From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
It was like putting a dog collar on an alligator.
Everyone in the room agreed it needed to be done, but some were nervous about getting bitten or how you’d take the darned thing for a walk. Yet, even the alligator celebrated the partnership.
That was the tone for Monday’s work session of the Pueblo County commissioners to hear comments on a proposed stormwater agreement with Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs City Council and commissioners are anticipating finalizing the agreement next week.
The deal would require Colorado Springs to spend $460 million over 20 years to slow down water in the city, pay the first $20 million in $50 million for Fountain Creek dams south of the city in nine months and pay $3 million to Pueblo for Fountain Creek dredging, among other provisions meant to protect Pueblo.
Those payments are on top of 1041 permit conditions that must be met in order for the Southern Delivery System (a pipeline between Lake Pueblo and Springs) to be operated. The new agreement is needed because Colorado Springs City Council abolished the city’s stormwater enterprise in 2009.
“(Colorado Springs) leadership has the best intentions, but how vulnerable are the funds?” asked Bill Alt, a Fountain Creek landowner. “It’s going to take years to have an effect on the Lower Fountain.”
Alt, who lives just north of Pueblo, explained that Fountain Creek last year carved three new “canyons” on his property — as much as 60 feet wide, 25 feet deep and 1,800 feet long.
“In the words of Yogi Berra, it’s deja vu over and over and over,” he said.
Others joined his concerns, including Hector Arambulo and Frank Childress, who said Colorado Springs growth has made Fountain Creek’s problems more severe and voters have not supported past stormwater control efforts.
Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s water attorney, said the county has multiple options for enforcing the agreement. The funding is guaranteed through Colorado Springs Utilities payments to the city, the contractual arrangement could be battled in Pueblo District Court, the 1041 permit is still enforceable and the federal government also is taking action to make sure Colorado Springs cleans up its act.
“Could you stop SDS from flowing?” Alt asked.
“The remedies under the 1041 are complicated,” Petros answered. “But suspension of deliveries is one of the remedies.”
Several current and former public officials addressed the issue:
John Singletary, former chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the agreement could trigger the type of cooperation the district has sought for years.
“Did we get everything we wanted? Probably not,” Singletary said. “But finally, we’ve found a way Pueblo County and El Paso County can work together.”
Mark Carmel, a member of the Pueblo West Metro District board speaking for himself, was less optimistic and said the deal should be made permanent, not just for the 20-year time span it covers.
“What happens after 20 years?” Carmel said. “It’s not right that developers get profits while our people lose their property.”
Larry Atencio, a Pueblo City member speaking for himself, said the deal should also include support for a dam on Fountain Creek if studies show it would be the best protection for Pueblo.
Aurelio Sisneros, former Pueblo County treasurer and a past member of the Arkansas River Compact Administration, said a dam on Fountain Creek is the ultimate solution.
Charles Garascia, who has lived in Pueblo for eight years, said the county needs to look into flood plains and flood insurance alternatives.
Urging approval of the agreement were Jerry Martin, chairman of the Pueblo West board; Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District; and Roy Heald, general manager of the Security Water and Sanitation.
Martin and Heald said their communities need SDS now. Small said the funding provided in the agreement is crucial for its success.
Tom Strand, a Colorado Springs City Council member, said the agreement would ensure cooperation on stormwater projects and eliminate further stormwater challenges as SDS moves ahead.
“It’s a partnership I’m excited to be moving forward on,” Strand said.
Commissioners avoided saying much about the comments made Monday and agreed to consider approval at their regular meeting next Monday.
“We’re going to take careful consideration of all the comments and questions, as well as any others who want to weigh in,” Commissioner Terry Hart said.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Pueblo County leaders on Monday heard from residents who mostly favored a deal that would commit Colorado Springs to spend $460 million cleaning Fountain Creek.
That deal, if finalized, would clear the way for Colorado Springs to turn on its $825 million Southern Delivery System to siphon up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water northward 50 miles from Pueblo’s reservoir.
The deal also would give Pueblo $125,000 for an engineering study for a water supply project of its own: a possible dam along the creek to create another reservoir.
Pueblo has threatened legal action against Colorado Springs’ fouling of Fountain Creek with sediment-laden stormwater runoff.
The 27 or so Pueblo residents at Monday’s forum included nine who spoke in favor of a draft deal reached with Colorado Springs leaders this month. Two opposed it.
Pueblo County commissioners decided to seek legal advice on the deal Wednesday before voting April 25 — two days before Colorado Springs engineers plan to switch on their new siphoning system.
“Getting to this agreement has been an arduous journey,” Commissioner Buffie McFadyen said.
Failure to filter sediment and contaminants out of stormwater runoff that ruined the creek “has been a decades-long problem,” McFadyen said. “It appears the city of Colorado Springs is actually recognizing its issues. I believe it is sincere.”
Building a dam along a cleaner Fountain Creek “has been a suggestion by community members,” she said, adding that no location has been set and that opponents argue a dam would be a massive sediment trap.
“Could it work? That’s what is so important about doing the engineering study.”
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):
A tainted aquifer and busted water pipe are two more reasons the Southern Delivery System needs to be turned on April 27 as planned, water officials told Pueblo County commissioners Monday.
Security has had to close seven of its more than 25 wells because of contamination in the Widefield aquifer, said Roy E. Heald, general manager of the Security Water District.
Perfluorinated compounds, PFCs that could harm human health, were found in the aquifer in February by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Security has resorted to dilution, but the dilution must be stepped up as summer approaches, Heald said.
“So it’s critical to have the Southern Delivery System turned on this month as scheduled,” he said.
Pueblo West is relying on SDS water. Colorado Springs Utilities sprang to the rescue when a major Pueblo West water pipeline burst in February. Utilities bailed the town out last July, too, after a smaller water line broke.
“This (break) may require us to stay on that (SDS) line for a very long time,” warned Jerry Martin, president of the Pueblo West Water Board.
He, too, urged commissioners to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Colorado Springs so the $825 million water project can start pumping 5 million gallons of water a day from the Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Security, Fountain and Colorado Springs.
The county threatened last year to revoke the project’s 1041 permit, which it issued to Utilities in April 2009.
Back then, Colorado Springs still was using a stormwater enterprise fund to ameliorate problems on Fountain Creek that wreak havoc on downstream users. The then-City Council eradicated the fund that November, though, infuriating Pueblo County officials who had relied on those stormwater efforts when they signed over the permit.
That permit wasn’t the only worry facing newly seated Mayor John Suthers last year, though.
In October, the U.S. Department of Justice warned Colorado Springs that the EPA might file a lawsuit because of the city’s failure to properly provide, maintain and inspect stormwater controls. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment then echoed that threat.
The city and Utilities have been negotiating for 10 months with Pueblo County, as the city has beefed up its stormwater program to fix the problems and fend off the threats of lawsuits.
Colorado Springs proposed a pact last week that would provide $460 million in stormwater projects, maintenance and operations through the year 2035, money that would be spent over and above grants or other funds.
So the county commissioners’ public hearing Monday was set to hear residents’ opinions on the agreement.
Also urging approval was Larry Small, director of the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.
Calling it the best stormwater management plan he’s seen in 43 years, Small said: “This is better than efforts we were taking as a community to incrementally deal with (stormwater). This is better because it has measurable objectives. It has clearly defined projects, clearly defined funding and a clear funding source.”
And the key element is a requirement that the city and county jointly reassess the projects and process every year, ensuring communication, collaboration and cooperation, he said.
But some Pueblo residents remained skeptical.
“What choices do you have if Colorado Springs reneges? You can go to court. They have more lawyers than they can use,” said resident Bill Alt.
“The stormwater agreement manual says people with detention ponds must abide by these rules. They’ve had rules for years, and they haven’t been abided by. Are there any penalties for someone who violates it?”
Commission water attorney Ray Petros cited four conditions that ensure compliance: Utilities’ guarantee to provide the money if the city fails to do so, contractural enforcement that can be upheld by Pueblo County District Court, potential permit suspension if obligations aren’t met, and the EPA and state health lawsuit threats that underscore the city’s need to comply.
“So we think it’s enforceable,” Petros said.
John Singletary said he’s comfortable with the pact.
“Did we get everything we want? Probably not. But finally we can find a way that Colorado Springs, El Paso County and Pueblo County can work together,” Singletary said. “When I was on the Lower Arkansas (Water Conservancy District), it meant a lot to me to protect people downstream. I feel very comfortable with how this is drawn up.”
The Colorado Springs City Council is expected to sign the accord during a special meeting Wednesday, and Pueblo County’s Board of County Commissioners is to vote Monday – two days before the SDS is scheduled to start operating.