administration has used inaccurate statements while trying to foist stormwater funding onto Utilities…

This time around, on June 6, Bach and King sent Pace a letter saying the city submitted a five-year funding and project-priority plan “as part of” the 1041 process. “Colorado Springs and CSU submitted a five year funding and project priority plan for our stormwater capital projects during the review of the 1041 permit,” the letter states. “This plan contemplated spending approximately $88 million over the court of five years, for an average of $17.6 million per year. We have attached a copy of that funding summary for your review.”

But the attached list of Stormwater Enterprise projects is dated January 2010, which is eight months after the 1041 permit was issued. In addition, no such list shows up in the filings made as part of the 1041 process. The permit itself mentions the Stormwater Enterprise, but fails to state dollar figures or outline projects tied to SDS. Instead, the permit says the city “shall maintain stormwater controls and other regulations intended to ensure that Fountain Creek peak flows resulting from new development served by the SDS project within the Fountain Creek basin are no greater than existing conditions.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, as SDS project manager John Fredell says in a statement: “The SDS permit requirements related to stormwater are intended to mitigate the actual impacts of the project, not pre-existing conditions.”[...]

Neither Bach nor King consulted Utilities before writing the June 6 letter, according to Utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel. King says the mayor’s office asked him to sign it, but he’s now “working with” Utilities officials “about an explanation of that particular letter, to make sure everything is copacetic on this.”

In response to a request for a comment from Bach, Melcher, the city attorney, writes the following via email: “The City confirmed that the June 6, 2013 letter to Pueblo County was accurate, and that early and later drafts of the attachment to that letter (a draft list of proposed Stormwater Projects, totaling $88 million) were communicated to Pueblo County by City and Stormwater Enterprise staff during the 1041 Permit process. The Mayor and City Council will continue to coordinate efforts to address Stormwater, and to communicate those efforts to our neighbors to the south in Pueblo County.”

It’s worth mentioning that Council, not Bach, has authority over Utilities.

Meanwhile Colorado Springs is hosting a public meeting about Fountain Creek Flooding in the wake of the Waldo Canyon Fire. Here’s a report from J. Adrian Stanley writing for the Colorado Springs Independent. Click through for the information for the meeting. Here’s an excerpt:

If you live along Fountain Creek, you’re probably worried about flash flooding. And you should be. The mud, water and debris that came roaring out of Williams Canyon on July 1 and claimed three homes, could have just as well come racing down Fountain Creek. And, in that scenario, who knows how many structures it would have claimed.

Where and when a flash flood happens is a matter of chance — it all depends on which area a storm decides to dump on, how much it rains, and how quickly the rain comes. Thus, the city of Colorado Springs is offering a meeting to help Fountain Creek residents prepare for the worst.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

For months now, the Stormwater Task Force has managed to be two things: (1) a group of interested citizens and government workers striving to fully identify the region’s stormwater problems and identify a funding solution, and (2) an enduring focal point for angst between El Paso County and Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach.

At a July 15 meeting of the Task Force, El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen said Springs City Attorney Chris Melcher had met with her weeks ago and stated unequivocally that the city would not work with the task force. But at the same meeting, task force member John Cassiani said he’d been talking with the executive department of the city and hoped that a meeting would be possible toward the end of the year.

Lathen said she hoped the meeting would happen, though she doubts it will. “The message that you just gave us is very different than the one we were given just a few weeks ago,” she told Cassiani.

Given that the area has as much as $906 million in stormwater capital needs, plus an estimated $11.5 million in annual stormwater maintenance needs, the ongoing political squabble is no small problem. The mayor believes that the city should solve its stormwater problems independently, and that the scope of the problems is exaggerated. He’s hired Englewood-based firm CH2M HILL to identify the city’s most pressing needs. It could report back as early as October.

Meanwhile, the Stormwater Task Force has been moving forward without the help of the city or its staff. At the July 15 meeting, leaders said they hoped to ask voters to fund a stormwater remedy in the fall 2014 election. What voters would be asked to approve is not yet clear — the task force has not decided whether to pursue a tax, or create a special enterprise that would charge a fee.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


CSU Pueblo Fountain Creek research update: Funding for Fountain Creek studies has all but evaporated

July 17, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Research on Fountain Creek could improve understanding in the scientific community of how selenium interacts with living tissues. Through five years of study of plants and fish tissue on Fountain Creek, Jim Carsella of the Colorado State University Aquatic Research Center has made an important discovery about the relationship of pH to selenium. “The bioaccumulation of selenium is highest in the spring, but the levels found in water are highest in the fall,” Carsella said. “That’s not what you’d expect to find.”

The reason appears to be related to higher pH levels when flows are lower in Fountain Creek, he said. Graphs show a strong correlation between selenium uptake in fish tissue and the concentration in the stream when the pH levels are in the neutral range. But when they increase toward base (as opposed to acidic) levels, the relationship is destroyed. “This has implications on a worldwide basis on how selenium affects levels in living tissues,” said Del Nimmo, a researcher with CSU-Pueblo.

It’s also important to ongoing water quality issues on Fountain Creek, which is listed as impaired for selenium by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. Selenium is an element that is necessary for life, but toxic in higher concentrations. Standards are based on the concentration of levels in fish and birds, as well as what is considered safe for humans.

Research by CSU-Pueblo also has shown an inverse relationship between selenium and mercury in fish tissue, meaning that as selenium increases, mercury decreases. There are high levels of mercury loading on Upper Fountain Creek — possibly from atmospheric sources or from former mining activity. Above Pueblo, selenium levels spike on Fountain Creek because of water flowing over layers of Pierre shale, believed to be the chief reason for higher selenium levels.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Colorado State University- Pueblo researchers are continuing to monitor Lake Pueblo, the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam and Fountain Creek as a result of concerns about water quality that began about a decade ago. “Those are the three areas where we are concentrating our efforts,” said Scott Herrmann, an aquatic biology professor who began monitoring the changes at Lake Pueblo before the dam was built.

Like water levels in the Arkansas River basin, the level of enthusiasm for the research being conducted at the university has seen high and low points, particularly over the past five years. “We have a lot of background data on fish and plant species on Fountain Creek, and in the future, we would be interested in repeating the studies,” Herrmann said.

While conditions have changed on the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek, there still is value in the research that has been done to date. “We’re sitting in the catbird’s seat when it comes to data prior to the (Waldo Canyon and Black Forest) fires,” said Del Nimmo, a biologist with the Aquatic Research Center at CSU-Pueblo. Samples taken shortly after the Waldo Canyon Fire have not been tested because of a lack of funding.

Funding for Fountain Creek studies has all but evaporated as government agencies have pulled back.

The previous studies were funded at first by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which cut off its support last year after putting more than $400,000 into university studies. The board asked the CSU-Pueblo team to get broader funding contributions last July when it declined to put more money into Fountain Creek.

Pueblo County commissioners have funded about $75,000 per year, while the city of Pueblo and Colorado Parks and Wildlife also have contributed.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works is continuing to fund water sampling in Lake Pueblo and at two points downstream of Pueblo Dam, primarily driven by concern about mussels. The research was helpful in the water board’s recent position on Chlorophyll A levels in Colorado Water Quality Control Commission hearings.

Samples of water taken from Lake Pueblo by Herrmann and Nimmo were used in the discovery of zebra and quagga mussel larvae in 2008, as well as follow-up studies. Most recently, those samples led to the discovery of new invasive species in Lake Pueblo.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


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