$5 million in the US budget for the Arkansas Valley Conduit

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has started flowing from the federal government.

An additional $2 million in discretionary funds will be shifted to this year’s conduit budget by the Bureau of Reclamation. Another $3 million is included in President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., announced today.

Bennet worked with local officials, Reclamation and the administration to increase funding. The conduit already received $500,000 this year.

“We’ve been pushing the Administration and Congress to live up to the commitment it made more than five decades ago to communities in southeast Colorado,” Bennet said. “This funding will help move this project forward, and we will continue to fight to keep these additional resources in next year’s budget to ensure Coloradans in these communities finally have a reliable source of clean drinking water.”

Bennet will work with congressional leaders and the appropriations committee to try to ensure the money remains in the budget. Congressional gridlock in the past few years has kept funding at minimal levels.

“This was truly a bipartisan effort,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the local agency guiding the effort to build the conduit. “It’s certainly better to have $2.5 million than to work with than $500,000.”

The money will go toward engineering, legal work and land acquisition over the next three to five years that will allow construction of the pipeline to begin.

The goal is to raise about $5 million annually during that period. The Southeastern district is working with Reclamation to attempt to apply other revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas to move conduit work forward.

Once construction begins, it will take larger amounts of money to build the conduit, which is potentially a $400 million project. The conduit will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 water districts from St. Charles Mesa to Lamar.

The plan is to filter the water at Pueblo Water’s treatment plant, then move the water to other systems via the conduit. Most of those systems rely on wells and are struggling to meet water quality standards.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Fountain Creek: “Colorado Springs has offered $19 million a year, which is inadequate” — Ray Kogovsek

Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB
Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo City Council wants the federal government to crack down on Colorado Springs for violating its stormwater permit in order to reduce the risk of damage from Fountain Creek flooding.

Two weeks after approving a resolution with a list of recommended conditions for Pueblo County commissioners to apply in an anticipated intergovernmental agreement, council voted to send the same list to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Among the conditions would be the expenditure by Colorado Springs of $50 million annually to address a $534 million backlog of stormwater control projects, adequate staffing to maintain structures already in place, a reliable source of future stormwater funding and additional help to dredge Fountain Creek in Pueblo in order to maintain levees.

The action was requested by City Council President Steve Nawrocki because Colorado Springs is on two tracks of negotiations over its lack of stormwater control, City Attorney Dan Kogovsek explained.

“Colorado Springs has offered $19 million a year, which is inadequate,” Kogovsek said.

Pueblo County is looking at assurances of future stormwater control in relation to its 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System. The U.S. Attorney’s office is working with the Environmental Protection Agency on prosecuting Colorado Springs violations of its stormwater permit.

The city’s resolution refers to the 2009 demise of the Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise as a contributing factor to continued sedimentation in Fountain Creek that increases the risk of flooding in Pueblo.

A Wright Water Engineers report for Pueblo County revealed that 370,000 tons of sediment annually is deposited in Fountain Creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo. A root cause for the increased load is the increase in impervious surfaces in Colorado Springs since 1980.

Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in March 2009 when Pueblo County issued the 1041 permit for SDS. The Bureau of Reclamation considered it to be in place when it issued a record of decision for SDS.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs has not confronted its stormwater problem on Fountain Creek for years, and there’s no reason to believe they will after the current crisis blows over, in Jay Winner’s opinion.

“Every elected official from the Springs knows how to feed this crap to Pueblo in order to keep sending it down Fountain Creek,” said Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Every city council comes to us with the same message. I want our elected officials in Pueblo to understand what has happened.”

Colorado Springs last month sent emissaries to the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Pueblo City Council and Pueblo County commissioners to convince them that the city has seen the light after facing legal action from the federal Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency.

That didn’t stop council from passing a resolution recommending that commissioners push for $50 million annual funding for stormwater in Colorado Springs, more help with dredging Fountain Creek and other measures to mitigate damage from increased flows. Commissioners maintained a hard stance that the 1041 conditions require stormwater control, and might not be enough if just followed to the letter.

Do the right thing

In short, both wanted Colorado Springs to do the right thing when it comes to Fountain Creek.

The Lower Ark district has been trying to do that since 2005, shortly after Winner stepped into his job — first through negotiations and then through the threat of a federal lawsuit. They worked cooperatively on a $1.2 million Fountain Creek corridor plan that was crucial to early funding of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The relationship has soured.

Winner was at some of the meetings last month where Colorado Springs pleaded for time and understanding, but is far from convinced Colorado Springs will follow through on promises this time. He heard Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers’ pitch that it’s better to spend money on solutions than lawyers — even though lawyers were in the mayor’s entourage.

“Put your money where your mouth is. There are a couple of ways to do this. Maybe it’s time the legal system goes through the process, to make sure Colorado Springs spends the money on the solution,” Winner said. “I believe they could be fined up to $38,000 a day, so that might get their attention. Maybe the EPA could talk to its sister agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, and not let them turn on SDS until this gets taken care of.”

2013: Shortfalls found

Winner is concerned that last year’s EPA audit said Colorado Springs had taken little action to correct deficiencies identified in a February 2013 audit.

A look at the audit reveals the Colorado Springs stormwater department had been gutted in late 2012 and personnel reassigned to other areas.

Testing of water quality samples in the Fountain Creek watershed was farmed out to the U.S. Geological Survey, the results were ignored and staff was poorly trained to do the work itself.

Waivers of regulations meant to assure developers would properly install drainage structures and ponds were granted routinely without inspection, resulting in siltedup, overgrown ditches and basins.

City staff failed to follow through on cleaning up a gasoline spill that occurred during the inspection while the EPA waited on site. Snow was forecast for the next day.

The solution promised to federal inspectors was a regional stormwater task force that would eventually try to form the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage District, which would have generated $40 million annually to address a $700 million backlog of needs in El Paso County.

When voters rejected that idea in November 2014, Colorado Springs apparently did nothing to correct the problems by the time EPA inspectors returned.

2015: Nothing fixed

The 2015 EPA audit revealed interviews with city stormwater staff who said they did not have the funding or personnel to fix the problems identified by the EPA.

It revealed other things too.

For instance, a 2010 Colorado Springs Utilities stabilization project for a 66-inch-diameter sanitary sewer line on Shooks Run was not properly installed, never inspected by city stormwater staff and never maintained.

Colorado Springs staff told inspectors $11 million in high priority projects could be undertaken when Federal Emergency Management Agency funds came through. The EPA noted that some of the projects were routine maintenance, not flood damage.

The audits are far from exhaustive. In 2013, a team of four inspectors spent four days poking through records and visiting some sites. In 2015, five inspectors spent two days.

But the offenses were judged serious enough that EPA threatened legal action last year.

Chess game

So what was the Lower Ark district doing during the two-year gap?

Trying to move stormwater into the limelight.

Unsuccessfully, it turned out, as Colorado Springs made flanking maneuvers in a political game of chess.

Colorado Springs was, in 2013, trying to deal with the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon Fire, which destroyed 346 homes in 2012 and badly damaged the mountains west of the city. The challenges included building storm detention ponds that were quickly filled in with silt and overrun by summer rains.
Winner tried to raise the issue with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which had shelved its own plans to secure a funding source — state law allows it to collect a mill levy — while the stormwater task force worked in El Paso County.

In July 2013, Winner raised questions about Fountain Creek water quality as it relates to downstream farming, but was told by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King that the city was not obligated to do projects that benefit Pueblo or downstream communities in the Arkansas Valley.

Bach presented a list that purported to show $46 million in stormwater projects, although many of those used federal grants, were aimed at fire mitigation or would not be completed by the end of the year. Many dealt with new damage that occurred after the 2009 demise of the stormwater enterprise.

In September 2013, during one of the most intense floods on Fountain Creek since 1999, Lower Ark attorney Peter Nichols explained the connection between high water levels on Fountain Creek and the presence of E. coli in the water at a Pueblo County commissioners hearing.

Nichols pointed out the 2012 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers that gave Colorado Springs mostly Ds and Fs when it came to stormwater control. The city’s per capita funding was the lowest for any large city in Colorado.

At the same meeting, Pueblo County commissioners heard assurances from Colorado Springs Utilities officials and Councilwoman Jan Martin, who voted to repeal the stormwater enterprise in 2009, that stormwater needs would be met.

Colorado Springs also was successful in 2013 in fending off a legal challenge in the state Supreme Court and an appellate court by the Pueblo district attorney — Bill Thiebaut started it; Jeff Chostner finished it — over water quality in Fountain Creek.

A lawsuit is born

A week after the commissioners’ hearing, the Lower Ark board instructed Nichols to begin preparing a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Clean Water Act. That lawsuit was put on hold last year until the EPA action plays out, but federal attorneys are plowing some of the same ground.

Originally, the Lower Ark sought to sue Reclamation because stormwater control is tied into the federal contract for Southern Delivery System. It’s also a part of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, which must be met under federal guidelines.

After the 2014 vote against the regional stormwater authority, the focus of the lawsuit shifted to Colorado Springs.

“We’d heard enough by that point,” Winner said.

Winner has pushed for setting up stormwater as a standalone utility that would be isolated from political whims of Colorado Springs City Council. The current promise of $19 million annually doesn’t necessarily bind future councils to spend money in a way to improve conditions on Fountain Creek, he said.

“I’m glad the EPA is doing something, because Colorado Springs has been thumbing their noses at us for a long time,” Winner said. “They came down here and tried to tell the water board that street sweeping in Colorado Springs will somehow benefit Pueblo. I’d recommend we delay SDS until the EPA gives Colorado Springs a clean bill of health.”

Monument proposes steep increases to water bills — KOAA.com

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From KOAA.com (Andy Koen):

Water bills will likely get more expensive in Monument this year. Under a proposed rate schedule, customers could end up paying nearly double what they did for water last year.

The largest increases will be applied to base rates. For residential customers, the base rate would increase nearly 5 fold from the current $8.80 per month to $40. Commercial customers would see their base rate grow some 789% from $9 per month $71.

The Town of Monument uses a tiered water rate structure that increases the price depending on the volume of water consumed. Rates would also be increased at each of the four tiers under the proposed schedule.

Factoring for water usage of between 3,000 and 6,000 gallons per month, the Town calculates a sample residential bill increasing from $28.76 per month to $46 in the winter. With a usage at 31,000 gallons per month, that same bill increases from $214.49 to $329.75 during the summer.

The worksheet also shows winter bills for commercial customers growing from $430.42 to $651.50 per month and from $805.95 to $1,267.25 in the summer.

The board is also proposing an additional 8 percent increase to the base rate every year through 2021.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Kaiser said previous Boards of Trustees kept water artificially low for too long.

“For the last 20 years, there has not been a water rate increase for a small subset of our population who are serviced by the town’s water district,” said Jeff Kaiser, Mayor Pro Tem.

He said the water enterprise has run deficits each year since 2012. Trustees have paid the bills by redirecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the general fund. Kaiser said that is unfair to citizens who get water from other utilities such as Woodmoor Water and Sanitation and the Tri-View Metro District.

“Those citizens who are paying their fair share for the water, yet are being asked to in addition to that, subsidize 20 to 30 percent of our citizens such that they can enjoy extremely low water rates,” Kaiser said.

But business leaders warn the new rates are jumping too fast.

Two water wells in Security shut down as precaution over chemical — The Denver Post

Typical water well
Typical water well

From The Denver Post (Kieran Nicholson):

Concerns over a chemical found in water wells in El Paso County have resulted in the shutdown of two wells as a precautionary measure.

The chemical known as PFOA has been detected in two wells in the Windmill Gulch aquifer.

Those wells have been voluntarily shut down, Security Water District manager Roy Heald said last month in a Fountain Valley News Facebook post.

In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detected PFOA in 94 public water systems in 27 states, including wells in Security, Widefield and Fountain.

The chemical, used in Teflon, can cause cancer, birth defects and heart disease, and weaken the immune system.

The Security wells in question pump water into a tank that “commingled” with water from the Fountain Valley Authority, diluting the Windmill Gulch water to safe, acceptable levels, Heald said in the post.

Still, the two wells have been “turned off indefinitely,” and Security will consult with the EPA on “how to move forward.”

The well in Fountain is a backup, used only in peak water use times, during summer months, said Fountain Utilities director Curtis Mitchell.

PFOA readings at that well have never exceeded EPA standards, Mitchell said Tuesday night.

Water from the Fountain well in question also commingles with other water — from the Pueblo Reservoir, the chief surface supply for Fountain — when it enters the system, Mitchell said.

Fountain will continue to monitor its water on a “voluntary” basis, Mitchell said. Fountain water recently met with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment to probe and discuss the situation.

At this time of year, Fountain doesn’t use well water…

Widefield average levels are .034 ppb, “which are well below” the maximum recommended level, the district said.

Fort Lyon Canal board postpones well augmentation dry up hearing

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A hearing next week on a plan to dry up about 6,700 acres on the Fort Lyon Canal has been canceled because some shareholders have complained about potential conflicts of interest.

The Fort Lyon board made the decision Tuesday night after about 10 percent of the shareholders filed a petition alleging conflicts with the canal company’s attorney and engineer. The move cancels the Feb. 11-12 hearings that were planned in Las Animas.

The hearing is for Arkansas River Farms, which bought 14,600 acres of Fort Lyon farms for $53 million last year and announced plans to dry up some of the ground at the annual meeting in December. Fort Lyon shareholders agreed to a public hearing to resolve some issues before a change of use application is filed in water court.

John Lefferdink, the attorney for the Fort Lyon Canal Co., is related by marriage to Bill Grasmick, who is working with Karl Nyquist for Arkansas River Farms.

Duane Helton, the engineer for Arkansas River Farms, was the Fort Lyon Canal’s engineer for 35 years. Tom Williamsen, the canal’s engineer, was Helton’s partner before Helton went into business for himself.

“I didn’t feel there was a conflict of interest,” said Dale Mauch, a board member of the Fort Lyon Canal. “If anything, John (Lefferdink) would be even more conservative in dealing with this.”

But the Fort Lyon board has decided to seek an outside attorney and engineer because of the potential that any decision made by the shareholders at next week’s meeting would not stand in court, Mauch said.

“We felt like we didn’t have a choice,” Mauch said. “Why go through the proceedings if they are going to be challenged?”

The hearing could be rescheduled as soon as April, or as far off as July. The board does not want to schedule it in May or June, when farmers will be busiest in the fields.

Arkansas River Farms, an affiliate of C&A Companies and Resource Land Holdings wanted to move ahead with its plans to use water from the dried-up farms as part of wellaugmentation plans this year. The water would replace depletions from wells further downstream, and a plan has to be filed with the state engineer by March 1.

C&A is the parent company of GP Resources, which announced a plan in 2011 to pipe treated water from the Lamar Canal to the Front Range. That plan has been put on hold in favor of new plans for a large dairy in Prowers County.

The farms on the Fort Lyon Canal were purchased from Pure Cycle Corp., which bought them from High Plains A& M. Those companies once planned to move the water off the farms to Front Range communities.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium and Trade Show to focus on hemp, water, more

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

An update on a 15-year study of water tables, salinity and selenium in the Lower Arkansas Valley will be shared Feb. 11 at the annual Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/ Water Symposium and Trade Show.
There will also be information on farming trends, techniques and new crops such as hemp.

The event will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 11 at the William L. Gobin Community Building, 105 N. Main St., Rocky Ford.

Tim Gates, a civil engineering professor at Colorado State University- Fort Collins will speak about Arkansas River return flows from ditches at the meeting. Gates and his team have found that better irrigation practices could reduce the amount of salinity and selenium in the Arkansas River, as well as eliminating waterlogging, or high groundwater tables.

Also in the lineup for the meeting will be Chuck Hanagan, with the federal Farm Services Agency; Brian Bledsoe, KKTV 11 chief meteorologist; James Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center; Kathy Voss, consultant for Livestock for Landscapes; Troy Bauder of Colorado State University Extension Service, on conservation tillage; and Joel Lundquist, a farmer and custom harvester, on new opportunities for growing hemp.

Reservations are $20 per person, $30 per couple and $5 per student in advance; $25 per person, $35 per couple and $5 per student at the door. Payment and contact information may be sent to P.O. Box 190, Rocky Ford, CO 81067.

For information, call 791-254-7608.

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

The Pueblo County Commissioners approve reveg. along SDS

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

The Pueblo County commissioners adopted a resolution Monday to approve findings on revegetation and land restoration efforts by Colorado Springs Utilities under its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The findings would allow the release of about $674,000 in bonds held for the 17-mile route of buried SDS pipeline through Pueblo County.

The resolution paves the way for other issues in the permit, the largest concerning stormwater issues dealing with SDS.

The findings for the revegetation items were heard in a public hearing Jan. 25.

“We attempted to be as thorough as we possibly could with this discussion and as fair as we could, not only with the applicant, but also critically important to us, fair to our own citizens,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.

“We want to establish a precedent that any of the conditions that are associated with this project are perpetual and continue as long as the SDS pipeline is in place and functioning.”

As part of the agreement, Colorado Springs Utilities must establish about 90 percent of the vegetation that was there before the project and was disturbed by construction.

“Our experts have gone through and analyzed the area and they say that it has substantially been met,” Hart said.

“There are some areas that still need some work and so that’s what our findings show.”

Hart said the resolution also is in place to make it clear that over time Pueblo County and Colorado Springs will be watching the revegetation to make sure that it maintains itself as well as the restoration.

Hart said the next big obstacle is stormwater issues related to the pipeline.

“That is the biggest of the issues. We are working on that right now,” Hart said.

“Pueblo County is suffering terribly from the conditions that are going on in Colorado Springs. So we are looking for good action to begin to control that problem.”

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation