We think of reservoirs as bodies of water, places created by dams where you can go sailing or fishing. Denver Water is investigating whether Denver’s future reservoirs will lie several hundred feet below the feet of its customers in aquifers called the Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills.
Aquifer recharge has been used in many places as a way to store water. Arizona, for example, stores water for Las Vegas in an innovative partnership as well as water for its own use. In metropolitan Denver, the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch, has also been pumping water into an aquifer, for withdrawal when needed. Others in the Denver area have also used it, with various degrees of success.
Denver has 17 reservoirs already able to store a combined maximum of 690,000 acre-feet. The adequacy of that storage is challenged by the uncertainties posed by the changing climate and continued population growth, said Bob Peters, a water resource engineer with Denver Water, speaking at a National Groundwater Association conference in Denver on April 25. Among the options now being studied is whether the aquifers underlying the city could also provide storage.
The city is bisected by the South Platte River. For most of the year, the river is over-appropriated, meaning there is no new water to be claimed. Furthermore, many of Denver’s existing rights from the South Platte are junior, meaning Denver might be left short in years of little snow or rain.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Peters also showed a variety of scenarios, all depicting gaps between needs and supplies. Denver is pursuing stepped-up conservation and greater reuse.
Denver also wants to divert more water from the Colorado River Basin through its Moffat Tunnel delivery system near Winter Park. That Moffat system expansion would include raising the height of Gross Dam, located southwest of Boulder, by 125 feet, nearly tripling the capacity of the reservoir. Denver has not received final authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Aquifer storage might also play a role in Denver’s future. Pumping water underground results in no evaporation, Peters said, requires fewer permits, and has less of an environmental footprint. Plus, it’s less costly than above-ground storage and can be done in small increments, unlike dams.
Challenges include figuring out where to put wells in urban areas, questions about the quality of water to be injected, and uncertainty about how much the water can later be recovered.
“We know it’s feasible. The question is whether it will work for Denver Water,” said Cortney Brand, of Leonard Rice Engineers, a consulting group.
Brand outlined Denver’s aquifers. The Arapahoe Basin is 500 to 2,100 feet thick, but the water-bearing sands of that formation are only 150 to 250 feet thick and not necessarily in one seam. The water-bearing sands of the Fox Hills has average thickness of 382 feet. These are averages for wells logged within Denver, but the city is only 2.5 percent of the much broader Denver Basin.
But the understanding of what lies underneath is not as sharp as those figures might suggest. To get a clearly image of the ability of the aquifers in specific areas to store water, three or more wells are being drilled this year.
With those additional wells, he said, engineers expect that they can deliver designs and cost estimates of a pilot project for an aquifer storage and recovery project by the end of 2016.
How much storage might these wells provide? The study intends to answer that question, but Denver Water’s website suggests that nobody should expect a quick Dillion Reservoir. One recharge sit could store an estimated 20 to 150 acre-feet of water per year. That compares with the 7,863 acre-feet stored by Denver’s smallest surface reservoir, Strontia Springs.
From the Town of Castle Rock via the Castle Rock News-Press:
Before the spring landscape season gets underway, Castle Rock officials are reminding resisdents to conserve water by using some of the town’s conservation programs.
Town Council approved earlier this month the 2016 Conservation Rebate Incentive Program, which offers rebates as part of an overall water-conservation plan.
The incentive program rewards residents transitioning from high-water-use landscaping and inefficient irrigation to other water-smart alternatives. It’s funded with money from water restriction violations and tier-four conservation surcharges. Funds are limited, and rebates are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
A household can qualify for each rebate only once.
The rebate program includes:
· Smart irrigation controllers — 50 percent of the controller cost up to $300
· Rotary nozzle retrofit — up to $5 per nozzle
· Rain sensors — 50 percent of the cost of the sensor up to $50
· SmartScape renovations — $1 per square foot up to $1,500 for high-water-use plant material, such as Kentucky bluegrass, removed and replaced with either Xeriscape or hardscape.
The Town Council also approved the 2016 Water Use Management Plan. Castle Rock Water uses watering restrictions to help residents efficiently use water outdoors during warmer months.
By staggering water use on an every-third-day schedule, Castle Rock Water can maintain positive pressures throughout the water system, ensure appropriate fire flows and allocate time for water reservoir recovery.
Restrictions will be in place during June, July and August. Residents must follow a circle, diamond, square schedule that will be mailed to their homes around May 1 and is posted at CRgov.com/waterschedule.
Also, to promote efficient water use, outdoor irrigation will not be allowed between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. However, there are no time or day restrictions associated with hand watering.
These restrictions allow residents to water only during cooler, more humid times of day. This is when evapotranspiration — a measurement of how much water needs to be used to replace water lost through evaporation and transpiration — is at its lowest, and watering is most effective.
Both the rebate program and watering restrictions are outlined in Castle Rock Water’s Water Efficiency Master Plan. Since the plan was adopted in 2006, Castle Rock residents have exceeded and maintained the conservation goal of 18 percent or 165 to 135 gallons per person per day.
An updated plan was recently approved in 2016 and sets a goal for an additional 18 percent (122 to 100 gallons per person per day) of water savings by 2055.
The Parker Water & Sanitation District is putting out a call for candidates to fill three vacancies on its board of directors.
The May 3 mail-ballot election will enable district customers to vote on candidates to assume seats held by Kelly McCurry, Bill Wasserman and Dale Reiman, whose terms expire this year. Prospective candidates must file “affidavits of intent” to the Parker Water & Sanitation District by Feb. 29, according to a resolution passed by the current board on Jan. 14.
If there are “not more candidates than offices to be filled,” district manager Ron Redd, who is serving as the designated election official, will cancel the election and declare the candidates elected, the resolution said.
With assurances Denver would not be coming after San Luis Valley water in the near future, the Rio Grande Roundtable this week approved $10,000 to support a south metro Denver area water project.
The decision was not unanimous, however, with opposing votes coming from Juanita Martinez, who represents Costilla County water groups, Ron Brink, who is an Alamosa County representative on the roundtable, and Gene Farish, attorney for multiple municipalities in the Valley.
Sixteen other members of the roundtable voted to support the WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Project with $10,000 from the funds allocated to the Rio Grande Basin. The other basin roundtable boards throughout the state have financially supported the project, which will recycle water from the Denver and Aurora water systems to south metro water providers and their customers.
The treatment plant for the project will cost about $6.5 million. The south metro water providers have already purchased pipeline to transport water from the Denver and Aurora systems to southern metro areas like Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock.
Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, made the initial presentation for the $10,000 request to the roundtable in January and made the formal request to the board this week. He said this project would reduce the draw on nonrenewable groundwater resources that have traditionally supplied the southern metro communities.
He said the project would also reduce the metro areas’ need to look to agricultural transfers or other basins for water supplies.
Hecox stressed that the water providers he represented were not after Valley water, and if they did look to other water sources outside of Denver, it would be the Colorado River system or South Platte, not the Rio Grande system.
It’s been proposed to move San Luis Valley water in the past,” he said. “There’s water projects proposed . We have not had any discussions with them. Our members have not had any discussions with them. The planning work we are doing is looking at basin solutions in the South Platte Basin or other partnerships with has support from throughout the state.
She said even though the basin might only be providing $10,000, “what you are getting is a lot more good will for yourselves “you are getting a good standing.”
She explained to Hecox that irrigating in the area she represents is still accomplished through shovels and opening irrigation ditches, and although she was fascinated by this project , which would use “left over discarded water,” she was skeptical about it.
She said she was opposed to the motion for funding, and everyone she spoke to in her county told her to not even consider it. She pointed to the Arkansas Valley where farmland has been dried up so people in the Denver area can have nice lawns and golf courses.
“It’s almost like a ghost town driving through there. It’s sad and it breaks everybody’s heart,” she said. “It’s even hard to talk about.”
Brink, who also voted against the funding, said the Denver area does not even recognize the Valley “except when they want some money or water.”
He added, “I am totally against this.”
Hecox said the project was not asking much money from the basin roundtables across the state, but one of the reasons for seeking some support from them Denver.”
Martinez said if the metro water group had no interest in the Valley’s water, then it must water “our good name” to show that it was to show cross-basin cooperation. He added that the metro water providers were trying to find solutions that would use renewable supplies, such as those from Denver and Aurora, rather than continuing to deplete nonrenewable supplies. He said the communities served by the south metro providers have also implemented significant amounts of conservation programs.
“That will go on and continue to reduce outside irrigation in south metro,” he said.
He said conservation efforts have reduced per capita water use by 30 percent over the last 10-15 years.
Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Steve Vandiver said he had raised concerns about supporting this project when it was initially presented, and the concern about “completing the loop” that would make it easier to export Valley water to the Denver area was still a concern of his.
However, he said after speaking further with Hecox, he believed the metro water authority had the Valley’s best interest in mind.
“They have convinced me that the project as it exists today is going to delay the need for outside supplies outside of the South Platte Basin,” he said.
Roundtable member Dale Pizel said, “There’s obviously some distrust between the San Luis Valley and the Front Range, for good reason, because we have been beaten up pretty good and had to fight off some pretty serious battles, but if we don’t solve Denver’s water problem, it’s going to keep coming back, “They are going to keep coming after our water.”
He said the Valley water leaders needed to put their distrust aside and help Denver and the Front Range solve their water problems so they don’t come after the Valley’s water.
Roundtable member Judy Lopez agreed. She commended the Denver area water providers for working together to address their water needs among themselves .
Vandiver said this project would be built whether or not it receives the Valley’s support. He wanted the minutes to reflect that the Valley supported the project with some reservation and concerns.
“We do this with some trepidation but want to support these efficiencies and conservation efforts on the Front Range to try to keep the monkey off our back as long as we can,” he said.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):
It won’t be long before the new Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment cranks up to filter water coming from Pueblo Reservoir through the Southern Delivery System pipeline…
…a few weeks ago, we got the royal tour of the water treatment facility on Marksheffel Road from two operators — Chad Sell and Jay Hardison — who are as excited as little kids who just got new bicycles for Christmas. They’re happy because a redesign of the project placed most treatment processes under one roof, making it not only more efficient but much more convenient to be monitored by Colorado Springs Utilities staff.
SDS project manager John Fredell explains how Utilities got a good deal from bidders: “What we said is, ‘We want to see your value engineering ideas right up front.’ One said, ‘We can shrink this way down, put it all under the same roof and still deliver the same quantity and same quality of water, and we can do this with four miles less piping.’ Four miles!”
There’s nothing extraordinary really about the Bailey treatment plant, named for a former long-time Utilities water division employee. The plant uses a traditional processes of flocculation, sedimentation and ozone to filter water and deal with any taste and odor problems.
But there are certain design features that take the operators into account. For one thing, the plant can be controlled off-site by an operator using a mobile device. Also, access to the pipes below the various stages of treatment are readily accessible for maintenance and repairs. And, the plant will require only six employees on duty at any given time. It has a 10-million-gallon holding tank.
The plant is built so that it can be easily expanded from 50 million gallons a day to 100 million gallons, Hardison notes. “Here’s a pad for a future generator,” he says. “We can add another generator and go to 100, like for our great grandkids.”
While the whole system could become operational within just a few months, for now, operators are running it through the rinse cycle to be sure all is in working order. “So we’re currently testing all the processes out,” Hardison says. “We’re stopping and starting the plant, trying to get it fine-tuned. Plants run really well when they’re run all the time, continuously. If you stop and start, they’re not very good. We’re almost to the point where we will run it continuously.”
He adds that one thing operators will learn during the testing is the “bookends of the low end and high end” of what the plant is capable of.
A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.
Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…
So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.
Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”
Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”
“These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”
The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):
Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.
The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.
Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.
On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.
“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”
Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.
But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.
He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.
Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.
Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.
On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.
Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.
Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.
And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…
Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.
While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.
Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.
Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.
At stake is the city’s own water permit.
The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.
When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.
“It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”
Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.
“I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”
The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.
“We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”
The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.
Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.
Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.
Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.
Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.
Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.
“We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.
As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”
John Fredell, project director for Southern Delivery System, last week tried to build a case that the EPA’s enforcement action on the failure of Colorado Springs to maintain stormwater control is unrelated to SDS.
He told the Pueblo Board of Water Works that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS only applies to ensuring new development won’t increase Fountain Creek flows.
“It’s not all lumped into SDS,” Fredell said, trying to convince the water board of his position.
But a review of the history leading up to the county’s 1041 permit shows he is wrong.
The first sentence of condition No. 23 in the 1041 permit indeed mimics the incremental approach taken by the Bureau of Reclamation, holding Colorado Springs liable for new development as a result of SDS. That’s exactly the point Fredell made.
Further on in the condition, however, it states:
“Regulations shall comprehensively address peak flow conditions, runoff volumes, and flood hazards, incorporating at a minimum all relevant components of existing regulations of Colorado Springs.”
It also calls for maintaining all structures and complying with stormwater permits, things the EPA says Colorado Springs has not done.
Presumably, those regulations would not apply only to new growth, but to the entire city of 186 square miles that already exists — 20 percent of the Fountain Creek watershed.
Beyond that, Fountain Creek was always a big part of SDS.
Stormwater permits and the need to control flows into Fountain Creek are mentioned in the 2004 intergovernmental agreement that was used to get support for SDS from the city of Pueblo and the Pueblo Board of Water Works. On its face, Colorado Springs’ lapsed performance appears to put it in violation of the IGA.
When the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force began meeting in 2006, many conversations mentioned the increased flows that would occur when SDS was in operation. Planning for more flows was added to an ongoing effort to deal with flows that already had increased as Colorado Springs grew from the 1970s on.
The demise of Colorado Springs’ stormwater enterprise was foreseen by Pueblo County’s attorney in comments in 2008 as the environmental impact statement for SDS was being prepared by Reclamation.
Reclamation did not consider the possibility, saying comments about stormwater were unrelated to the federal permit in its responses. The record of decision that approved SDS made the assumption the stormwater enterprise would stay in place before and after the project was built.
So Pueblo County put additional assurances that Colorado Springs would be responsible for controlling water going into Fountain Creek. It also required the city to pay $50 million to a district that had not yet been created.
The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District was formed by the state Legislature in 2009 to improve Fountain Creek and administer those funds, and has taken Utilities to task over the timing of payments.
The county’s 1041 regulations also were written and adopted when a stormwater enterprise that generated $15.8 million in revenue annually already was in place.
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Who said this?
“The City of Colorado Springs is moving forward to address long-term stormwater management.”
No, it wasn’t Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett talking to the Pueblo Board of Water Works last week. The above quote came from Mayor Lionel Rivera during a presentation by Colorado Springs Utilities officials to the Pueblo City Council on July 11, 2005.
They were there to assure Pueblo that Colorado Springs was dead serious when it came to living up to the conditions of an Intergovernmental Agreement signed a year earlier. An agreement that would eventually pave the way for the construction of the Southern Delivery System.
More than a decade later, Colorado Springs Utilities and political leaders are back in town trying to head off a rising tide of outrage in Pueblo County that has been bubbling up the last two months. In November, Colorado Springs learned it faces Environmental Protection Agency enforcement action for failing to meet the minimum requirements of its state stormwater discharge permit.
“They come down here and tell us what they think we want to hear, and then they do nothing,” said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District General Manager Jay Winner. “How many times are we going to let that happen?”
Last week, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard what Colorado Springs had to say for itself. This week, Pueblo County commissioners and Pueblo City Council will get more of the same.
On Monday, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and others is scheduled to meet with commissioners at 1:30 p.m. and with City Council at 7 p.m.
What Colorado Springs is offering involves more than lip service. There are real dollars on the table.
The city will double the size of its stormwater staff by the end of 2017, and a new stormwater director will be on board within a month. About $12 million a year will be spent on capital projects to begin to address a $535 million backlog, and $7 million for maintenance. There is another $1.5 million from other city departments directed toward maintenance.
There will be 70 actions to meet the deficiencies outlined in the EPA audit, Utilities reported.
Several slides in the Colorado Springs presentation show before and after photos of neglected drainage ditches that were highlighted in the EPA audit.
Not everyone’s convinced this is a step forward.
“Those trees in the drainage ditches must have been growing for two years to reach that size,” Winner said. “When you look at the numbers they’re throwing around, you have to wonder what happened during the seven years they didn’t have a stormwater enterprise. Are they just playing catch-up, or is this a real improvement?”
That’s been a common pattern, a review of documents about stormwater collected over the past 11 years reveals.
For instance, the progress report of stormwater improvements given to Pueblo City Council in 2007 are identical to a list of unfinished business presented to Colorado Springs City Council in 2009 as it was demolishing the stormwater enterprise after it had been operating for two years on a $15.8 million annual budget. The list of most critical projects then totaled about $40 million and none of them had been touched.
The total backlog was about $500 million.
Although the Lower Ark district, then-Rep. Sal Pace, county commissioners and other local officials pressured Colorado Springs on stormwater, there was little action for two years. The city adopted a new strong-mayor form of government and its council membership completely turned over in a four-year period. At one point, the city failed to send an elected representative to meetings of Fountain Creek district for six months in 2011.
Finally, in 2012, the city’s attorney advised then-Mayor Steve Bach that, in his legal opinion, Colorado Springs ought to be spending at least $13 million annually to control stormwater. Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners answered by forming a regional stormwater task force, which Bach opposed on the grounds that Colorado Springs should manage its own storm systems, ultimately dooming regional stormwater control.
By 2014, the $500 million project list was scrapped after a stormwater task force decided it was old and outdated — largely because of new damage from the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 and to a smaller degree, the Black Forest Fire in 2013.
In a new study, CH2MHill came up with 239 projects totaling almost $535 million in Colorado Springs, carefully weeding out obsolete and duplicated projects. Of those, 44 totaling $160 million were called high priority, which indicated there are public health or safety issues evident, according to the engineers’ report.
The regional cost, which included all needed work on Fountain Creek and its tributaries in El Paso County, was $723 million.
Later in 2014, El Paso County voters rejected a proposal by the task force to raise $40 million annually with a regional drainage district to address all those issues.
The huge backlog was mentioned at both the water board and Lower Ark meetings, with some trying to do the math at how long it would take to address the problems if the $12 million annual capital expenditure stays in place — say 40 or 50 years.
But Colorado Springs backs away from saying those lists will ever be completed or that they even mean anything.
At the Lower Ark meeting last week, Colorado Springs Utilities consultant Mark Pifher called the $534 million figure a “wish list,” insisting that projects with the highest priority would be tackled first. Utilities board Chairman Andy Pico told the water board that work will start soon on the highest priority projects.
Meanwhile, Colorado Springs has found the $841 million needed to build SDS, a project that will supply the city with the water it needs for the next 40 years, completing all major construction in just five years.
“They’ve done what they wanted to do, while doing the minimum to comply with their obligations to Pueblo,” Winner said. “How much longer are we going to put up with that?”