Stormwater measure picks up broad support as opponents point out flaws — The Colorado Springs Gazette #COpolitics

October 21, 2014
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

The campaign on stormwater has become a David vs. Goliath match in terms of spending and visible support.

Proponents of El Paso County Measure 1B, which would spend $40 million a year to plan, build and maintain drainage and flood control projects in four cities and portions of the county, have raised nearly $200,000 for their messaging, including television and radio commercials and billboards. The proposal has endorsements from the Regional Business Alliance, local construction and development companies, the Housing and Building Association and the Downtown Partnership.

“We are very pleased with the support we’ve gotten from the community,” said Kevin Walker, co-chairman of the regional stormwater task force that led the charge in developing the proposal. “It’s a lot of people who recognize there is a need to address this issue, and it’s past time to do that.”

The opposition is tougher to gauge. There is no splashy television campaign against 1B – just a handful of signs placed near the billboards. Douglas Bruce, the author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the man who coined the phrase “No Rain Tax” in 2008, has a website and has been handing out fliers at events and around downtown.

Bruce said the stormwater proposal is flawed because it attempts to catch up on an estimated $700 million in backlogged projects but does not require future development to pay for flood control. Further, he said, no price tags are attached to the 114 projects listed as part of the plan, and there’s no guarantee that the projects will be built or in which order.

“In my 50 years of being involved in political activity, I have never seen a worse ballot issue,” he said.

Voters in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and parts of El Paso County will be asked to create the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority, a governmental entity that would collect fees to pay for planning, building and maintaining flood control projects such as channels, detention ponds and curbs and gutters. The proposal would allow the authority to collect fees based on the size of a property and its impervious surface, meaning driveways, parking lots and rooftops.

This month, the El Paso County Commission approved a resolution of “advocacy” in favor of the stormwater proposal.

“This plan has gone through an arduous development process to make it the most responsible plan possible. Ultimately, the people will decide, but we have to stand up as elected officials to explain to them how big the stormwater problem has become and how important it is to our to public safety, to our roads and bridges, to the protection of private property and to economic development,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen, who was a member of the stormwater task force.

The key question organizers of the proposal have been asked is, “how much is this going to cost me?” The proposed ballot question says the average residential property owner would pay $7.70 per month – $92.40 per year on the residential property tax bill.

The problem with the proposal is that fees would apply to nonprofit agencies and schools, said Vince Rusinak, a retired Air Force civil engineer and member of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. He has been on the board of directors for nonprofit agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club and said that the proposed stormwater fees would take money from programs. A chart of estimated rates shows nonprofits could pay from $41.58 a year to $3,750 a year depending on the amount of impervious surface.

“That is a huge amount to those organizations,” Rusinak said.

It’s true that a stormwater fee would dip into program budgets for nonprofit organizations, said Dave Somers, executive director at the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. But the proposed fee structure, he said, is fair to nonprofit groups and schools and is lower than fees that would be imposed on commercial, industrial and government properties.

In an unprecedented move, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence weighed in on the election issue, giving the proposal its endorsement.

“With the last few years of floods, our board and staff and members recognized the importance of the community coming together in identifying a solution,” Somers said.

Organizers of the initiative believe the authority could collect about $40 million a year. Fifty-five percent of the money collected would be spent on capital projects and that portion of the fee would sunset after 20 years. However, 45 percent of the money, which would be used for administration, maintenance and emergency needs, would continue on until the authority retired it, organizers of the initiative said.

Mayor Steve Bach, who issued a proclamation in August detailing his opposition to the stormwater proposal, is uncomfortable with a never-ending portion of the fee. In his proclamation, he also said the authority could raise fees without voter approval.

Bach, who had been the most visible opponent of the proposal but recently stepped back from public comments on the issue, has said the proposal creates an unnecessary layer of government. Colorado Springs Councilwoman Helen Collins agrees. She said the city of Colorado Springs spent $46 million on stormwater projects in the past two years. An authority, she said, would shave 1 percent of the money collected off the top for administration costs.

Bruce, who finds himself aligned politically with Bach for the first time, applauded the mayor’s proclamation and added that if voters approve the stormwater fee, it will be attached to their annual property tax bill and a property owner could not refuse to pay it or the county would put a lien on their property.

“It’s on a property tax bill,” he said. “If you don’t pay the bill, it’s a threat to your home.”

Colorado Springs tried to solve its stormwater issue in 2008 when the City Council approved the creation of a Stormwater Enterprise – a property fee used to pay for drainage projects. The enterprise was phased out and ended by 2011 after voters approved the Bruce-sponsored Issue 300, and the enterprise was viewed as an illegal tax imposed without voter 
approval.

In August 2012, El Paso County commissioners and the council convened a summit to talk about flooding and drainage problems across the region and how to pay for them. The November ballot issue is modeled after the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, created in 2004 by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. The PPRTA collects a 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements.

In November, the stormwater task force commissioned the Washington, D.C.-based WPA opinion research firm to survey 400 registered voters – 80 percent in Colorado Springs and 20 percent elsewhere in El Paso County – to find out if flood control is on residents’ radar. Ninety-five percent of respondents said flood control is important, and two-thirds of those said it is very important. An additional 81 percent said there should be a dedicated funding source to pay for drainage projects.

Bruce said that same survey showed that 44 percent of the respondents agreed with the fee.

“Any ballot issue that starts out under 50 percent before the opposition even surfaces is doomed,” Bruce said. “Ballot-issue support always slides; it doesn’t rise.”

Walker said the 44 percent is the amount of survey respondents who said they would prefer a fee compared with a sales tax or a property tax. It was meant as a research question and not a ballot question, he said. Once the task force settled on a fee structure, it did not conduct another 
survey.

“We are optimistic that we can win,” Walker said. “But it’s not over until it’s over.”

More, from The Gazette:

5 things to know about 
Measure 1B

1. If the measure is approved, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and parts of El Paso County would form the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority. The governmental agency would have an 11-member board of directors made up of elected officials from each entity.

2. The authority would collect fees on all property. The fee is based on the amount of impervious surface – driveways, rooftops and parking lots.

3. The authority expects to collect about $40 million a year. Of that, 55 percent of the money would be used for a list of 114 projects identified as high priority for the region; 35 percent of the money would be used for maintenance and operations; and 10 percent would be set aside for emergencies. At the end of 20 years, the portion of the fee – 55 percent – used for capital projects would sunset. The rest of the fee would remain in place until the authority dissolved it.

4. Fees would be added to annual property tax bills. Unpaid property tax bills trigger a lien process.

5. For more information, go to http://PikesPeakStormwater.org or http://NoRainTax.net

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.


“If I have 24 hours of floodwater on the Colorado Canal, I’m going to take it. I need it” — Matt Heimerich

October 20, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to improve Fountain Creek last week made an appeal for those with water rights to get involved in the early stages of a study to build flood control structures.

“Water rights protection is something we should do before we get into any other aspect of flood control on Fountain Creek,” Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District told ditch company board members Friday.

Small spoke during the annual meeting of the winter water storage program, bringing experts in to talk about the issue of public safety vs. water rights.

“We’re not working in a vacuum,” said Mark Pifher, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the state Water Quality Control Commission.

Denver’s regional Urban Drainage Authority and the city of Aspen have raised questions with the Colorado Division of Water Resources over how floodwater detention rules work in the state, Pifher explained.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe has adopted policies that say that single-site developments can hold water for 72 hours, but that regional floodwater control projects must augment any water detained with equivalent releases under a substitute water supply plan. That same principle was applied to Fountain Creek when the city of Pueblo built a detention pond behind the North Side Walmart as part of a demonstration project. The city learned it needed an augmentation plan after the project was well underway. Urban Drainage and Aspen officials are not pleased with the policy and are looking at potential state legislation to force a change in that policy, Pifher said.

Short of a blanket change that would allow the 72-hour rule to apply, the Fountain Creek district wants to study whose rights would be affected by holding back a large flood.

A study by the U.S.

Geological Survey completed last year provided solid numbers about how much water dams or detention ponds would hold back at certain points on Fountain Creek. That in turn can be applied to the flows at the Avondale gauge on the Arkansas River, which is upstream from every major ditch except the Bessemer below Pueblo Dam.

Flood stage

After Pueblo Dam went into operation 40 years ago, it was determined that flood stage at Avondale was 6,000 cubic feet per second. Floods upstream of Pueblo Dam are contained by curtailing releases to that level.

The last time flood control protection from that type of event was in 1999. Flows on Fountain Creek are measured and Pueblo Dam can be cut back to prevent that flooding from affecting Avondale as well, said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer.

“You can have those huge flashy flows on Fountain Creek and find ways to cut back at Pueblo Dam to protect downstream communities,” Tyner said.

Reservoirs on Fountain Creek would have to perform differently, because there would not be Bureau of Reclamation staff on hand to open or shut release gates, he said.

Quenching all thirst

Several storm events that occurred in the past four years caused the Avondale gauge to top 6,000 cfs for several hours.

“Those spot events did not satisfy everyone’s needs downstream,” Tyner said.

That doesn’t matter if you’re a farmer.

“If I have 24 hours of floodwater on the Colorado Canal, I’m going to take it. I need it,” said Matt Heimerich of Crowley County.

“Those floods are the only way we get water in storage,” said Donny Hansen, president of the Holbrook Canal.

The direct rights downstream from Avondale and above John Martin Reservoir can be met with about 4,115 cfs, but storage rights on the canals total 3,631 cfs, he explained. Water rights below John Martin require another 1,534 cfs to be met.

So, all water rights below Avondale on the Arkansas River total about 9,282 cfs.

The 6,000 cfs at Avondale might be enough to satisfy all those rights, since the return flows of one ditch are reused downstream, a factor of about 1.5 times, he said.

But the envisioned dams on Fountain Creek are aimed at stopping monster 100-year floods — the type where heavy rain falls for several days. In the USGS study, a large dam or series of dams upstream of the Fountain Creek confluence would cut in half the peak flow of a 100-year flood — 44,000 cfs, or five times the amount of water needed to fulfill all downstream water rights.

The 100-year flood flow at Avondale, coincidentally, is 44,000 cfs, according to the USGS.

Moving ahead

The Fountain Creek district is not the only agency working at flood control in the Pueblo area. The Pueblo Conservancy District, in the headlines recently for its plan to rebuild the Arkansas River levee through Pueblo, also is responsible for the flood plain from Pueblo to the Otero County line.

“The high flows on Fountain Creek are a source of erosion that affects the land in our district down below,” said Bud O’Hara, a retired water engineer who is on the Pueblo Conservancy District board.

O’Hara showed graphs that point out about a dozen smaller events this year that created the potential for minor erosion events.

Farmers, on the other hand, generally like the erosion on Fountain Creek because it is part of the process that carries sediment downstream to help seal ditches. Many still grumble about the “clear water” that resulted from the construction of Pueblo Dam. In effect, it meant the erosive properties of the river were transferred downstream as more erosion occurred within ditch systems.

Abby Ortega, an engineer for Colorado Springs Utilities working with the Fountain Creek district, asked the farmers to provide suggestions for consultants to study the issue.

“We’re looking at how to build structures and not injure water rights,” she said. “We’re asking for your input.”

“I think the model we should use is the irrigation efficiency rules that was hosted by Dick Wolfe,” Heimerich responded. In that process, farmers and others affected by proposed rules guiding ditch improvements met for 18 months and were able to give immediate feedback. “It’s just too important not to do it right.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


How will CSU’s $50 million for Fountain Creek mitigation be spent?

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

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While the decision of how to spend $50 million for flood control on Fountain Creek to benefit Pueblo will be made by the parties directly involved, other input will be needed.

“Anyone who wants to come to the table and says, ‘We want to find out where money for these projects will be available,’ is welcome,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

Last week, Hart made a pitch to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District to begin planning now for the arrival of $50 million in payments from Colorado Springs Utilities after Southern Delivery System goes online in 2016. That money is seen as seed money for projects that could amount to $150 million or more identified in a corridor master plan. The money was negotiated by Pueblo County under its 1041 agreement with Utilities in 2009 for the construction of the SDS water supply pipeline through the county. It is to be used for flood control projects on Fountain Creek that benefit Pueblo County. When the district was established later in 2009, it became the recipient of the money.

“At a minimum, Pueblo County, CSU and the Fountain Creek district need to be involved, and they will have the final say,” Hart said.

But the city of Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also should have input about how the money will be used, Hart said.

The greatest potential damage from Fountain Creek flooding is within the city of Pueblo and in the communities of the Lower Ark Valley downstream from Fountain Creek.

“The Lower Ark District was instrumental in developing the corridor plan, and we definitely need the technical input from the city of Pueblo,” Hart said.

The corridor plan, a joint effort of Utilities and the Lower Ark district, identifies projects between Fountain and Pueblo that could cost several times the $50 million that was earmarked under the 1041 agreement. Pueblo already has participated in pilot projects to demonstrate flood control techniques.

In addition to technical assistance, Pueblo County’s attorneys will have to be involved to determine whether projects meet the conditions of the 1041 permit. This will be important to avoid the kinds of dispute that developed when the Lower Ark raised objections about how its contributions to the district were being spent.

“I see this new committee working in concert with the steering committee (Utilities, Lower Ark and the Fountain Creek District),” Hart said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Boulder unveils flood mitigation plans; Council not on board

October 1, 2014
Surfing Boulder Creek September 2013 via @lauras

Surfing Boulder Creek September 2013 via @lauras

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Erica Meltzer):

The leading version of the South Boulder Creek flood mitigation project would remove 893 homes in southeast Boulder from the 100-year floodplain, but it would also involve building a 23-foot berm through a recognized state natural area with endangered tall-grass prairie habitat.

That was a step too far for Boulder City Council members, and on Tuesday night, they asked the city’s flood engineers to take up discussions with the University of Colorado about using land the university owns for its future south campus instead.

The council heard an update Tuesday on the city’s flood mitigation efforts in the aftermath of 2013’s damaging floods. Boulder remains one of the cities at highest risk for flash flooding in Colorado.

The most likely flood scenarios — and the ones the city’s mitigation efforts are designed to limit — involve intense rainfall over a short period of time, not the days of sustained rain the city experienced last year.

Several council members asked what the city could do about flooding from groundwater, which caused 47 percent of the damage last year, either directly or indirectly in the form of sanitary sewer backups.

The city’s wastewater utility has developed plans to line older clay pipes to reduce groundwater infiltration during large rain events, but there’s no practical or legal way to lower the groundwater table, Jeff Arthur, director of public works for utilities, told the council…

But Arthur stressed that the flood scenarios modeled by the city’s engineers and reflected in floodplain maps are both more likely to occur than an event like the 1,000-year rain of 2013 and more likely to produce significant damage and loss of life.

The flooding in most of Boulder’s major drainageways in 2013 was the equivalent of a 10- to 25-year flood event. Only Twomile Canyon Creek experienced a greater than 100-year flood, while South Boulder Creek, Goose Creek and Fourmile Canyon Creek experienced 50- to 100-year flooding.

The city is in the planning stages of four flood mitigation efforts: Boulder Creek, Bear Canyon Creek, Gregory Canyon Creek and South Boulder Creek.

Mitigation planning efforts on Upper Goose and Twomile creeks, Skunk Creek, King’s Gulch and Bluebell Creek will start in 2016, after floodplain map revisions along those watersheds are complete.

Gregory Canyon will present significant challenges because so many homes are so close to the creek, and it will be impossible to do a mitigation plan that takes those homes out of the 100-year floodplain, short of simply removing the homes, engineers told the council. Instead, engineers are looking for ways to break up the channels to reduce the impact of flooding there.

The South Boulder Creek mitigation planning process has been underway for several years, and consultants and the city’s Water Resources Advisory Board had settled on a $46 million recommendation that would involve a major regional detention area south of U.S. 36 and smaller detention areas near Manhattan Middle School and on the Flatirons Golf Course.

Modeling of likely flood scenarios indicate a 100-year flood of South Boulder Creek would cause $215 million in damage. City Council members watched an animated simulation that showed much of southeast Boulder filling with water.

However, the large detention facility would have a significant impact on open space owned by the city that includes endangered tall grass prairie habitat, wetlands areas and a number of endangered and threatened plant and animal species.

The open space board officially objected to the plan as proposed, and the water resources board revised its position, recommending that the upstream and downstream pieces of the project be separated.

The two smaller detention areas could be built for $23 million with relatively few regulatory hurdles and would still take 294 dwelling units out of the floodplain…

Councilman George Karakehian said building the berm through open space was not politically feasible.

“I think that would be a tough one to get built in our community,” he said.

A revised version of the South Boulder Creek mitigation plan is expected to be presented to the City Council later this fall.

More Boulder Creek coverage here.


The Fountain Creek District launches series of meetings to iron out rights protection with flood mitigation

September 29, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The question of how flood control projects on Fountain Creek can be built without harming water rights will be taken up next month in the heart of farm country.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District will host the first of a series of meetings to discuss the issue during the winter water meeting set for Oct. 17 at Otero Junior College in La Junta.

The winter water meeting will be hosted by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and will bring together some of the largest ditch companies east of Pueblo.

The group determines how a court-decreed program that allows farmers to store water in Lake Pueblo or ditch company reservoirs outside the growing season will operate.

That’s similar to the issue at hand on Fountain Creek, where flood control dams have been proposed, primarily to protect property in Pueblo.

At the July meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, a grant that proposed to look at the feasibility of Fountain Creek dams was rejected out of hand because several farmers objected to altering water rights to accommodate the dams.

They argued that junior water rights would be injured by such storage.

The timed release of water at more useful times in programs such as the winter water program could actually enhance water rights, however. Some have said this is possible with flood control dams.

In fact, the Denver Urban Drainage District is attempting to work through the same issue, Executive Director Larry Small told the board.

“We need to make it clear we have no intention of harming anyone’s water rights,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

Several other meetings are planned by the Fountain Creek district to determine if flood control can be done in a way that keeps junior rights whole.

Meanwhile, the district is starting to prioritize spending prior to Colorado Springs’ $50 million payment as part of the Southern Delivery System. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

A district formed to improve Fountain Creek wants to start planning how it will use $50 million in funding that will begin arriving when the Southern Delivery System pipeline comes on line.

“We have to get an idea of what our priorities are before a dime arrives,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, a member of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board.

The $50 million will be paid to the district over five years by Colorado Springs Utilities as part of its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County. The money is for building flood control projects that primarily benefit Pueblo, such as a dam or series of dams.

SDS is projected to be fully permitted and online as soon as 2016, so the checks could begin coming in early 2017.

The district does not want to be put in a position of having to directly spend the money, but wants to use it to leverage funding from other sources.

“The projects identified so far exceed $100 million,” Hart said. “There could be even more as we branch out of the core area. We need to find the best ways to leverage other grants.”

Hart asked the board to form a committee specifically to look at how the money would be spent. It would include representatives from Pueblo County, the district and Utilities.

That conversation comes even as the district watches the progress of a stormwater vote in El Paso County this November and sets its budget for next year.

The vote will determine whether Colorado Springs and its neighbors will agree to fund stormwater improvements to the tune of $39 million annually beginning in 2016. That would satisfy other requirements of the 1041 agreement.

The district also is looking at whether its own budget could be paid with advance interest payments from Colorado Springs Utilities or if it’s time to pass the hat again among member governments.

At the meeting, Hart noted that the district is relying heavily on voluntary contributions and must start looking at its real operating costs if it is to become sustainable.

Finally, water quality is a concern and responsibility on Fountain Creek as well. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

While the focus lately has been on reining in water on Fountain Creek, the quality of that water is important too.

“We have a statutory duty to clean up the Fountain Creek watershed,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart Friday at the meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “There are significant problems that we still don’t know enough about.”

So the board caught up on the science of water quality from Del Nimmo and Scott Herrmann, who have spent years studying water quality on Fountain Creek, the Arkansas River and Lake Pueblo.

The three are interconnected, Nimmo explained.

“We have tremendous resources and they are all connected,” Nimmo said. “They are tied to the reservoir.”

Lesson 1: Invasive species in Lake Pueblo will have more opportunity to spread to Fountain Creek and reservoirs in Pueblo County when the Southern Delivery System pipeline is completed, Herrmann explained.

Lesson 2: Mercury has accumulated in the water and fish in the headwater areas of Fountain Creek and Monument Creek, where the scientists did not expect to find it. Nimmo’s theory is that emissions from power plants or from former smelters in both Pueblo and El Paso counties contributed to this, but that’s not been proved. He suggested the district think in terms of an “airshed” as well as a watershed.

Lesson 3: The researchers have baseline data about water quality prior to the large, destructive Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. They also collected samples of the charcoal-laden water after the first big rainfall following the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012.

“This study needs to be repeated about now, in the next year, to see what effect the fire had,” Herrmann said.

Nimmo and Herrmann have headed up numerous Fountain Creek studies at Colorado State University-Pueblo over the past decade. Herrmann has studied aquatic life in Lake Pueblo since its construction in the early 1970s. Nimmo was involved in other studies on the Upper Arkansas River near Leadville as well.

“We need to continue this type of study,” Hart said. “It should be a district project.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


@CityofSteamboat starts to revamp stormwater maintenance program without busting its budget — Steamboat Today

September 24, 2014

Here’s an excerpt.

A year after the city was grappling with the potentially enormous cost of improving its aging stormwater system, the city has started to revamp its stormwater maintenance program without busting its budget or assessing property owners a new fee to help cover the cost.

The city also is earning kudos as it starts to adopt the recommendations of a much-praised citizen task force that spent more than 500 volunteer hours analyzing the city’s storm water infrastructure.

“We’ve historically maintained maybe a dozen culverts per year, and typically we’re just chasing problems and complaints,” Kelly Heaney, the city’s new water resources manager, said last week as she briefed the council on the improvements. “This year with the additional resources we were able to maintain 45 culverts in less than two months.”

Steamboat City Council members liked what they heard.

The biggest changes the city has made this year include hiring Heaney, increasing the streets maintenance budget and adding two seasonal employees dedicated to drainage maintenance.

All of the stormwater improvements in 2014 cost $302,000 and included $47,000 for capital improvements, according to Public Works Director Chuck Anderson.

The total cost of the improvements this year was far less than some of the multi-million dollar options the city was presented with last year for improving its neglected stormwater system.

Early last year, a Minnesota consulting firm that was paid $180,000 to study the city’s stormwater infrastructure, which includes bridges, culverts and dams, called for the city to possibly spend more than $10 million in new capital projects to upgrade its stormwater system and help manage future flooding and problems associated with annual spring runoff.

Faced with the high cost, city officials at one point floated the idea of assessing a fee to property owners to help pay for the improvements.

Before that, city officials were bracing for recommendations carrying a price tag even higher than the $10 million.

The city assembled the stormwater task force to look over the master plan and make recommendations for how to implement and fund it.

While several other communities in Colorado have turned to new fees on property owners to pay for expensive upgrades, the task force here recommended against that option at this time.

Instead, they called on the city to add more money in the annual budget for personnel to more proactively maintain the system.

More stormwater coverage here.


Sean Cronin: “…as of August 28, 2014, 91% of the 44 damaged ditches are now back online” #COflood

September 15, 2014

Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President's Award Reception

Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President’s Award Reception


After the flood Mr. Cronin found himself in meeting after meeting from the early hours on September 12 thru the weekend and on and on for the next few months. Here’s what he told the folks at the Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President’s Award shindig this spring where he was named an Emerging Leader. Here’s part of the story of the flood from his point of view:

When asked back in January of 2014 to put something together for Coyote Gulch I responded “am really short on time, my calendar frees up in March”. Well spring came and went, summer was a blur and now it is a full year since the devastating floods of September 2013. To be honest, if I wrote something in January, I think it would have been a bit pessimistic, as often times the recovery efforts were all consuming and really challenged any sense of hope. Ironic that it was the workload of the flood recovery that prevented me from writing and it was the flood that taught me yet another lesson, let things ferment and breath; given time even dire situations will eventually show you an encouraging future.

In September 2013, St. Vrain Creek experienced a catastrophic flood event which uprooted roadways, severely eroded private property, ruined homes, dramatically changed the creek corridor, and significantly damaged or destroyed public and private raw water infrastructure. Because there were limited federal, state and local jurisdictions to modify the post-flood stream condition, it became clear to many that private/public partnerships and multi-agency cooperation was critical for a successful recovery.

During the early weeks of the September 2013 Flood recovery, repairs were occurring in some locations, though in other areas property owners were asking “who is going to fix this?” The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District immediately recognized that the property owners’ rights needed to be a top priority. However, the scale of the flooding disaster and the interconnectivity of a living steam and associated ecosystem presented some financial and interdependency challenges. For example, it was not a stretch to imagine that there would likely be instances of individual efforts to restore specific segments of the stream that would then create problems downstream.

To minimize recovery challenges and maximize limited resources, many agencies, including Boulder County, City of Longmont, Town of Lyons, and the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, promoted and implemented a strategy of collaboration. The collaboration along St. Vrain Creek started in the weeks following the flood and was quickly viewed by impacted citizens as safe, un-bureaucratic, nimble, and effective. In the months to follow, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) provided significant financial assistance to ditch companies, in addition to numerous agencies for the furtherance of collaboration. Today these collaborative efforts are now known as “Coalitions”, and one is occurring in each of the flood impacted tributaries of the South Platte River.

Through vision, leadership, hard work, multi-agency and nonprofit support, and Ditch Company and property owner persistence the recovery effort has far surpassed the expectations of many who stood in awe of the flood ravaged areas. For example, within the boundaries of St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District (DWR District 5) 44 of the 94 local ditches suffered damaged infrastructure from the flood at an estimated cost of $18.4M.

Through FEMA, CWCB, and grants administered by Northern Water, financial assistance was provided and as of August 28, 2014, 91% of the 44 damaged ditches are now back online, with 93% expected back online after 2014. Furthermore, many ditch companies recognized the need to rebuild their infrastructure with consideration given to the ecosystem and to design elements that would withstand future high-flow events. In the St. Vrain Creek alone, there are three new diversions that pre-flood were fish impediments, and are now fish passable, with an additional four diversions under consideration or design. Although the collaborative Coalitions didn’t lift a shovel, their collective expertise, continual internal and external communications, and identification of financial and technical resources played a key role in the recovery.

A full report and executive summary of the ditch infrastructure repairs, maps, and photos are available on the website of St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District (http://www.svlhwcd.org), under the “2013 Flood” tab.

One year later, the work is still not complete. Each of the Coalitions are actively working on producing their own watershed specific “Master Plans” that when complete will promote a holistic healthy riparian corridor and a stream system that will be better able to handle future floods, while preserving critical infrastructure, including that used for agricultural production. If successful, these Master Plans will be embraced by affected property owners, water rights owners, ditch companies, and government agencies.

As water mangers we are trained to manage around the extremes of drought and spring runoff. September 2013 reminded me that Mother Nature is letting us manage, but when she wants to change the rules, we are pretty much at her mercy. It is said that over time memories of disasters wane resulting in some people rebuilding in a manner that does not mitigate future disaster risk. Time will tell – for now I am hopeful that our professional water community learned from this disaster and those lessons can be passed on to future water managers.

For me, the events that transpired in September 2013 will shape my approach to water management. As I look back, I am confident the water system we rebuilt is reflective of our societal values and a wonderful legacy for future caretakers of our natural resources. Everyone involved in this recovery should be very proud to be in a profession that cares so deeply about “managing” a resource that provides for the incredible quality of life we all enjoy. I will just continue to be mindful who is really in charge.

Below is a gallery of then and now photos of the irrigation infrastructure along the St. Vrain River. Credit to the ditch companies.

Here’s a presentation from Boulder County: 2014-08-05_ByTheNumbers_FinalWithTalkingPoints

Finally, here’s a map of the river with the locations of enhanced fish passage noted.

More St. Vrain River coverage here


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