From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Recent revelations about deficiencies in stormwater control could snag Colorado Springs plans to expand its water system.
The Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County need to take a second look at the environmental impact statement that cleared the way to build the $841 million Southern Delivery System, and the newly constructed water pipeline from the Pueblo dam to El Paso County should not be turned on until the issue is settled, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
“We’ve been saying this for years,” Winner said. “We need to get past the talk from Colorado Springs and stop them from flushing all their crap down Fountain Creek. They need to walk the walk.”
Winner was reacting to an inspection report released this week by the Environmental Protection Agency that could be the basis for a federal lawsuit over inadequate stormwater control in Colorado Springs.
Among other things, the report says the city failed to correct problems identified two years earlier, that it knowingly violated the terms of its municipal separate storm sewer system permit and that it is not enforcing its own guidelines for new development.
Reclamation’s EIS was done in 2009, when Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place that generated millions of dollars annually to take care of the very problems outlined in the inspection. The assumption by Reclamation was that since it was in place, the only issue were future flows generated by new development related to SDS.
If that created problems, Reclamation relied on a vague “adaptive management” concept to rectify problems.
Reclamation failed to answer political calls to reopen the EIS in 2010 after Colorado Springs City Council torpedoed the stormwater enterprise on a split vote after a city election.
The EPA’s inspection report shows problems continue to worsen as Colorado Springs ignores its stormwater infrastructure. The Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor John Suthers have devised a plan to provide $19 million in funding toward complying with the MS4 permit and addressing a more than $500 million backlog in projects.
Winner said a more permanent funding source is needed, which the EPA concurs with in its inspection report. This needs to be a consideration for Pueblo County commissioners, who are negotiating with Colorado Springs over compliance on the stormwater issue as it relates to the 1041 permit for SDS.
“I think we’ve been hoodwinked long enough by their City Council,” Winner said. “I would hope the new (Pueblo) City Council will become more engaged and not put up with these shenanigans.”
One of the new Pueblo City Council members is Winner’s wife, Lori Winner.
Winner also is uneasy that the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this month endorsed a Colorado Springs Utilities employee, Mark Shea, for a seat on the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. Winner, a member of the roundtable, urged caution at the meeting. Recently, another Utilities executive, Mark Pifher, (now a consultant for Utilities) served on the commission.
“The Water Quality Control Commission has ignored the problems,” Winner said. “It’s like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Turns out the bare minimum that Colorado Springs said it was doing to prevent contaminated water from its streets flowing into Fountain Creek was not enough to satisfy the federal government.
The one constant that Colorado Springs officials had assured Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District was being met was the MS4 permit with the Environmental Protection Agency.
MS4 stands for municipal separate storm sewer system, and the existence of the permit itself has been held up for years in presentations by Colorado Springs as evidence that the city was doing basic work to regulate stormwater.
But according to an EPA report finalized in August, little progress has been made to rectify problems identified in a February 2013 audit. The inspection could be the basis for a federal lawsuit over Colorado Springs stormwater deficiencies.
In fact, city officials were aware of shortcomings, as the EPA stated: “During the inspection, city representatives stated they were fully aware of the lack of resources to adequately implement the MS4 program, and cited the termination of the city’s SWENT (stormwater enterprise) in 2009 and overall lack of political, managerial and community support for the city’s MS4 program as contributing factors.”
Photographs in the report show severe erosion, crumbled drop structures, vegetation growing in concrete ditches and cracked channels clogged by logs and trash throughout the city.
Colorado Springs also has assured Pueblo County and the Lower Ark that new development that benefits from the soon-to-be-completed Southern Delivery System would be regulated to avoid any additional impact on Fountain Creek.
There has also been a lot of talk about how the city has developed a design criteria manual to protect Fountain Creek.
The EPA inspection, however, notes that Colorado Springs is doing very little to make new development comply with regulations after looking at more than 600 plans reviewed by the city. The report stated: “It was unclear at the time of the inspection how the city would ensure submittal of appropriate design elements in the future. … The city did not ensure that public and private permanent BMPs (best management practices) were properly designed, approved and installed.”