SDS construction reaches Colorado Springs ahead of schedule and under budget — The Colorado Springs Gazette

July 24, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

Huge pipes being tunneled underground near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue is the first big sign after almost two decades of work to increase the water available to the Colorado Springs area by a third…

Pipeline construction at the busy intersection is ahead of schedule, expected to be complete in September rather than November, said SDS spokesperson Janet Rummel…

A $125 million facility that will be able to process 50 million gallons of water a day, the treatment plant on the east side of Colorado Springs is halfway constructed, also ahead of schedule. Construction began in March 2013 and will be finished in fall of 2015. The plant is expected to put out drinking water in April 2016…

SDS construction is estimated to cost $847 million – $147 million less than the original estimation in 2009.

Rummel said money was saved by asking engineers to make designs that would be cost-effective without damaging drinking water quality, like keeping every part of the water treatment plant under the same roof instead of separate buildings.

This means SDS will cause less of a utilities rate increase for CSU customers than originally expected in 2009…

“This is the future of Colorado Springs,” said Jay Hardison, CSU water treatment plant project manager.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Lower Dolores study details native fish needs — The Dolores Star

July 24, 2014

From The Dolores Star (Jim Mimiaga):

A conceptual plan for aiding native fish on the Lower Dolores River was approved by the Dolores Water Conservancy District in June. The District has been negotiating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, Forest Service, and conservation groups on ways to improve native fish habitat below McPhee Dam. The result is the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Plan, focusing on three native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“The plan provides a more coordinated approach for improving native fish habitat, with a focus on additional monitoring,” said Amber Clark, with the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance.

After McPhee Dam was built, small spills, as well as non-spill years from 2001-2004, began reducing the quality and amount of habitat required to meet the needs of native fish. Spring releases from the dam are later in the season, which has reduced the chance for spawning and survival of native fish.

“Protecting the native fish species locally is important because the healthier they are, the less likely they will be seen by the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) agency as requiring protective status under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “Working to help these species keeps control of our river at a local level.”

The implementation plan presents known and preferred habitat conditions and lifecycles of native fish within six separate stretches of the river below McPhee dam, four of which are a focus of conservation: Dove Creek Pump Station to Pyramid (Reach 3), Pyramid to Big Gypsum Valley (Reach 4), Slickrock Canyon (Reach 5), and Bedrock to San Miguel confluence (Reach 6) Reach 3 (nine miles)

Roundtail Chub are most abundant in Reach 3 and have a relatively stable population there. Mature roundtail are smaller than in other Western Slope rivers, indicating they are adapting to low flows. Fish counts at the Dove Creek area counted 140 roundtail chub, the highest in 13 years.

Bluehead and flannelmouth suckers are present, but in low abundance. In 2013, eight bluehead and one flannelmouth were counted. Habitat is good for bluehead, a more cold tolerant fish.

Reach 4 (38 miles)

Disappointment enters the Dolores in this stretch, flushing sediment into the main channel.

All three native species are found in this stretch as well as problematic non-natives including the black bullhead and smallmouth bass, a voracious predator.

Studies show that populations shift toward non-native species during prolonged low-flow periods. In 2004, native species made up less than 50 percent of the fish caught. After a prolonged spill in 2005, 84 percent of the fish sampled were flannelmouth sucker or roundtail chubs. Because of silt buildup from Disappointment Creek, improving flows here would especially help native fish beat out non-natives.

In August 2013, flooding showed that Reach 4 below Disappointment caused unnatural silting, causing a significant fish kill.

A lack of water limits critical dilution effects, and there is an unnatural buildup of silt because of infrequent flushing flows. “During a flash flood event on Disappointment, the surge of debris-filled water flows into the Dolores River, but there is no water to help dilute the surge of silt-laden water,” said Jim White, a CPW fish biologist.

Monitoring native species at Big Gypsum will remain a priority as it appears that the population may be sensitive to low flow.

Flows are a big factor. In 2005, when there was a managed spill, biologists found 150 flannelmouth per hectare at the Big Gypsum site. While in 2004 when there was no spill, flannelmouth were counted at five fish per hectare.

In April 2013, a PIT-tag array was installed across the river just above the Disappointment Creek confluence. Fish are implanted with grain-size microchips and can be detected when they move. Only a few fish have been tagged in the lower Dolores, but more implants are planned. Data shows native fish move up and down the river. The cost of the PIT-tag array is about $75,000.

Slickrock Canyon (32 miles)

All three native fish species are found,but in low abundance. This canyon is difficult to survey, and can usually be floated if there is a spill from McPhee reservoir. The last survey was in 2007, but more are needed to determine if the stretch has rearing habitats for native fish. A relatively large number of small native fish was found near the mouth of Coyote Wash, suggesting tributaries play an important role for young fish.

Bedrock to the San Miguel River confluence (12 miles)

There are a lot of unknowns. It is highly affected by natural salt loading through the Paradox Valley. The salinity is a barrier for fish between the Dolores River below the San Miguel and Slickrock Canyon. A salinity injection well is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation here to mitigate the problem. Researchers want to ascertain the levels of salinity. A second PIT-tag array is considered near Bedrock to help figure out how fish move .

Spill management

Mimicking a natural hydrograph for native fish is one goal of the implementation plan.

McPhee stores most of the Dolores River spring runoff, and exports much of the storage to the Montezuma Valley of the San Juan River Basin. The result is a lack of spring flushing flows in the Lower Dolores to move sediment and create natural habitat.

When inflow into the reservoir exceeds capacity, the spill benefits boaters and the downstream fishery. However, a prolonged drought has limited spill years. The reservoir holds a fishery pool of 29,824 acre-feet allocated downstream throughout the year by CPW. Spill water doesn’t count against the fishery pool, but it is subject to shortages in dry years.

The report suggests ways to optimize the fish pool and spills for the benefit of native fish.

Thermal regime management sends water downstream earlier, in March and April rather than in May, to keep water cooler and delay the fish spawn until after the whitewater season.

Biologists have documented that when spill water is released in May, the low flows on the lower Dolores have heated up, cueing fish to spawn early.

“The fry and eggs are washed away in the whitewater, a hit on survival,” White said.

A model indicates that flow volumes of 125-200 cfs on May 1 may be necessary to keep water below 15C at the Dove Creek Pumps. More water downstream may keep water cool enough to delay spawning. A gauge at James Ranch will monitor conditions.

Flushing flows range from 400-800 cfs are important to prepare spawning areas and improve oxygenated flow around eggs.

Habitat flows ranging from 2,000 cfs to 3,400 cfs are necessary for resetting channel geometry, scouring pools, creating channels for fish nurseries. The Bureau of Reclamation urges increasing the fish pool to 36,500 acre-feet a year. A fund of $400,000 is earmarked for buying additional water, but none has been acquired using these funds.

“There has always been a desire for more water for the downstream fishery,” says Curtis, of DWCD. “Before there is a blanket grab for additional water, there needs to be a specific focus on how it will help, and those questions are being pursued.”

The goal of the Implementation Plan is to maintain, protect, and enhance the native fish populations in the Dolores River.

The area is susceptible to being overrun by small mouth bass and affords opportunity for their suppression by removing caught fish.

Managed spills scour the river bottom, and move sediment in ways that benefit native fish and their young.

Blueheads are rarely detected in this stretch.

Biologists see the problem as two-fold:

The Snaggletooth Rapid is in this stretch, making fish sampling a challenge, but regular fish monitoring is encouraged in the report.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: “It seems to me at some point there will be a balance between water rights and property rights” — Steve Witte

July 23, 2014
Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Would a dam on Fountain Creek make a difference in a situation such as last week’s drainage along the Arkansas River?

“It is something we need to talk about,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte said Monday, looking back at a wild ride of a week on the river. “It’s a discussion that needs to take place. It seems to me at some point there will be a balance between water rights and property rights.”

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable earlier this month turned away a grant request from the Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District to study the practical effects of building a dam or system of detention ponds on Fountain Creek.

Chief among objections: the damage to junior water rights. By changing the peak flow on Fountain Creek floods — delaying the time it takes water to reach points downstream — junior water rights might not come into priority.

On the other hand, the peak flows that came crashing off the prairie into already full canals caused three of them to blow out after storms early last week.

“We already have an example, Pueblo Dam, of how we can reduce flood damage,” Witte said. “On the South Platte, they already are using upstream, out-of-priority storage. They use the water where it exists and determines who gets it later.”

Answering the basic question of whether those types of programs might work on Fountain Creek — the largest single tributary to the Arkansas River in Colorado — needs to be explored. Otherwise the only option to catch floodwater below Lake Pueblo is John Martin Reservoir, Witte said.

“I hope they’ll come back with a revised request,” he said.

One of the problems with last week’s storms is that much of the water was flowing in from unmeasured creeks and gullies. There are no gauges on Chico Creek or Kramer Creek, both a few miles east of Pueblo. Chico Creek boosts flows past the Avondale gauge, but no one can be sure just how much is being contributed to the river. The break in the Colorado Canal was caused by heavy flows on Kramer Creek near Nepesta.

“We were just flying blind,” said Witte, who witnessed the flooding at Nepesta.

The water from several tributaries hit the Arkansas River at the same time, creating “waves” that peaked quickly and then subsided. Some falsely high readings caused unnecessary worries downstream, where no major flooding occurred.

While the system of satellite river gauges has grown in the past 25 years, and provide easy access to information on the Internet, some malfunctioned during last week’s storms. Division of Water Resources staff scrambled to find out what was happening.

“I think we’ve improved, but there is still an element of human judgment,” Witte said. “We need to have people on the ground to verify if our gauges are accurate.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


2014 Colorado November election: El Paso County voters to decide on stormwater enterprise? #COpolitics

July 21, 2014
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

The Pikes Peak Stormwater Task Force is trying to explain its stormwater prevention proposal so the public will understand why they might be asked to pay $10 a month.

The task force, a citizen’s group of engineers, business leaders, community activists and elected city and county officials formed in 2012, has been hosting a series of public meetings to explain its proposal and ask for public opinion. A December poll commissioned by the Task force found that 95 percent of El Paso County residents think stormwater is a significant problem, but there isn’t the same consensus on who should pay to address the problem.

It’s a complicated topic, but the task force says its solution makes sense. Here are the key points the task force has covered in its public meetings:

How serious is the stormwater issue?

Right now, the Colorado Springs area’s stormwater infrastructure would flunk out of class. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Colorado Springs’s stormwater infrastructure a D-minus on its 2012 report card.

Stormwater runoff is rain and melted snow that flows over impervious surfaces – like parking lots, rooftops, driveways – and doesn’t get absorbed into the ground. It causes streets, bridges, houses and businesses to flood and damages water quality by washing debris down gutters and streets into storm drains.

Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) has spent an estimated $100 million since 2000 rebuilding crumbling infrastructure near creeks that have been destroyed by runoff during floods, estimated Carol Baker, CSU stormwater engineer. Other utilities providers, businesses and homeowners also pay to repair stormwater damage.

People who live next to the banks of Fountain Creek have lost property as water levels raised, said Rachel Beck, the task force’s media contact. Water flows into the street, yards and driveways in neighborhoods that don’t have proper storm drains.

Colorado Springs is the only major city on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that does not have a stormwater management program, Beck said.

What’s the task force’s solution?

The task force wants to construct protection against stormwater runoff in the Fountain Creek watershed and the city of Falcon. Its proposal would create a regional authority – a board of 13 people who are already elected officials – that would make sure those projects happen.

There would be seven representatives from Colorado Springs, mostly city council members and either the mayor or the mayor’s chosen representative, two representatives from the El Paso County Commissioners, representatives from Manitou Springs, Fountain and Monument, and a shared representative for Green Mountain Falls and Palmer Lake.

An independent engineering firm created the project list to prioritize the most-needed projects. The list is public, meaning elected officials would be held accountable for getting projects done on time.

How would the projects be paid for?

The board would charge a fee on property owners based on how much impervious surface is on a property. The money would be collected monthly for the next 20 years and cost about the same as in other Front Range communities. For the average homeowner, this would cost $10 a month, said Dave Munger, task force co-chair.

A fee rather than a tax must be imposed because governments and nonprofits are tax-exempt but contribute significant impervious surface that contribute to stormwater runoff.

All of the money collected from this fee would be designated for stormwater prevention and management. Nine percent of the fee collected would be saved in case of emergency and 1 percent would fund administration.

Other projects recognized as high priority for Colorado Springs, like streets, parks, public safety buildings or information technology, could not be funded using money collected from this proposed fee.

Is this fair?

The proposal includes a system of checks and balances to make sure no one city is favored over another.

Colorado Springs would have more people on the board than other cities, but that’s because the city has 70.7 percent of the affected citizens and 70 percent of impervious surfaces, Beck said. Regardless, Colorado Springs could not make decisions without collaborating with other representatives, Munger said.

To pass a vote, the council requires a supermajority. Two-thirds of the board members, including at least four representatives from Colorado Springs, a representative from the County Commissioners, and representatives from the small communities, have to agree for a vote to count.

Additionally, money collected in each community would fund the projects in that community over a five-year rolling average.

Financial benefits

Good stormwater infrastructure is good for the economy, Beck said. According to an analysis by University of Colorado at Colorado Springs economics professors, the proposed stormwater infrastructure construction would create 360 jobs with annual labor income of $16.3 million, add $21 million to the local economy and increase gross domestic product by $50.1 million, all in the first year.

Today, the task force’s necessary capital improvements would cost $706 million. If the proposed projects had been started 25 years ago, the cost would have been a third of that, according to the UCCS economics analysis.

“If we keep delaying this, the price tag is going to continue to go up,” Beck said.

Playing politics

The next step is politics. The task force plans to have a ballot question by the end of August and to ask the El Paso County Commissioners to refer the proposal to the Nov. 4 ballot. Only the cities that would participate in the program would vote on the measure.The Colorado Springs City Council will discuss the task force’s proposal at its Monday work session. The council will consider supporting the proposal, but the proposal would still need voter approval. Mayor Steve Bach opposes the regional plan in favor of one that only deals with Colorado Springs. Other cities in the county, such as Manitou Springs, have not decided whether or not they will support the task force. And with one final meeting on Wednesday to get their point out to the public, the Task Force is quickly running out of time to get the stormwater issue on the November ballot.

Colorado Springs would be the first area in the country that the general public has voted on a stormwater management program, Beck said. She said city councils have taken care of it everywhere else.


The Lower Ark District alleges misallocation of Fountain Creek funds

July 20, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A feud between two water districts over how Fountain Creek grant money is being spent deepened this week. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Monday mailed letters to state and federal agencies claiming that the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District “illegally spent or committed” funds that were used as matching funds for grants.

Fountain Creek District Director Larry Small denied there is any wrongdoing.

“We have a record of all decisions and those making these charges were a part of the decision,” Small said. “Maybe they need their memories refreshed.”

Lower Ark board members said the money from their district and Colorado Springs Utilities, more than $450,000, is supposed to be used in the Fountain Creek corridor — defined in statute as the area in the flood plain south of Fountain and north of Pueblo.

Additionally, any money applied under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit toward Colorado Springs’ $50 million obligation for flood control must benefit Pueblo.

But grants for fire mitigation studies on Upper Fountain Creek and for trails in the Colorado Springs area have been pressed by the Fountain Creek district without proper consultation, the Lower Ark board said.

“It continues to anger me that these people in El Paso County continue to believe that the state line ends at southern El Paso County,” said Anthony Nunez, a former Pueblo County commissioner who represents Pueblo County on the Lower Ark board.

On Wednesday, he and other board members were fuming that Small had canceled a meeting in Rocky Ford to discuss the issues.

Small had notified the Lower Ark and other participants in the district by email that the July 25 meeting would be in Fountain, rather than Rocky Ford as planned at last month’s meeting.

The state statute does not allow meetings outside Fountain Creek district boundaries, which includes Pueblo and El Paso counties, Small explained.

That infuriated Nunez, who complained that the Upper Fountain grant includes Woodland Park, which is in Teller County.

Contacted after the meeting, Small said Woodland Park is paying its own way in that grant, and agreed with the Lower Ark board that no Fountain Creek district money can be spent outside its boundaries.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Fountain Creek: “Is there a way to balance the needs of flood control and water rights?” — Larry Small

July 11, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Overshadowing the need to look at the technical details of a study for a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek is how it would be funded. As of this week, the study has been battered about with all the care of an uprooted tree bobbing in the water. Other water issues may be getting snagged on it.

In May, Colorado Springs City Council stonewalled funding the study.

This week, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable couldn’t get past the issue of water rights and shrugged off consideration of a state grant for $135,000 that would have been part of a $220,000, 2-year study to look at the consequences of a dam and the feasibility of building it.

Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, was frustrated after the meeting. Small walked the roundtable through the years of studies that led up to the conclusion that the best way to protect Pueblo from stormwater runoff in Colorado Springs — much of it made worse by development in the last 40 years — is to stop the water upstream of Pueblo.

“Is there a way to balance the needs of flood control and water rights or do we just throw up our hands?” Small said at one point during the meeting. “It may not be possible, but we need to find out.”

After the meeting, he was clearly frustrated.

“This is such a small part of the overall costs,” he said, slapping his hand against a folder of supporting information for the study.

During the meeting, several roundtable members made the point that junior agricultural water rights could be harmed during a flood.

The Fountain Creek district has attempted to deal with that in the past, including a comprehensive workshop on the topic, attended by some farmers, in December 2011.

Some saw value in looking at the water rights question just to determine if the rest of the study could proceed.

“This at least gets the conversation on the table,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

In the end, the water rights question became a deal stopper.

There also are side issues that play into the question, such as a simmering feud between the Fountain Creek and Lower Ark districts about how matching money for grants has been applied under an intergovernmental agreement among the districts and Colorado Springs.

“I would encourage the IGA partners to come together soon and resolve their differences,” said Alan Hamel, the basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Hamel was one of the few roundtable members who spoke in favor of the grant.

“I think this is a wakeup call for the Fountain Creek district,” Winner said. “You don’t just sit up in Fountain and pretend to rule the world. The district needs to realize it’s in the water business.”

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.


Chatfield Reallocation Project: “This a premier state park, and it’s going to have the heart knocked right out of it” — Polly Reetz

July 10, 2014
Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Joe Vaccarelli):

The Army Corps of Engineers has approved an expansion of Chatfield Reservoir that will also bring some infrastructure improvements to the park, but patrons shouldn’t expect to see work done any time soon. According to Army Corps of Engineers project manager Gwyn Jarrett, it could be three to four years before work is underway and two to three years after that before it’s complete.

The project was approved in late May and has been in discussion since the mid-1990s. The expansion will add 20,600 acre feet of water capacity — which could raise water levels in the reservoir by 12 feet — for joint use, flood control and water conservation. The $183 million project will help supply water providers in the metro area and across the Front Range as population and demand increases.

“This project will meet a portion of the expected demand in Colorado,” Jarrett said. “It’s not going to solve the problem, but it will help with the growing population.”

Once construction does start, most of the work will be done in the off-season, but people can expect that certain portions of the park could be closed at times. Part of the construction will include improving some of the amenities at the park such as new recreation buildings, picnic tables, beach areas and bathhouses.

“A lot of amenities date back to the mid-to-late 1970s when the project was constructed,” Jarrett said.

Chatfield State Park manager Scott Roush said the park doesn’t have to do much to get ready for the construction, but his staff will be involved with the design process when that kicks off, possibly this fall.

Part of that discussion will include the marina, which may have to move because of the rising water levels.

Public feedback had not been all positive, as some organizations feel that this project will damage some environmental aspects of the park.

The plan will flood more than 500 acres of the park and inundate some cottonwood trees near the reservoir, destroying habitat for several species of birds.

“We initially thought at first that (the project) was fairly benign, but we didn’t know that it will do massive environmental damage on one of the largest parks in the metro area,” said Polly Reetz, conservation chairperson for the Audubon Society of Greater Denver.

Reetz had other problems with the plan, saying that increasing the capacity of the reservoir doesn’t guarantee more water. She was also displeased that the state passed legislation to permit loans to water providers in order to pay for the project.

Roush said that while they will lose some trees, some would be relocated to other parts of the park.

“There’s been a lot of feedback about the cottonwood trees. We’re going to lose some trees; they will come back eventually,” he said.

But Reetz said there is no guarantee that the trees will come back and she was surprised the corps went with the proposal, saying it was the most harmful environmentally.

“It’s a really bad deal for the public,” Reetz said. “This a premier state park, and it’s going to have the heart knocked right out of it.”

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


Give your input on regional stormwater management. Starting 7/1, a regional task force will hold public meetings

June 30, 2014

Reducing the Impact of Stormwater Challenges — Nancy Stoner

June 29, 2014

aspen
From the Environmental Protection Agency (Nancy Stoner):

Stormwater pollution is a dilemma all across the country – even in beautiful mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado. Pollutants such as oils, fertilizer, and sediment from the steep mountains that tower over the town, can be carried via stormwater and snowmelt and deposited into waterways like the Roaring Fork River. This has a huge impact on the ecosystem.

Last month, I toured the Jennie Adair wetlands, a bio-engineered detention area designed to passively treat stormwater runoff in Aspen. I saw firsthand how the city is working to deal with its stormwater challenges. Before this project, stormwater did not drain to a water treatment facility. It used to flow directly into the Roaring Fork River and other water bodies within the city limits, having significant impacts on the water quality.

To reduce this impact, Aspen designed a passive stormwater treatment facility that also serves as an attractive and natural looking feature in a beautiful park that is dedicated to the memory of John Denver. The innovative and beautiful design uses boulders and large rocks that were naturally present on site, to shape the channel that carries runoff from the roads and from a vault into the detention pond where sediment and other pollutants settle out. On the other side of the pond, the water comes out crystal clear and drains right into the Roaring Fork River.

I was impressed by the use of green infrastructure to improve water quality and that they made such a beautiful public park out of it and did so voluntarily. This is a town that is dedicated to clean water. The people of Aspen should be proud.

Green infrastructure, similar to what is being built in Aspen and many other cities across the country, can be a cost-effective approach for improving water quality and can help communities to stretch their infrastructure investments further. Green infrastructure reduces and treats the water at its source, often delaying the time it takes to clear the structure. Therefore green infrastructure often reduces flooding within the area the project is constructed.

Since 2007, the EPA has supported the idea of green infrastructure to control storm events. The Agency has formulated strategic agendas, built community partnerships, and provided technical assistance to many communities seeking to implement green infrastructure practices.

Aspen has shown us that with a little innovation we can reduce our impact on the environment while enhancing its beauty.

More stormwater coverage here.


Mesa County wants explanation of stormwater charges billed by the Grand Valley Drainage District

June 27, 2014

stormwateroutlet

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Emily Shockley):

A $13,250 bill to Mesa County from the Grand Valley Drainage District will go unpaid for now as county personnel seek an explanation for the charge.

The district’s board of directors decided in April to begin charging the county, the town of Palisade and the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita a monthly fee starting in June for using the district’s equipment by allowing water that drains off local government-owned buildings, streets, roads, alleys and other land to spill into the district drainage system rather than building and using their own storm water drains.

The fee may be impossible to enforce, though, according to Acting Mesa County Attorney David Frankel.

A letter Frankel drafted to Mesa County commissioners explains that the district can assess taxes and fees, but not on exempt properties. The county is exempt from taxation on real property under state statute. Frankel added that he does not believe county roadways can be charged the same way as property is by the district and, since it would take taxpayer money to pay the bill, Frankel added the fee may violate Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights prohibitions against creating or raising taxes without voter approval.

“I think we have some strong arguments against this charge,” Frankel told commissioners Monday during a discussion of the bill’s validity.

Drainage istrict staff wrote in a rationale for the “urban storm water fee” that local government bodies are unwilling to fund engineering studies to determine how the district can handle an influx of runoff from urban land, including roadways.

The board decided to charge local government entities to raise money for water quality monitoring, operating and maintenance costs in urban parts of the valley, and to study regulations associated with non-agricultural water, among other costs.

The district plans to charge the county $13,250 per month, the city of Grand Junction $11,911 per month, the city of Fruita $4,278 per month and the town of Palisade $354 per month.

Fruita and Grand Junction have notified the district that they do not plan to pay the fee. Palisade Town Administrator Rich Sales said Monday that he plans to discuss the bill with town trustees to decide what to do.

County commissioners on Monday directed Frankel and Julie Constan, an engineer with the Mesa County Public Works Department, to draft a letter to the district asking why it believes it has the authority to bill local governments and how the district determined how much to charge each entity.

District documents show the rate for each entity is based on square footage of “impervious areas” those entities are responsible for, but does not specify which land and roadways are involved in the calculation or whether all of those roads and properties touch parts of the drainage system.

Drainage District Manager Kevin Williams did not return a call for comment Monday afternoon [June 23].

More stormwater coverage here.


Southern Delivery System update: $359 million spent so far, >44 miles of pipe in the ground

June 23, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Tunneling under Fountain Creek is proving more difficult than expected for the Southern Delivery System. Some pipeline near Pueblo Dam has been laid in solid rock. And the temporary irrigation system to provide water for native vegetation over the pipeline scar through Pueblo County contains 50 miles of pipe (main line and laterals) and 15,000 sprinkler heads. Those were some of the highlights of a progress report by Mark Pifher, SDS permit manager, to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday.

“The tunneling project was more difficult than we thought,” Pifher said. The work was being done just over the El Paso County line from the west side of Interstate 25, with a tunnel-boring machine 85 feet below ground.

Because of the difficulty, a second borer from the east side one mile away is being used.

“They had better meet in the middle,” Pifher joked.

More than 44 miles of the 50 miles of 66-inchdiameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs has been installed; a treatment plant and three pump stations are under construction; and a Fountain Creek improvement project has nearly been completed, he said. All of the pipeline in Pueblo County has been installed, and revegetation has begun on 323 acres that were disturbed in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches. The irrigation system is so large that it has to run in round-the-clock cycles seven days a week, Pifher noted.

“It’s apparently the largest sprinkler system in the state,” he said.

Another 484 acres has been planted with native seed in El Paso County.

As of March, $359 million has been spent on SDS, with $209 million going to El Paso County firms, $65 million to Pueblo County companies, $900,000 to Fremont County contractors and $84 million to businesses in other parts of Colorado.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Colorado Springs: North Douglas Creek detention designed to keep stormwater out of neighborhoods

June 19, 2014

pikespeak

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

Tim Mitros, the stormwater manager for the City of Colorado Springs, showed off the latest flood mitigation project Wednesday, unveiling a large sediment detention basin along North Douglas Creek that should keep tons of water, mud and bigger debris from invading residential areas.

The basin will hold about 25,000 cubic yards of sediment and can be cleaned out after each torrential storm, Mitros said. The new pond replaces a series of five smaller basins that filled quickly in early September 2013 after torrential rains pounded the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar and the rest of the Front Range from El Paso County to the Wyoming border.

“It was supposed to be a 10-year fix,” Mitros said, noting that the city was surprised at how quickly the smaller basins filled and knew it had to come up with a Plan-B.

Now when water and debris come raging down North Douglas Creek the large pond should stop most of the flow. And an “alluvial fan” below the basin will likely slow the water and spread out the rest of the torrent before it reaches the city’s storm sewers, Mitros said.

Mitros and Flying W Ranch Foundation executive director Aaron Winter are relieved that the project has been completed before the 2014 monsoon season and potential heavy thunderstorms hit the burn scar. Storms in early July, mid-August and September of 2013 threatened North Douglas Creek and left Manitou Springs cleaning up after flash floods poured over U.S. Highway 24, out of Williams Canyon, destroyed multiple homes and flooded businesses along Manitou Avenue.

“There is a lot of debris that is staging in the upper parts of North Douglas Creek,” Mitros said. “We expect in larger storms that the debris will start to flush out.”

According to the city official, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 cubic yards of mud and debris are sitting along the creek less than a mile above the new detention basin. He said it took just about 60,000 cubic yards to fill the five smaller ponds.

Winter said the work that the city has done, as well as other projects by volunteers with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, have helped reassure the foundation that its neighbors to the east will be protected.

“Knowing that this basin is in place to protect the homes downstream is a big weight off our shoulders,” he said.

More stormwater coverage here.


The Lower Ark questions distribution of Fountain Creek funds

June 19, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Money targeted for Fountain Creek projects to benefit Pueblo County is being spent in El Paso County out of compliance with an intergovernmental agreement, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District charged Wednesday. The Lower Ark board instructed its attorney to send letters to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District threatening legal action, and to agencies where the money has been used for matching funds.

The money was contributed to the district under an IGA that includes the Lower Ark district and Colorado Springs Utilities. The IGA says a steering committee of representatives from all three groups will meet to advise the Fountain Creek board how to spend the money.

The money came from the Lower Ark district and Utilities with the understanding that there would be a balance of projects in El Paso and Pueblo counties. Since Utilities’ share is being deducted from its payment under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, all of the projects should benefit Pueblo County, said Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner.

“We fought for that money and it is to be used in Pueblo County,” said Anthony Nunez, a former Pueblo County commissioner who sits on the Lower Ark board. “It always seems Pueblo comes out on the short end with El Paso County. . . . It’s blatantly illegal what they’re doing.”

Some of the money has gone for grants to build trails or to fire-damaged areas in El Paso County, projects which Winner claims have no benefit to Pueblo County.

The steering committee has not met for more than a year, but the Fountain Creek district has designated $98,000 in matching funds for five grant requests since then, and at its May meeting redirected $25,000 from a grant that was denied to a dam study that is poised to move forward.

That’s illegal, because the IGA requires steering committee approval, Winner said.

The board voted to have attorney Peter Nichols write to the Fountain Creek district and the agencies, which awarded grants based on what it considers misappropriated matching funds.

“We’re the only policing agency for this malfunction,” added Reeves Brown, another Pueblo County member of the Lower Ark board.

Mark Pifher, permit manager for SDS, was at the meeting and argued that the dam study grant now being considered would entirely benefit Pueblo. He also made the point that Pueblo representatives sit on the Fountain Creek board that approved the grants.

Winner said that doesn’t matter because the IGA specifically instructs the district to move any expenditures through the steering committee first.

“I think Colorado Springs Utilities should be as outraged about this as we are,” Winner told Pifher. “I question whether the district is just a vehicle for Colorado Springs to avoid paying the $50 million it owes to Pueblo County.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


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

June 18, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Regional stormwater task force hits a snag — The Colorado Springs Gazette

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

Flooding in Colorado Springs June 6, 2012

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Members of a regional stormwater task force have been hopeful that the towns of Monument, Palmer Lake, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Fountain would join El Paso County and Colorado Springs to form a regional stormwater authority that would collect fees and plan for stormwater projects together, but the Town of Monument is not sold on the idea, its mayor said Monday.

“The biggest objection I have is we do not care for adding another layer of bureaucracy on top of everything we do,” said Mayor Rafael Dominguez. “We have a water fund, as part of a mill levy, and some of that money goes to stormwater.”

Monument, north of Colorado Springs, has a population of about 5,700. Dominguez estimates stormwater needs are about $10 million. Those projects could get lost in the hundreds of millions of dollars in projects needed throughout the Fountain Creek Watershed, a 927-square mile area bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs.

“One of the biggest things that stood out in this plan is that an emergency in another municipality will become an emergency in Monument,” he said. “We don’t want to get bogged down with other problems – Manitou Springs, God bless them, they got issues.”

Palmer Lake also might bow out of a regional stormwater effort, while Fountain and Manitou Springs officials say they still must review the plan and intergovernmental agreements before signing off…

Task force leaders say if voters approve a stormwater fee in November, the estimated $50 million collected annually would be in addition to what cities and the county already spend on stormwater projects. Each entity would get what it put in over a five-year rolling average, organizers have said.

Green Mountain Falls and Palmer Lake mayors could not be reached Monday for comment.

Manitou Springs already has a stormwater enterprise fee and collects about $280,000 a year, said Mayor Marc Snyder. He wants to ensure that if Manitou Springs joins a regional group that his town, where flooding was disastrous last year, would receive at least what it already spends…

Fountain does not collect a stormwater fee, said Mayor Gabriel Ortega. The town had discussed creating a stormwater enterprise fee but first wanted to wait for the regional task force plan…

Munger said a stormwater authority could be formed with fewer than the original seven entities. The intergovernmental agreements would allow any of the neighboring towns to join any time, he said.

More stormwater coverage here.


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

June 3, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Fountain Creek: There is still a ton of flood debris to manage from last September’s #COflood

May 26, 2014
Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Fountain Creek is littered with logs, uprooted cottonwoods and debris from high flows in September. All aimed at Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley. In fact, many are in Pueblo right now.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday came to the realization that debris from the September downpour has not been removed from the creek, raising the possibility of increased damage if flooding occurs this year.

Unlike 2013, this summer could be wet. The Climate Prediction Center is calling for more moisture in Colorado; that could mean rain over large areas near Colorado Springs and the Black Forest that burned last year.

“Trees are staged everywhere,” said John Chavez, stormwater coordinator for El Paso County.

Removing the trees is expensive and there isn’t much money to do it. El Paso County is eligible for federal flood relief money, while Pueblo County is not.

Richard Skorman, a member of the Fountain Creek board, said people may not realize the danger that still exists.

“There was so much effort right after the fire,” he said.

Pueblo Councilwoman Eva Montoya, who chairs the Fountain Creek board, acknowledged there still are large trees in the Fountain Creek channel through Pueblo that could clog things during a big downpour.

Larry Small, the executive director of the district, said he observed many downed trees as well as erosion along Fountain Creek in northern Pueblo County.

Last month, he directed the Colorado Department of Transportation to remove trees it had stacked just downstream of the bridge at Fountain. The state has been slowly removing the trees.

“I think it’s important for people to realize the communities are working together, because this affects everybody,” she said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Paying for stormwater drainage is a conundrum in the Grand Valley

May 19, 2014
Colorado River via Wikipedia

Colorado River via Wikipedia

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The Grand Valley Drainage District will send out the first of regular monthly invoices to Mesa County and the three Grand Valley municipalities for its services in collecting water off untaxed government facilities. District officials say they’re concerned that they face liability for the water that runs off streets, government buildings and parking lots and other impervious surfaces that collect in the drainage system they operate. The district has taken several steps to reduce financial woes that officials detailed to Mesa County and municipal officials last year. District Chairman Mark Harris said it’s clear that the district is short of the revenue needed to deal with day-to-day activities and insulate itself from liability for the kinds of waters that end up in the ditches and pipelines the district operates.

Waters such as those that flow off the impervious surfaces of government facilities fit into a category different from that of the agricultural runoff the district was designed to collect nearly a century ago. What are now called “regulated,” as opposed to agricultural, waters flow into the district’s system, which covers lands from Palisade to Loma north of the Colorado River. The pressure to treat regulated waters differently than agricultural runoff is growing, Harris said.

“People who tell us not to worry about water quality are just not paying attention,” Harris said.

The district collects a mill levy of 1.245, but government entities don’t pay property taxes.

So, the district will send invoices next month to Mesa County, $13,250.40; Grand Junction, $11,910.80; Fruita, $4,277.60; and Palisade, $354.29.

“It’s not in the budget,” Mesa County Commission Chairman John Justman said.

“I don’t know if we can pay it.”

Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney said Fruita disagrees with the assessment.

“Their approach doesn’t make any sense,” Kinney said, noting in a memo to the City Council that, “The district must be crazy.”

By the same logic, Kinney noted in the memo, Fruita could charge the district for the use of those same impervious surfaces, such as roads.

The Grand Junction City Council is to discuss the district at a future meeting, the city said.

In no small part, the invoices are intended to get the attention of the local governments and bring them to the bargaining table, Harris said.

The county and cities should “pay their fair share of the cost of conveying and managing the regulated urban storm waters they produce.”

More stormwater coverage here.


Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s “Urban Waters Bike Tour” recap

May 17, 2014


It was a grand time the other day cycling along the South Platte and hearing about current projects, operations, hopes and plans.

The tour was from the Confluence of Clear Creek and the South Platte River to Confluence Park where Cherry Creek joins the river.

Along the way we heard about Clear Creek, water quality in the South Platte Basin, infrastructure investments, and education programs.

A recurring theme was the effort to reach out to a younger generation through the school system.

Darren Mollendor explained that the program he honchos attempts to get the students to connect to their neighborhood parks. This includes an understanding of pollution, pollution abatement, and habitat improvement. He invited us all to go camping at Cherry Creek Reservoir when students from the upper and lower Cherry Creek watershed get together later this summer.

Michael Bouchard (Denver Parks and Recreation) detailed planned improvements along the river through Denver. Most of the new facilities will also have an education focus, including native flora at some locations.

Metro Wastewater is one of the largest clean water utilities in the nation, according to Steve Rogowski. The Metro District is directing a huge investment to comply with tougher treatment standards.

At the Burlington Ditch diversion Gray Samenfink explained operations under the ditch. The ditch is a supply for Barr Lake, other reservoirs, and direct irrigators. Several municipalities also take water off the ditch. The new diversion and flood control structure replaced the old dam at the location.

Caitlin Coleman (Colorado Foundation for Water Education) was tasked with keeping the tour on track. That was no easy task. When you get young and older, students, water resources folks, educators, conservationists, scientists, attorneys, engineers, and ditch riders together there’s going to be a lot of stuff to talk about.

Click here to go to the CFWE website. Become a member while you are there. That way you’ll know about these cool events in advance so you won’t miss the fun.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.


The Southern Delivery System has been a long time coming

May 12, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

Here’s part one of an in-depth look at the Southern Delivery System from John Hazlehurst writing for the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Contending that the denial [of Homestake II] had been arbitrary and capricious, the two cities [Aurora and Colorado Springs] appealed the decision to the courts. In a comprehensive description of the city’s water system and possible future sources of supply given to City Council in 1991, CSU managers said that “extensive litigation is expected to continue.”

Denied by the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court, the cities appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

City officials were stunned. They couldn’t believe that a coalition of Western Slope “enviros” and ski towns had prevented them from developing water to which the city had an undisputed right. They had believed the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1990 decision to scuttle Denver’s proposed Two Forks Dam near Deckers on the South Platte River was an outlier, not a sign of things to come…

Slow to recognize that mountain communities now had the power to kill their water development plans, Utilities officials looked at another alternative. Instead of taking water directly from the wilderness area, the city proposed to build a dam on the mainstem of the Arkansas at Elephant Rock, a few miles upstream of Buena Vista.

A grassroots rebellion against the project was soon evident, as hand-lettered signs appeared along U.S. Highway 24, which parallels the Arkansas. The signs carried a simple message: “Don’t Let Colorado Springs Dam this River!”

It soon became clear that Chaffee County commissioners would not issue a construction permit for any such project, dooming it before the first planning documents were created…

If trans-mountain diversions or dams on the Arkansas were no longer feasible, that left a single alternative for developing the city’s water rights. CSU would have to let its water flow down to Pueblo Reservoir, construct a diversion structure on the dam, and pump it uphill to Colorado Springs.

It would be, water managers believed, the easiest project to build and permit.

“It was just a pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom, who has worked 35 years for Utilities. “What could go wrong?”[...]

“We didn’t really understand the importance of partnering with and involving the public in decision-making,” said [Gary Bostrom], “until the Southern Water Project.”[...]

The plan for the Southern Delivery System was presented to City Council in 1992. Among the material submitted to councilmembers was a comprehensive description of the city’s existing water system. Water managers made sure Council was aware of the importance of the task before them.

“The massive scope of this project,” CSU staff noted, “requires a very long lead time to allow for complexities of numerous permitting processes, land acquisition, litigation, design, financing and construction.”

Of all the variables, CSU managers and elected officials gave the least weight to those that may have been the most significant…

“We weren’t worried about hydrology,” said Bostrom. “The years between 1980 and 2000 were some of the wettest years on record. The water was there for the taking. Shortages on the Colorado weren’t part of the discussion.

“We knew about the Colorado River Water Compact of 1922 (which allocated Colorado River water between Mexico and the upper and lower basin states), but it wasn’t something we worried about.”

Then as now, 70 percent of the city’s water supply came from the Colorado River. SDS would tap the city’s rights on the Arkansas, diversifying the portfolio.

“We have to plan for growth,” said Bostrom. “That’s what history tells us. We know that it will be expensive, but the cost of not building a system well in advance of need would be much greater. People complained about the cost of the Blue River (trans-mountain diversion) project in the 1950s, but we wouldn’t have a city without it — we wouldn’t have the Air Force Academy.”

But even as the project moved slowly forward, the comfortable assumptions of a wet, prosperous future began to unravel.

“Exactly 15 years ago today (April 29, 1999),” said Bostrom, “we were in the middle of a flood — remember? We didn’t know it, but that was the day the drought began.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Blue River “State of the River” meeting recap #ColoradoRiver

May 10, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

About 80 people — water managers, weather experts, government officials and interested community members — attended the event hosted by the Colorado River District at the Community Center in Frisco Tuesday, May 6. Discussion revolved around snowpack, runoff, flooding and the state water plan…

[Joanna Hopkins, board president of Blue River Watershed Group] spoke about the group’s restoration project of Ten Mile Creek, impacted by decades of mining, railroads, highways and development, and presented before and after photos of the work. The group will now focus attention on restoration of the Upper Swan River Watershed, where dredge boats in the early 20th century mined for 2 miles and the group and its partners will work to turn the river “right side up.”[...]

[Troy Wineland, water commissioner for the Blue River basin] pointed to a graph and asked the audience to consider this year’s snowpack levels. “What does that surplus, that bonus, that cream on the top, what does that mean to you?” he said. Better rafting, some said. Fishing. Full reservoirs…

Bob Steger, water resources engineer with Denver Water, discussed Dillon Reservoir operations. The utility’s main priorities for the reservoir are maintaining its water supply and reducing flood risk, he said, but it also considers boating, rafting, kayaking, fishing, endangered fish and its upcoming construction project.

The utility began lowering the reservoir level in late February, just like in other high-snowpack years, he said. Going forward, the reservoir will start filling in mid-May or June, depending on whether the spring is wet or dry.

The Roberts Tunnel, which brings water from Dillon to Denver, won’t be turned on until mid-June or July, he said, and the utility will replace the large gates that control outflow to the Blue River likely sometime between August and October…

Ron Thomasson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who oversees Green Mountain Reservoir operations, said he expects to fill that reservoir in mid-July.

He talked about how more runoff will improve habitat for four endangered fish species in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River and showed his “obligatory snowpack graph.” Then he presented spaghetti plots to explain that when experts say “most probable scenario” what they really mean is, “It’s actually no more probable than any other scenario. It just happens to be in the middle.”[...]

explained the rare conditions that combined to cause record-breaking flooding in the Boulder area in September. Then he switched to the “crazy winter that you just lived through” in Summit and what to expect in the six- to eight-week runoff season produced by seven months of snow.

He joked about the polar vortex, a phenomenon that’s been around forever but didn’t make the media until this winter, and he showed more spaghetti plots saying, “Those averages are beautiful. They give us something to think about. They never happen.”

Those excited about a surplus should remember the rest of the state is experiencing drought conditions. “You fared well,” he said. “It’s not always going to work that way, so please be grateful.”

Then he asked for volunteers to help collect real-time precipitation data with rain gauges for http://cocorahs.org.

Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable that represents Summit and five other counties, emphasized problems with low levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and focused on the state water plan, which the roundtable is helping to create.

Of the 14 states in the West, Colorado is one of four without a water plan. The other three are Washington, Oregon and Arizona…

“Transmountain diversion should be the last tool out of the box,” he said. “Conservation and reuse needs to be hit hard.”

If a new transmountain diversion must be constructed, it should be done along the lines of the recent agreement between West Slope stakeholders and Denver Water.

One audience member asked why reducing population growth wasn’t one of the considered solutions. Most of the projected growth “is us having children,” Pokrandt said. “It’s the elephant in the room, but it’s the one that you really can’t touch.”

He said in some parts of the Front Range, the untouchable issue is green grass.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Hope for Howard Fork water quality? CDRMS is looking at acid mine drainage mitigation again. #ColoradoRiver

May 4, 2014
Howard Fork via The Trust for Land Restoration

Howard Fork via RestorationTrust.org

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

… the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety is beginning the process of trying to stabilize the mine near Ophir and improve the water quality of streams in the area. The DRMS project aims to see if there is a way to stop water from flowing through the mine, which will also help improve the water quality of Howard Fork, which flows into the San Miguel River. The project is being overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been investigating the water quality and taking samples from the Iron Springs Mining District for a couple of years, according to EPA Site Assessment Manager Jean Wyatt.

“It’s in part to understand the baseline conditions for water quality and understand if something can be done to stop the mine water from passing through the workings of the mine,” Wyatt said. “There are elevated levels of zinc and iron coming out of that mine … We want to understand what the conditions are and who could contribute resources or expertise to increase the quality of the watershed in general.”

DRMS is seeking bids from contractors to reopen the portal and stabilize and rehabilitate portions of the underground workings of the Carbonero Mine. The project will also include the construction of a platform at the portal, construction of water management structures near Ophir Pass Road below the site and re-grading and reclamation of certain areas.

“That’s the goal: to stabilize the mine and enter and see what, if anything, can be done,” said Bruce Stover, director of the DRMS Inactive Mine Reclamation Progam. “This isn’t a final remediation by any means. This is just part of an ongoing investigation.”

Glenn Pauls is the landowner of the site. In the 1980s, Pauls acquired many of the mining claims in the area — he estimates about 1,100 acres in roughly 100 claims at one point — with the intention of making a trade with the Forest Service at some point. His goal, he said is to preserve the Ophir Pass Road and keep it open for Jeep traffic. Pauls said he would like to create a hydroelectricity project at the Carbonero Mine site, once the water quality studies are complete.

“The idea is that we open it up and find out if the water coming in the back end is clean,” he said. “I can’t touch the water until someone gives me the OK.”

A mandatory pre-bid meeting for interested contractors is planned for the site on Ophir Pass Road about a half-mile east of Ophir at 10:30 a.m. June 11. The submission deadline for bids is June 24. For more information about the project, contact Kristin Miranda at the Department of Natural Resources/Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety at 303-866-3567 ext. 8133 or kristin.miranda@state.co.us.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


Pueblo County approves funding for Fountain Creek District, CO Supreme Court will not hear county lawsuit

April 29, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A plan to fund a study of either a dam or series of detention ponds on Fountain Creek is now in the hands of Colorado Springs City Council. Pueblo County commissioners Monday approved prepayment of $291,000 in interest payments by Colorado Springs Utilities to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. Part of that, about $60,000, would fund the next phase of a dam study on Fountain Creek. Last week, the district narrowed that effort to compare either a dam or series of detention ponds to reduce the impact of Fountain Creek floods on Pueblo. The money would be an advance payment on $50 million Utilities pledged to pay the district for Fountain Creek dam studies under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County for its Southern Delivery System.

Colorado Springs already has prepaid $600,000 of that to the Fountain Creek district. If it agrees to pay another $291,000, Pueblo County will deduct that amount from the $50 million as well, under the resolution passed Monday.

“CSU staff was recommending not paying (the interest), because they said, ‘We don’t see what we’re getting,’ ” said Terry Hart, chairman of the commissioners. “We see an enormous benefit to the district in converting this drainage ditch into an amenity that everyone, including Colorado Springs, can enjoy.”

Utilities is controlled by the Colorado Springs City Council, however. Last week, Hart received assurances from Colorado Springs Councilman Val Snider that the payment would be examined.

“I’m astonished they have to ask what’s in it for them,” added Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “It’s imperative that they work with us.”

Utilities wanted to add language to the county’s resolution indicating it was in good standing when it came to the 1041 permit. The commissioners balked at that, and made it clear in the resolution that 1041 compliance is a separate issue. The board also put in a clause that requires the Fountain Creek District to provide an annual report of how the money is spent.

“Colorado Springs hasn’t always been a good neighbor to us,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. “I’m hopeful the $50 million will be enough to leverage hundreds of millions needed to build flood detention storage.”

Meanwhile Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner is weighing his legal options in his water quality challenge to CSU’s 1041 permit from the county. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner is looking at legal options, including a possible federal lawsuit, after the state Supreme Court rejected his petition to reconsider water quality rulings for the Southern Delivery System. The Colorado Supreme Court Monday refused to reconsider an appeals court’s decision to overturn Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to redo its assessment of SDS on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

Chostner and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition wanted the high court to uphold Reyes’ 2012 ruling, which was reversed by a three-judge panel last July.

“I’m very disappointed in the outcome of the suit and we’re weighing our legal options,” Chostner said shortly after learning of the Supreme Court decision.

“Colorado Springs Utilities believed all along in the state’s approval of the SDS water quality certification and are pleased that today’s Supreme Court decision finally brings this issue to closure,” said John Fredell, SDS program director.

The original complaint was made by former DA Bill Thiebaut, and Reyes agreed with him that the state water quality board should have held Colorado Springs Utilities to a numerical standard, rather than relying on an adaptive management program.

The state ignored its own standards in approving a water quality certification for SDS, Reyes said.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

Monday’s Supreme Court denial of the petition means the Colorado Court of Appeals July ruling stands and Colorado Springs Utilities can complete its work on the pipeline as planned.

“We believed all along in the state’s approval of the SDS water quality certification and are pleased that today’s Supreme Court decision finally brings this issue to closure,” said John Fredell, SDS program manager.

In July, the Colorado Court of Appeals said Colorado Springs Utilities had done all the necessary work to ensure that SDS would not wreck water quality in Fountain Creek. The court had reversed a Pueblo County judge’s ruling against a state water quality certification for Colorado Springs’ SDS pipeline project. The Water Quality Commission gave the SDS its stamp of approval after more than a year of study. The commission’s approval was challenged by former Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environment and Labor Coalition.

However, the appellate court cited a number of reports and analyses and found that all the proper tests were completed and that there was substantial evidence that showed SDS will not violate water quality standards in Fountain Creek.

In August, Chostner requested that the Colorado Supreme Court review the appeals court decision.

“Obviously I am very, very disappointed with it,” Chostner said of the Supreme Court denial. “We are taking a look at our legal options as to how we can respond to it.”

SDS has been embroiled in controversy, piles of federal, state and local regulations and litigation for years. The project was launched to bring more water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security Water District and Pueblo West for future population growth. The first stretch of pipe was built in 2010 and the pipeline is expected to be completed by 2016. Utilities officials say the estimated cost of the phase 1 of the project – 53 miles of pipeline, three pump stations and a new water treatment plant capable of delivering up to 50 million gallons of water per day – is $841 million, about $150 million less than projected.

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

The Colorado Supreme Court denied an appeal today by the Pueblo County District Attorney that sought to derail Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System. The decision clears the last major potential roadblock for the $898 million pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, which is already well under construction.

Pueblo County alleged that the state’s approval of permits for the project didn’t adequately consider water quality issues. Pueblo has long fought SDS, claiming that the return flow from the pipeline along Fountain Creek will exacerbate stormwater and water quality issues.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Stormwater fee for El Paso County?

April 27, 2014
Fountain Creek during monsoon July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek during monsoon July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

New polling shows voter support for a stormwater fee in El Paso County, and even more as voters become educated about the need. The fee is important to Pueblo County because it could raise $1 billion over the next 20 years to reduce the impacts of floods on Fountain Creek. Last November, 50 percent in El Paso County opposed the fee, while 44 percent were in favor. In March, 53 percent favored the fee, with only 35 percent opposed, said Dave Munger, co-chairman of a citizens task force on stormwater control.

“We’re very encouraged by that, especially because we have not gotten an educational program going,” Munger told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday.

The polling showed that by building certain provisions into the proposal, support could increase to more than 60 percent as the task force moves to convince El Paso County commissioners to put a stormwater proposal on the November ballot.

If the average homeowner paid $9 per month, the fee would raise $50 million per year in the Pikes Peak region. That’s three times the amount generated by a stormwater fee sunk by the Colorado Springs City Council in 2009.

That money would address projects envisioned in earlier stormwater studies as well as new concerns caused by the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, Munger said.

The proposal would limit the administrative fee to just 1 percent — about $500,000 per year. It also would return the money to communities proportionately and include a 20-year sunset period for capital projects. A 13-member board weighted toward Colorado Springs would develop a master plan that would prioritize projects.

While the money would be redistributed on a pro rata basis, it still could be used for retention ponds or dams as envisioned by the Fountain Creek board.

“This will make El Paso County’s stormwater control efforts greater than it has ever been before,” Munger said.

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart asked Munger to explain why the Fountain Creek district could not administer the plan.

“What I would like to know is if you see a role for the district,” Hart said. “A lot has gone into forming this district, including trying to navigate the politics and differences between the two counties.”

Munger replied that the proposal is built on agreements that would be signed by Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument and Palmer Lake.

“We’re focused on getting voter approval,” he said.

Once the stormwater authority is formed, it could contract with the Fountain Creek district for projects. It might also accept new members, including Pueblo County, city of Pueblo and Teller County areas within the watershed.

“I don’t know why we couldn’t take advantage of this structure,” Munger said.

Recent estimates show a backlog of $740 million in El Paso County stormwater projects, but more could develop. At the end of 20 years, voters could be asked to renew the fee, Munger said.

More stormwater coverage here.


Fountain Creek: The Fountain Creek District hopes to have a flood mitigation design in hand soon

April 26, 2014
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):

A district formed to fix Fountain Creek is moving ahead with a road map to build flood control dams between Fountain and Pueblo. The entire process could take 3-12 years to complete, with the type of structures chosen and the availability of money the determining factors.

On Friday, Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, broke down the process into bite-sized pieces for the board, which was formed five years ago by the state Legislature to resolve Fountain Creek differences between Pueblo and El Paso counties.

Phase 1 would be to compare three alternatives that were modeled in a U.S. Geo­logical Survey study completed this year. It would cost $60,000 and take up to a year to complete. Those include a large dam, a series of about 10 smaller dams or several midsize dams that would capture about the same amount of water.

“Maybe building fewer and bigger dams may be better than 10 small dams,” Small said.

Small said other alternatives in the USGS study either provided only local protection on other parts of Fountain Creek, or no protection at all to Pueblo in the event of a large flood. The study would corroborate past studies and identify — but not solve — issues with each of the alternatives. It would also use the USGS study to provide a visualization of floods of varying intensity, Small said.

The next phase would then compare the options by looking at engineering, easements, permits, costbenefit analysis and other factors.

“We want to be in a position that will allow us to begin building when the money becomes available,” Small said.

That money will start coming when Colorado Springs begins payment of the bulk of $50 million that it agreed to pay the district under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System. The funding for the study would come from prepayment of nearly $300,000 in interest on the $50 million under the terms of the 1041 permit.

Pueblo County Commissioners and Colorado Springs still are negotiating the details of the prepayment, said Commission Chairman Terry Hart.

“What we’re trying to do is pave the way for the money, so the project can move forward,” Hart said.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.


The Animas River Stakeholders Group, et. al., offer $45,000 prize in search for solutions to pollution

April 24, 2014
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

From The Durango Herald (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister):

Last week, the regular meeting of the Animas River Stakeholders Group took on the feeling of a jolly, if intellectually fraught, Nobel Prize committee debate.

Scientists, government employees and mining officials huddled around a long table in the cold basement of the Miners Union Hospital grading innovative, sometimes preposterous proposals for addressing metal removal from mine drainage.

The ideas came from InnoCentive, a Boston firm that has hundreds of thousands of individual problem-solvers eager to take on challenges in chemistry, food production, business, engineering, information technology and the life sciences.

As part of the competition, the stakeholders described the environmental calamity in the Upper Animas Basin and offered $45,000 to the top problem-solver. (They raised the prize money from 12 organizations, including the International Network for Acid Prevention, Freeport-McMorRan Copper and Gold, Sunnyside Gold Corp., National Mining Corp., Goldcorp, New Mexico Coal and Trout Unlimited.)

As water quality in the Animas River has deteriorated over the last seven years, there has been insufficient money to build and operate a limestone water-treatment plant, which would cost $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million to operate annually. Stakeholders are hoping that one brilliant solution could at least bring down the sticker price of river cleanup. (In the absence of an answer, the town is re-evaluating whether it should seek Superfund status.)

InnoCentive’s problem-solvers submitted online more than 50 proposals, with some more far-fetched than others, involving everything from absorption through plants, salting out metals, magnets, artificial river settling, cement, yeast, eggshell lime, plasma, brown coal, algae and Voraxial filtration…

As the stakeholders moved through the ideas, poring over a spreadsheet that had different stakeholders’ assessments of the schemes, expert opinion diverged many times.

While Kirsten Brown of the Colorado Division of Mining and Safety and Steve Fearn, mining specialist and co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, liked one proposal that involved removing heavy metals with magnets, Peter Butler thought “scaling and clogging would be an issue.”

Butler, co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, was more supportive of another proposal, artificial river settling, writing, “Could be an effective alternative to settling ponds. Separates metals somewhat.”[...]

They hope to choose the winner by May. When the winning idea might be implemented is unknown.

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

Meanwhile there was a meeting Wednesday in Silverton to discuss potential Superfund designation to bring in federal dough and expertise. Here’s a prequel from Chase Olivarius-Mcallister writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has tried to designate parts of Silverton a Superfund site. Yet for years, many locals have considered the word “Superfund” dirtier than Cement Creek…

A series of abandoned mines in the Upper Animas Basin has been spewing toxic metals into the local water system for more than 20 years. Scientists say it’s the largest untreated mine drainage in the state, and problematic concentrations of zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead, manganese and aluminum are choking off the Upper Animas River’s ecosystem.

La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said Silverton’s environmental calamity is “huge, affecting so many jurisdictions and communities. But it has felt like we were sort of at a stalemate.”

Lachelt said San Juan County commissioners now are leading the issue, not ignoring it.

“The La Plata County commissioners stand by the San Juan County commissioners in seeking out all of this information and seeking a rapid solution to this long-lingering problem,” she said. “I don’t think there’s one single reason it’s taken so long, and we’re certainly not there yet. But I think we’re seeing a lot of folks come together and realize we really don’t want to lose any more species of fish. We can’t afford to, and we have to act.”

‘Objections worn thin’

Since last summer, political pressure to find a solution in Silverton has escalated.

Rob Robinson, who used to represent the Bureau of Land Management within the Animas River Stakeholders Group, sent a letter and petition with 15 signatures in December to the EPA and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment urging a Superfund listing in Silverton. Robinson said for years he had kept faith that the Animas River Stakeholders Group’s collaborative process would work.

“I was a member of (the stakeholders) for many years and believed strongly in what they were doing: community-based, watershed-based cleanup. I guess it’s not gone so well,” he said. “In fact, it’s really disastrous when you compare the situation with what’s happened at other Superfund sites.”

Steve Gunderson, director of Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division, said he was “appalled” by what he saw when he toured the Red and Bonita Mine in 2012.

“This site, even though it’s complicated and remote, is in an incredibly beautiful part of the state. It may take a Superfund designation to bring the resources to bear,” he said.

But Gunderson said he doubts the EPA will “move forward with a Superfund designation unless there’s support with the local government because Superfund can be fairly controversial, and the first reaction is often angst about what the economic ramifications might be.”

Many Silverton residents interviewed by The Durango Herald last summer feared a Superfund designation would stymie tourism and soil the prospect of mining’s return.

“Superfund isn’t the answer,” said Steve Fearn, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and a town resident. “I want to see Silverton become a successful, vibrant community again. Right now, it isn’t, and mining is the one thing we have.”

But Robinson said such objections had worn thin.

“God, they’re the same positions they took 25 years ago! I think ‘Gee-whiz, it’s like a broken record, going on and on,’” Robinson said. “People like Steve Fearn argue a Superfund site will discourage mining investment. But the pollution is discouraging people from mining.

“What Steve Fearn says is immaterial. What’s important is that the Clean Water Act promises to clean up the nation’s water, making it all swimmable, fishable. That’s the goal, and the people administering … Superfund aren’t doing their job,” he said. “That’s the problem.”[...]

In the absence of a Superfund designation, for years, the stakeholders group has tried to work collaboratively with the EPA and Sunnyside Gold Corp. to improve water quality in the Animas River.

However, water quality recently has gotten much worse in the river.

Between 2005 and 2010, three out of four of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And since 2006, USGS scientists have found that the water flowing under Bakers Bridge – then downstream, into Durango – carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

The technology to clean the dirty water exists: a limestone water treatment plant. But the stakeholders group has no money to pay for it, and the EPA estimates it would cost between $12 million and $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

Sunnyside Gold Corp., the last mining company to operate in Silverton, denies all liability for cleaning up the worsened metal pollution. It has offered $6.5 million in return for being released from all liability. Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate, bought Sunnyside in 2003. The company generated nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2013, according to its fourth-quarter report…

On Monday, within hours of commissioners announcing that most of their Wednesday meeting would be dedicated to discussing Superfund with the EPA, Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in the stakeholders group, sent co-coordinators Fearn, Bill Simon and Peter Butler a letter proposing the company’s “game plan” for cleaning up the Animas River.

The plan centers on all parties continuing to work through the stakeholders group, bulkheading the Red and Bonita Mine and using the money Sunnyside already has promised – with compound interest. The plan does not include pursuing Superfund listing…

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


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.


Ditch companies are running out of time for repairs, the runoff is coming #COflood

April 6, 2014
St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Tony Kindelspire):

Left Hand Creek has been diverted from its main channel by a temporary earthen dam with two 48-inch pipes running through the middle of it. That’s so the workmen can rebuild the diversion dam and headgate that last September’s flood obliterated.

“We have like 13 spots that we’re working on, various levels of destruction, with this being the worst. This is the Allen’s Lake diversion,” said Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for the Left Hand Ditch Co. “Most everything was just buried in debris. … The Allen’s Lake diversion was just rolled up into a ball of concrete and steel.”[...]

Ditch companies control the water rights to irrigation ditches and are charged with maintaining them. The Left Hand Ditch Co. is typical of most such entities: it’s privately held and owned by shareholders — in the case of Left Hand, 460 shareholders. Sixteen percent of its shares are owned by the Left Hand Water District and goes toward drinking water, and the rest goes to agriculture.

Ditches operate using diversion dams and headgates. The dams slow the water and back it up so it can then flow through the headgate, which is opened to let water through.

In the Allen’s Lake diversion both the dam and headgate were wiped out, and in the narrow riverbed of Left Hand Canyon, the only way to replace them is to divert the river, build half the structure, then move the river again and build the other half.

“We’ll get that (side) done and then we’ll move the river back over,” Plummer said as he watched the construction crew pour concrete. “What we’re doing is racing, we’re racing the run-off.”[...]

Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, attended an emergency meeting of the Highland Ditch Co. in the days following the flood.

“Not repairing this is not an option,” Cronin recalls hearing the shareholders — many of whom are farmers — saying in the meeting. “This is how we make our living.”

Cronin said there are 94 ditches and reservoirs within the St. Vrain & Left Hand district, and of those 43 suffered some amount of damage, totaling about $18 million. Some, such as the Highland, were completely destroyed.

September’s flood all but wiped out the Highland’s diversion dam and headgate, which were built in 1870. What little remained after the water subsided was not repairable.

The Highland Ditch, the biggest in the St. Vrain basin, goes all the way to Milliken, primarily serving ag land but also providing some of the city of Longmont’s drinking water.

The diversion dam and headgate were rebuilt at a cost of $750,000, according to Wade Gonzales, superintendent of the Highland Ditch Co…

The “Big Three” headgates, as far as Longmont is concerned — the Highland, the Oligarchy and the Rough & Ready/Palmerton — were all destroyed by the flood, according to Kevin Boden, environmental project specialist with the city of Longmont’s Public Works and Natural Resources Department.

The Oligarchy, it should be noted, actually held up during the initial flood but then finally gave way the following Sunday during heavy rains.

All three either have been or will be repaired by May 1, Boden said…

[Dave Nettles] said that although the Poudre, Big Thompson and Boulder Creek watersheds all sustained some damage, none of them reached the “catastrophic” levels seen in the St. Vrain and Little Thompson watersheds.

More infrastructure coverage here.


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.


Water Hazards: From Risk to Recovery — AWRA Colorado Section Annual Symposium (May 2)

April 5, 2014
September 2013 flooding

September 2013 flooding

Click here to go to the symposium page for the pitch and to register.

Managing water resources in Colorado requires managing risk. This year’s symposium will feature discussions on the various types of risks to our water resources, with special consideration given to the impacts and implications of the September 2013 floods.

We are pleased to have an outstanding and diverse group of speakers, including our Keynote Speaker, James Eklund who will discuss the relationship between the State Water Plan and managing risk. Presenters in our morning session will help us better understand the types of risks to water resources. The afternoon break-out sessions will feature experts from a variety of disciplines who will discuss the on-the-ground impacts of the September 2013 floods. The day will conclude with insights from Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger and CSU Sociology Professor Stephanie Malin, who will help us understand how risk impacts our communities.

To raise money for the Scholarship Fund, we are holding our fourth annual silent auction at the symposium.


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.


‘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.


As Big As It Gets: Clean Water Act Rulemaking

March 31, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

By Mark Scharfenaker

Everyone seriously interested in water quality throughout the United States has 90 days to let EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and federal lawmakers know what they think about the agency’s newly proposed rule intended to clarify just where in a watershed the protections of the Clean Water Act cease to apply.

This long-awaited rulemaking aims to define CWA jurisdiction over streams and wetlands distant from “navigable” waters of the United States…the lines of which were muddied by recent Supreme Court rulings rooted in a sense that perhaps EPA and the Corps had strayed too far in requiring CWA dredge-and-fill permits for such “waters” as intermittent streams and isolated potholes.

This rule is as big as it gets in respect to protecting waterways from nonfarm pollutant discharges, and the proposal has not calmed the conflict between those who want the jurisdictional line closer to navigable waters and…

View original 788 more words


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.


Longmont: Council asking voters for $20 million bond issue to deal with September #COflood

March 26, 2014

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

The City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to prepare the ballot issue; the exact language will be approved at a later meeting.

“I see this bond election as vital,” Councilman Gabe Santos said.

City officials hope to make the St. Vrain River capable of holding a 100-year flood all the way through Longmont, something it has never been able to do. Before September’s flood, the St. Vrain’s maximum capacity was about 5,000 cubic feet per second; a 100-year flood carries 10,000 cfs.

That kind of carrying capacity comes with a price tag between $65 million and $80 million, public works director Dale Rademacher said. With $20 million in “flood bonds,” he said, the city could pull together a stronger local match to attract state and federal dollars.

If those bonds pass, he said, the city could put together $47.6 million itself, including:

• $8.5 million in already-approved bridge work at Main Street, Sunset Street and South Pratt Parkway.

• $7 million from the street fund (which is due to be reapproved by voters in November).

• $1.6 million in open space and water fund money.

• $500,000 from the conservation trust fund.

• A possible $10 million in “alternative project” funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, money that would normally go to re-creating the eastern stretch of the St. Vrain that could be used elsewhere if the river’s course is left alone.

Even with the bonds, that still leaves a funding gap of $17.4 million to $32.4 million. But the money can let Longmont be in a stronger position to get funds from FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers and from Community Development Block Grant disaster recovery grants. The city plans to apply for $52 million of grants from all those sources, but doesn’t expect to get everything.

“I think if we get a fraction of that, we should be happy,” Rademacher said of the FEMA grant application, a shot at a $37 million target.


El Paso County stormwater task force presents fee proposal to the Colorado Springs City Council

March 26, 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):

An El Paso County task force is moving a ballot issue this November to create a regional fee for stormwater control.

“People recognize this is a problem for us, and to not address the problem as elected leaders is not acceptable,” said El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey.

The task force has been meeting for nearly two years, and has moved to citizen control after elected leaders and paid government staff got the ball rolling.

On Monday, the group presented a plan to Colorado Springs City Council that would assess a monthly fee of $8-$12 for most property owners to raise $50 million annually for the next 20-30 years. Council and county commissioners meet today to jointly discuss several issues, including the stormwater fee. The money would go toward addressing $700 million in stormwater projects in El Paso County, including about $250 million in high-priority projects.

Getting the issue to the ballot will not be a simple task. The commissioners have to approve ballot language, and it’s not known what that will look like or who would challenge it.

The first step will be for the citizens task force to obtain intergovernmental agreements from all of the incorporated cities and potentially special districts in El Paso County. Manitou Springs and a district in the northern part of the county already have stormwater fees, Hisey explained.

“We don’t want anyone paying double taxes for the same service,” he said.

The IGAs should be in place before the ballot issue is approved, so that the structure of the authority that will administer the funds can be determined. One of the issues brought up in earlier meetings by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach was retaining local control over the city’s share of the projects.

Under last year’s changes in election laws, all of the pre-ballot work has to be done by the end of July, Hisey said.

In 2009, Colorado Springs City Council voted to dissolve a stormwater enterprise that it created four years earlier, based on its interpretation of a city election.

Officials from Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District were angered by the move because the stormwater enterprise was used as a condition to address Fountain Creek flooding issues for permit approval by Colorado Springs for its Southern Delivery System.

“The hope of the Lower Ark district is that voters will pass it, and Colorado Springs will live up to its commitments under the Pueblo County 1041 permit,” said Jay Winner, Lower Ark general manager. “As a district, we are patiently waiting to see what happens.”

More stormwater 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.


COGCC issues ‘Lessons Learned’ report for operations affected by September #COflood

March 18, 2014
Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post

Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 — Photo/The Denver Post

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

…while images of tipped storage tanks and flooded well sites were part of the national media coverage of the storm and the aftermath, the amount of petroleum products spilled into the rushing waters was small compared to the raw sewage and chemicals from flooded wastewater treatment plants, homes, stores and other facilities, state officials said in the weeks following the flood.

Now, the COGCC, which oversees the state’s multi-billion dollar oil and gas industry, issued its staff report to focus on “Lessons Learned” from the flood. The report doesn’t suggest putting new laws in place, but does propose the COGCC consider adopting “best management” practices for oil and gas equipment located near Colorado’s streams and rivers.
Along with encouraging remote wells, the COGCC recommends boosting the construction requirements for wells located near streams and rivers and developing an emergency manual to help the the COGCC staff better respond in the early days of a future emergency.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Jerd Smith):

In the wake of last September’s floods, a new report from state oil and gas regulators recommends that oil companies maintain precise locations and inventories of wells and production equipment near waterways, that all new wells near waterways contain remote shut-in equipment, and that no open pits be allowed within a designated distance from the high-water mark of any given streams.

In the report, released Monday, staff of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said they would not recommend any new state laws to address flood damage in oil and gas fields, but that they would suggest changes to regulations governing how production and gathering facilities are sited and constructed.

The commission noted that more than 5,900 oil and gas wells are within 500 feet of a Colorado stream.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, however, said that the industry responded well to the emergency and that no further regulatory action was needed.

“The floods were a difficult and trying event for everyone, and we are proud at our ability to engage meaningfully in the response and recovery of our Colorado communities,” Tisha Schuller, president and chief executive of the association, said in a statement Monday afternoon. “The flood report reiterated facts supporting that Colorado’s oil and gas industry was extraordinarily well prepared, responded in real time, and is committed to Colorado’s recovery.

From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The suggestions from the commission’s staff include requiring that storage tanks be anchored with cables so they’re less likely to tip and spill and requiring all wells within a certain distance of waterways to be equipped with devices that allow operators to shut them down remotely.

The staff recommendations didn’t say what that distance should be.

The commission is expected to discuss the proposed rules at a meeting this spring.

The report described the flood damage to storage tanks and production equipment as “substantial and expensive” but gave no dollar amount. It also said oil and gas production has still not returned to pre-flood levels but again gave no figures.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Tougher floodplain rules for Montezuma County

March 2, 2014

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New floodplain regulations were implemented in Montezuma County Jan. 13 to comply with higher standards established by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Colorado adopted rules to provide increased floodplain management standards in order to help communities prepare, plan for, respond to, and mitigate the effects of future flood damage.

The main change for the county, explained community services director James Dietrich, will be for critical facilities. If in a designated flood plain, those structures must now be built 2 feet above the base-flood elevation instead of the previous 1-foot standard.

Critical facilities include hospitals, schools, nursing homes, daycare facilities, power stations, and government/public buildings.

Building regulations for non-critical facilities in the floodplain did not change from the 1-foot over the base-flood elevation. Also, there were no changes to the county floodplain boundaries.

More Montezuma County 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.


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.


Colorado Springs: Camp Creek stormwater meeting, February 25

February 8, 2014
Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

Camp Creek channel via City of Colorado Springs

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

If you live in or around the Pleasant Valley neighborhood on the west side, then you’re probably already aware of the dangers of the Camp Creek watershed.

But allow me to review: the Camp Creek watershed is huge by local standards, and was scorched in the Waldo Canyon fire, leaving it particularly vulnerable to flooding. Worse, the water flowing from scorched hillsides is funneled into a narrow, steep shoot near Garden of the Gods, before it comes rushing through Rock Ledge Ranch, and then down a severely undersized concrete channel that cuts through the Pleasant Valley neighborhood. From there, the water meets Fountain Creek near West Colorado Avenue.

The area already saw some flooding and debris deposits in last summer’s storms, but not nearly what it could have. In terms of potential for destruction, should the right storm hit, Camp Creek is one of the most dangerous watersheds. Which is why the city is really eager to do some upgrades to the stormwater system before next summer’s monsoon season.

On Feb. 25, the city will present alternative plans to deal with stormwater systems. Nearby residents are encouraged to attend and give input.

More stormwater 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.


Mesa County Commissioners want federal help for stormwater mitigation

January 20, 2014

Grand Junction with the Grand Mesa in background

Grand Junction with the Grand Mesa in background


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Emily Shockley):

Mesa County commissioners are asking the federal government to help local governments pay the tab for storm water damage mitigation and monitoring. Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution Monday asking the federal government to take financial responsibility for storm water that flows from federal lands onto other land, potentially causing damage.

Federal regulations in many cases require local government entities to absorb costs associated with construction, maintenance, treatment and cleanup geared toward storm water cleanliness and damage mitigation. The resolution seeks federal support with those efforts because “a significant portion” of storm water problems in Mesa County are associated with unrestricted storm water flowing from federal lands onto other property.

“The purpose is to call the federal government to the ropes,” Julie Constan with the county’s Public Works Department told commissioners. “We’d like to have more of their active participation with the storm water management issues we do deal with, especially with storm water that comes off of federal lands.”

The resolution has been passed by the town of Palisade, the cities of Fruita and Grand Junction, the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority and the Grand Valley Drainage District as well.Constan said it will likely be reviewed by state legislators this year. The goal is to get Congress to read the resolution and act on it.

Specifically, the resolution requests federal assistance with the cost of conducting studies to determine which construction projects or repairs should be done and in what order when it comes to storm water that falls on federal lands. The resolution also seeks establishment of a program that would provide “timely financial assistance or reimbursement” to local governments for construction of flood detention or retention facilities and federally mandated storm water monitoring, analysis and treatment.

“I think it’s a great step in the right direction,” Commissioner Rose Pugliese said.

More stormwater 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.


South Platte Basin: Irrigators hope HB12-1278 study will help curtail pumping curtailment

January 15, 2014
HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From KUNC (Grace Hood):

Many Northern Colorado wells were shutdown, or access to them was reduced, by a 2006 Colorado Supreme Court ruling. Other owners had to follow augmentation plans, spending thousands of dollars to replace water they’ve taken out of the South Platte River.

Prompting the study was the issue of high groundwater in some locations along the river. When some farmers weren’t allowed to pump, homeowners were starting to see flooding in their basements.

Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute spent more than a year holding stakeholder meetings and researching the 209-page report [.pdf] — much of it before last year’s flooding. The report found a connection between the lack of pumping and required augmentation plans. It also said the system helped to protect senior surface water rights from injury.

The study proposes reintroducing well pumping as a way to manage the issue in specific locations like Gilcrest and Sterling. Other CWI recommendations call for more data collection abilities for the Colorado Division of Water Resources and a basin wide entity focused on more flexible management of water rights…

Longtime farmer Bob Sakata poked at the augmentation policy requiring well owners to cover past depletion of surface water. He thinks the situation was improved by the September floodwater.

“We should not have to pay past depletion,” said Sakata to applause. “That is the biggest nonsense there is in the rule.”

Republican State Senator and gubernatorial hopeful Greg Brophy enthusiastically took on the issue of erasing all past well debt along the South Platte.

“I agree with you guys,” Brophy said, announcing plans to co-sponsor a bill with Democratic Rep. Randy Fisher to wipe out those past pumping depletions as of Sept. 12, 2013.

Scientists question just how much September’s floods filled up the South Platte’s aquifers.

Colorado Water Institute Director Reagan Waskom says that floodwater replenishment may be true for wells right next to the South Platte. But that’s not the case miles away from the river.

“The groundwater data outside of the river floodplain was not affected by the flood,” Waskom said.

Meantime, Colorado legislators will need to introduce other bills to implement the recommendations of the Colorado Water Institute.

Rep. Randy Fisher says study recommendations that require funding — like proposed pilot projects in Gilcrest and Sterling — will require follow up…

In the last decade, [Nursery owner Gene Kamerzell] says state management of water rights has become more political than scientific, and farmers are suffering.

“A lot of our friends have gone out of business,” Kamerzell said. “We have friends that have large operations that have relocated to New Mexico because the water policy in this state isn’t being managed right.”

Kamerzell hopes that the scientific report and the proposed legislation will help restore a different balance. Along with most things in Colorado water policy though, he knows it can take years — not days — to measure progress.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


El Paso County stormwater needs top $200 million according the CH2MHill study

January 3, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From the McClatchey Tribune (Debbie Kelley) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Nearly $200 million worth of stormwater system work is needed in unincorporated El Paso County — almost double the amount that county officials had estimated, according to an independent assessment released this week. The study emphasizes the need for teamwork in solving watershed issues, said Andre Brackin, county engineer.

“We’re only scratching the surface here,” Brackin said. “We’ve ignored drainage for decades, and now we’re dealing with multiple projects costing millions. The city and the county don’t do drainage maintenance very well. That’s the bigger issue. We need a regional approach of working together.”

Englewood-headquartered engineering firm CH2MHill examined 275 substandard bridges, culverts, water channels, storm drains and runoff storage facilities from a list the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force compiled based on input from county staff. El Paso County commissioners received an executive summary of the findings. A final report will be issued Tuesday.

The company did a similar study of 288 stormwater projects within Colorado Springs boundaries after Mayor Steve Bach questioned the city and county’s estimated costs of repair.

CH2MHill validated 216 projects the county put forth. Several of the initial 275 projects were removed because they were duplicated on the city’s list, completed or not important enough. Other projects were added.

Ten have been identified as high priority, meaning there are pressing public health or safety issues or structural deficiencies.

On that list:

Security Creek Channel, which runs for 1 mile along U.S. 85-87 between Security and Widefield. The channel is not sufficient to contain a 100-year flood.

Fishers Canyon Channel, west of Interstate 25 near B Street. Banks are eroding, and water threatens residents.

Siferd Boulevard Culvert in the Park Vista area near Austin Bluffs and North Academy boulevards. Water flows across the roadway because there is no dedicated crossing for it.

The updated cost for the 216 projects is $190.6 million, up from the $102.9 million the county had calculated for 268 projects.

Of the total projects, 146 are within the Fountain Creek Watershed, which has regional impacts, said Mark Rosser, senior project manager with CH2MHill. Many extend into both city and county jurisdictions, he said, including Fountain Creek near the U.S. 24 bypass, Fountain Creek near the Spring Creek Confluence and Fountain Creek at Circle Drive.

The needs assessment does not take into account the areas of the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, which experienced flooding this year as a result of the fires.

Commissioners said they thought the information was “a good start” toward figuring out how to best handle increasing problems with stormwater control.

“Stormwater is just not sexy,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen. “People wonder why we’re talking about drainage because they don’t have a problem at their home. The whole idea is to control the energy of that water flowing through our region.”

It’s important for people who live on higher ground to understand the consequences of not dealing with stormwater issues, said Commissioner Darryl Glenn, and that there is a return on the investment.

“When you’re trying to convince people upstream why they need to buy into this, if you’re not tying in the importance, it’s going to fall on deaf ears,” he said.

Colorado Springs City Councilman Val Snider, a member of the regional stormwater task force who attended Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting, said regional needs have been discussed all along.

“It’s good to have things validated, and this shows great examples of the ways the city and county can address regional stormwater needs on a regional basis,” he said. “We need to combine the two studies and figure out the best way to plan to address those needs. Once we get that in line, we can figure out the funding.”

The task force was formed in 2012 out of a group of engineers, business leaders, community activists and elected city and county officials to find a way to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of backlogged projects. The task force intends to release a final recommendation in February on how the community should proceed.

Several funding mechanisms have been proposed, including a plan by Bach to extend existing bond debt for another 20 years, which would not raise taxes or fees and would pay for flood control projects and road and bridge repairs.

Bach will meet with city and county leaders, task force members and mayors of neighboring towns on Jan. 16 to discuss options.

Another idea is to form a regional stormwater authority similar to the voter-approved Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, which uses tax money to fund road and bridge maintenance and construction.

More stormwater coverage here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 953 other followers

%d bloggers like this: