#Colorado Springs hoping to flip the switch on SDS, Pueblo County public meeting today

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

As water pressures mount, Colorado Springs engineers are about to switch on one of the West’s boldest new water projects: an $825 million pipeline to siphon up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water from Pueblo, 50 miles away.

This highly contentious Southern Delivery System has been 27 years in the making. It resolves a core quandary for Colorado Springs (pop. 350,000), built on a high-and-dry, flood-prone plain away from rivers, with only two creeks to sustain people.

The project will pull from [the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Pueblo Reservoir] — pumping water northward, uphill 1,500 feet — to support growth.

But there’s a hitch. Pueblo is demanding that Colorado Springs first commit to pay another $460 million before turning on the system as scheduled April 27 to clean up the dirty runoff Colorado Springs sends to Pueblo in Fountain Creek.

Colorado Springs leaders told The Denver Post last week they will agree, to avoid a legal war. Pueblo County officials, still reviewing a draft agreement, said they want to hear from residents Monday.

“If Fountain and Monument creeks were our only sources of water, we would only be a town of 25,000 people,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said in an interview after a treatment plant for the siphoned water was dedicated.

The SDS system “is an amazing engineering feat,” Suthers said. “It will take care of the future water needs of Colorado Springs for up to 50 years of growth.”

Pueblo and Colorado Springs officials agreed to vote on the deal April 26, the day before water engineers click a computer mouse to fire up the system.

For decades, Pueblo has been fighting Colorado Springs over the fouling of Fountain Creek, which flows from the Springs to Pueblo. The problem is stormwater runoff — chemical contaminants and sediment washing into the creek…

Under a draft deal, Colorado Springs would spend $460 million over 20 years to complete 71 stormwater cleanup projects. These include creation of ponds that slow and filter runoff and planting vegetation along drainage channels to stabilize sediment.

Colorado Springs will rely on general fund revenues from sales taxes to cover the $460 million, Suthers said. “If we have a downturn, we may have to look at something else.”

City Council president Merv Bennett said, “We’ve got to fix the stormwater problem. If we don’t do this, the EPA could require us to do it. This is a good deal.”

[…]

Eleven 2,000-plus horsepower pumps will propel the water from the reservoir through a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline for 50 miles with an overall elevation gain of 1,500 feet.

The water must be used within the Arkansas River Basin, ruling out sales to south Denver suburbs. And wastewater, after treatment, must be returned via Fountain Creek to Pueblo.

Colorado Springs residents have paid for the system through water bills, which increased by 52 percent over four years.

City officials have been working since 1989 to install the system. “You have to handle all the legal, the permits, the right of way …,” said Edward Bailey, 80, who has led the efforts and whose name now appears on the treatment plant.

Moving water to people around the West entails altering the natural environment, Bailey said. “We have to do it right. We shouldn’t leave a big footprint. … I understand Pueblo and their concerns. We need to be very environmentally sensitive, but we cannot be preservationists.”

[…]

“Water drives our economic viability, our economic prosperity,” SDS program director John Fredell said.

“Now we’ve got it. Now we’re ready to go in Colorado Springs.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board:

Although we appreciate and commend the work of Pueblo County commissioners, the county planning department, county attorneys and Wright Water Engineers, we implore county officials to take more time before approving the 1041 permit that would allow water to flow from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs via the Southern Delivery System.

Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain
Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain

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