EPA Bonita Peak Mining District superfund team lays out 2016 work plan

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

Environmental Protection Agency officials say by next month they intend to provide La Plata and San Juan counties a list of tasks it expects to complete in 2016 at the proposed Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

“Next month, we could provide a more comprehensive briefing on 2016 activities, where we will collect data and figure out what questions that data will answer,” Superfund project manager Rebecca Thomas said in a brief meeting with Durango city councilors and La Plata County commissioners Thursday afternoon.

The rest of the year includes plans for a hydrology study to evaluate risks to human health and water quality as well as an evaluation of historic and cultural resources in the area.

Thomas said the sampling will answer the question of which mining sites, if any, can be quickly remedied and removed from the National Priorities List, such as those contributing to Mineral Creek, which is less complex than the areas surrounding the Upper Animas River and Cement Creek.

Thursday’s meeting was largely a repeat of information from the EPA, though local officials had questions and comments about the process.

“There are a lot of people in Durango concerned it could happen again,” City Councilor Sweetie Marbury said, referring to the EPA-triggered Gold King Mine spill on Aug. 5 that ejected 3 million gallons of metal-laden water into regional watersheds.

“How will you identify the risk areas to prevent another spill happening?”

Thomas said one of the leading priorities for the Superfund team will be to examine draining adits to assess their structural stability.

Thomas said the EPA is deciding whether to expand the Gold King Mine treatment facility to treat other nearby drainage sources.

The Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton contains 48 mine-related sites and was recommended for placement on the Federal Register for Superfund designation on April 7. The EPA now seeks comments from the public, which can be submitted online at the EPA Superfund Program Bonita Peak Mining District page.

The Superfund managerial team will return for updates the week of May 23.

Meanwhile, Animas River pollution has many sources. Here’s a report from Jonathan Romeo writing for The Durango Herald

With much of the recent focus on the Cement Creek drainage, the major sources for metal loading into the reaches of the Upper Animas River remain a bit of a mystery for researchers.

Yet Sunnyside Gold Corp.’s four massive tailings ponds along the Upper Animas River – about a mile northeast of Silverton, above the confluence with Cement Creek – have long been under suspicion.

“From Arrastra Gulch down to Silverton, there is a substantial amount of metal loading, and it’s not clear where that is coming from,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator with the Animas River Stakeholder’s Group. “The sources are not as identifiable as Cement Creek.”

From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, miners routinely dumped any by-product from metal extraction directly into rivers or lakes throughout the highly productive Silverton caldera.

In the 1930s, Sunnyside began hauling ore from Gladstone through Silverton and up what is now County Road 2 to the Mayflower Mill for processing. Only 5 percent of the ore contained precious metals.

The leftover 95 percent of waste rock, which usually contained heavy metals that included cadmium, copper and lead, was dumped beside the mill until 1992. The four piles now stretch about a mile and a half.

Sunnyside over the years has conducted numerous projects to reduce the leeching of metals into the Upper Animas, including covering the piles with clay to reduce the entry of water and digging diversions to prevent groundwater from seeping into the ponds.

Still, high concentrations of metals continue to load, according to data collected by the stakeholder’s group. Butler said in March and April, more concentrations of metals can enter the river along that stretch than all the loading that discharges from Cement Creek, considered the worst polluter in the mining district.

On Tuesday, Silverton native Larry Perino, a spokesman for Sunnyside, revealed the results of sampling conducted last year during high-flow and low-flow points to the stakeholder’s group.

Water samples taken within the tailings pond showed levels of cadmium, copper and six other metals that exceeded Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards. Within the Animas River along that stretch, cadmium and copper were the only metals in excess.

However, the results leave many gaps for researchers characterizing the watershed. Testing occurred only a few days in May and September, and neglected the historically high period of metal concentrations that occur in March and April.

When questioned, Perino doubted the veracity of the historical data and cited the company’s tight time frame for testing. He later added those months would have been difficult to take samples given the inclement weather.

“I think it’s impossible (to draw conclusions) unless you’re out there weekly,” said Perino, adding the company has no further plans to test this summer.

Regardless, the next steps for remediating the tailings ponds are unknown. The site, owned mostly by Sunnyside, a subsidiary of mining conglomerate Kinross, is included on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Superfund listing, raising uncertainty over jurisdiction and responsibility. Sunnyside, one of the region’s largest and longest running mining operations, could be targeted as a potentially responsible party, despite years of undergoing voluntary cleanup projects aimed at being cleared of further liability.

“Right now, there are no formal agreements between EPA and Sunnyside,” said Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s manager for the Superfund site. “So if they chose to collect data, that’s certainly their prerogative. We’ve had a cooperative relationship historically, and I think that will stay.”

Doug Jamison with the state health department said it’s too early to draw conclusions on just how much Sunnyside’s tailings contribute to the overall metal loading in the Animas watershed.

“I think there’s a lot of evaluation that needs to be done,” he said. “On the other side of the valley, there are also some potential sources.”

Indeed, of the 48 mine-related waste sites included in the Superfund listing, nearly 30 are along the stretches of the Upper Animas.

Perino said testing was done at Howardsville, above the tailings, to compare how water quality changed during its flow downstream, but he did not have that information available.

In the coming summer months, the tailings – designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000 – will be the subject of further scrutiny.

“In general, I think people were hoping (Tuesday) for a more definitive answer,” Butler said. “But I think what we learned is that it’s a difficult thing to figure out.”

History in the Making: SDS Starts Water Delivery [April 28]

Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

One of the largest water infrastructure projects completed in the U.S. this century started delivering water today to homes and businesses in Colorado Springs, Colo. The commencement of the Southern Delivery System (SDS) culminates decades of planning and nearly six years of construction.

See video.

“The Southern Delivery System is a critical water project that will enable the continued quality of life southern Coloradans enjoy. The water provided through SDS means future economic growth for our community,” said Jerry Forte, Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Springs Utilities.

Not only does SDS meet the immediate and future water needs of Colorado Springs and its project partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West through 2040, it also increases system reliability should other parts of the water system need maintenance or repairs. The project will also help provide drought protection, a significant benefit in the arid west.

Construction started in 2010 and concluded in 2016. Originally forecast to cost just under $1 billion, SDS is started on time and more than $160 million under budget costing $825 million.

“On time and under budget are words rarely used to describe large infrastructure projects,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director. “We adopted a philosophy that ‘these are ratepayer dollars’ and managed the project with exceptional rigor. It was the responsible approach to spending hundreds of millions of dollars of public money.”

Components of SDS
SDS is a regional project that includes 50 miles of pipeline, three raw water pump stations, a water treatment plant (pictured above), and a finished water pump station. It will be capable, in its first phase, of delivering 50 million gallons of water per day and serving residents and businesses through 2040.

Key permits and approvals for SDS required $50 million in mitigation payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed District, funding for sediment control, habitat improvements and other environmental mitigation measures. Additionally, Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, just this week, both approved an intergovernmental agreement requiring Colorado Springs to invest $460 million over 20 years to improve the management of stormwater that makes its way into Fountain Creek.

Early on in the project, SDS program leaders agreed to spend at least 30 percent of construction dollars on local contractors. More than $585 million, or about 70 percent of the SDS budget, went to Colorado businesses.

“SDS is one of the most important projects many of us will ever work on,” said Forte. “This is a legacy project – one that benefits so many people today, tomorrow and for generations to come. This is an amazing day for our organization and for southern Colorado.”

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From the Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:

Water has begun flowing into Colorado Springs through a new 50-mile pipeline from the Arkansas River.

The city says the $825 million Southern Delivery System started operating Thursday.

The system is designed to handle growth in the state’s second-largest city until 2040 and provide a backup for its current aging system.

Pueblo West, Fountain and Security also get water from the pipeline.

The project includes modifications to Pueblo Dam on the Arkansas River, three pumping stations and a treatment plant.

Separately, Colorado Springs had to commit $460 million to reduce sediment in Fountain Creek. The sediment harms downstream communities in Pueblo County, and the county threatened to revoke a required permit for the pipeline if the issue wasn’t addressed.

SDS: “It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully” — John Fredell

Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

The $825 million Southern Delivery System’s treatment plant was ready to serve drinking water Wednesday, as a project 20 years in the making finally made its debut.

The distribution system will be turned on Thursday to deliver water to Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain, and water will begin reaching those customers Friday. The SDS already supplies water to Pueblo West, which needed early assistance after a major water pipe in its system broke.

“Things are going great, just like we’ve always planned,” SDS Project Manager John Fredell said Wednesday. “We’ve worked on a lot of these issues a long time to get ready.”

The project hit a snag last year when Pueblo County, which had issued the essential SDS 1041 permit, began seriously pressuring Colorado Springs leaders.

The county insisted on more city stormwater projects to protect downstream residents from excessive flows, sediment buildup and water quality degradation in Fountain Creek.

The City Council signed an intergovernmental agreement April 20. It promises, among other things, to spend $460 million on 71 mutually beneficial stormwater projects over the next 20 years, with Colorado Springs Utilities guaranteeing any funds the city can’t provide.

Pueblo County commissioners approved that pact Monday, enabling SDS to kick off its operations on Wednesday, the target date set years ago.

“It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully,” Fredell acknowledged. “But I really did not fear that it wasn’t going to happen. It was just a matter of timing.”

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has spent much of his first year in office negotiating with Pueblo County and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the city’s long-time stormwater program deficiencies.

Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities, called it “a great day.”

“I look back at all the things we’ve seen our team experience,” Higgins said. “We’ve been through so much together. It’s just a fantastic experience for everybody that’s been involved.”

As usual, Fredell credits his project team for a job well done.

“I’m telling you, without all these great people putting out every ounce of energy they have, we couldn’t have done it,” Fredell said. “And to me that’s just so cool, to bring all these people together and they’re all pulling in the same direction.

“To me, that’s the coolest thing. I feel like the whole team, we have stronger friendships now than when we started. How many teams can say that? To me, that’s absolutely incredible.”

The project team determined in July 2009 that the SDS would start operating in April 2016.

“I’ll feel better Friday,” admitted Kim Mutchler, who has worked on SDS for Utilities’ government and corporate affairs team. “There’s a lot going on between now and then.

“I’m happy for these guys who have been on this project for so long. It’s just exciting to see (Utilities) board members and previous council members. We had a couple out there yesterday seeing (the plant) for the first time. It’s nice to see them excited.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The need for Colorado Springs to control stormwater on Fountain Creek was always tied to the Southern Delivery System, and the new agreement with Pueblo County is designed to cement the relationship.

During the permitting process for SDS, stormwater control was mentioned in both the Bureau of Reclamation environmental impact statement and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Ever since Colorado Springs City Council abolished its stormwater enterprise in 2009, the city engaged in political gymnastics to assure Pueblo County it was doing enough.

Monday’s completion of an intergovernmental agreement should represent an end to political bickering over stormwater, because it spells out very clearly what has to be done over the next 20 years.

Commissioners were quick to point out Monday that the items contained in the agreement are not the only things Colorado Springs must do in relation to SDS under the 1041 permit. But they have to do these things:

Fund stormwater control with at least $460 million over the next 20 years.

The funding will go toward 71 projects on a set schedule that can be adjusted only if both parties agree.

The amount of funding steps up from at least $20 million per year in the first five years to at least $26 million per year in the last five.

While the money can be matched with other funds, Colorado Springs must come up with the minimum amount, but the sources are not specified. Annual reports are required.

Colorado Springs also is required to resolve any conflicts with the IGA that might result from action by the Department of Justice, EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over the city’s failure to meet the terms of its municipal stormwater permit from 2013-15.

A provision of the IGA requires Colorado Springs to notify Pueblo County of any variance to its drainage criteria manual. The failure to apply the document to new development was among deficiencies identified by the EPA in its audit of Colorado Springs’ stormwater permit.

Regional cooperation on Fountain Creek.

The IGA triggers the first two payments of $10 million each that were negotiated under the 1041 permit. Five annual payments of $10 million are required. The money must be used for a dam, detention ponds or other flood control structures that protect Pueblo from flows on Fountain Creek that have increased because of growth in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

The first payment is actually $9,578,817, because of credits for payments already made and an “index” fee, which amounts to interest payments. It will come within 30 days.

The second $10 million payment will be made Jan. 15.

The payments go to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which was created by the state Legislature to improve Fountain Creek.

Formed in 2009, the district grew out of discussions between the two counties. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace sponsored the legislation when he served as a state representative.

The IGA also provides $125,000 to the district, which will be used in part to help fund a state study of a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek. The money is in addition to the $50 million required under the 1041 permit. The Fountain Creek board will determine exactly how the money is spent.

Both Pueblo County and Colorado Springs agree to work with other governments to find a permanent source of funding for the Fountain Creek district.

Colorado Springs also will pay $3 million over three years to the city of Pueblo for repairs to levees, dredging and removal of debris or vegetation in Fountain Creek.

Pueblo is required to match the money, but can use about $1.8 million that Pueblo County is still holding from $2.2 million Colorado Springs was made to pay for dredging in Pueblo. Some of the money was spent on demonstration projects.

The agreement also specifies that any disputes will be handled in the same way as disagreements in the 1041 permit. If not successful, legal action over the IGA would be handled in Pueblo District Court.

#AnimasRiver: “All in all, we are farmers, and farmers must farm” — Duane “Chili” Yazzie

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

This month, personnel from the Navajo Nation Irrigation Office in Shiprock have been clearing debris and completing maintenance on the system of canals that serves farms in chapters along the San Juan River. They are preparing the canals to receive water after they were closed last year in response to the Gold King Mine spill. That incident released more than 3 million gallons of contaminated mine waste into the Animas and San Juan rivers last August, and tribal officials issued water-use restrictions for the river water.

Gadii’ahi is served by the Cudei canal, which receives river water through a pipeline or siphon that runs under the river from the Hogback canal.

The Hogback canal delivers river water to the Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters. Together, the system runs 30 miles from the Hogback diversion to the Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter. A separate system — the Fruitland Irrigation canal — serves the Nenahnezad, San Juan and Upper Fruitland chapters.

During the weeks that followed the mine spill, chapters determined whether to resume irrigating with river water or keep the canals closed.

Shiprock Irrigation Supervisor Marlin Saggboy said the Fruitland canal started operating in early April.

Meanwhile, chapter members served by the Hogback and Cudei canals decided to reopen the system after listening to results on April 15 from water and soil testing conducted by the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico State University in addition to a joint study by the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

Saggboy said the Irrigation Office understands there were several concerns expressed by residents, but hearing the results, including a recommendation by the Navajo Nation EPA to reopen the canals, eased those worries.

Farmers are not obligated to use river water, he said, adding that individuals can close their irrigation head gates.

Saggboy said crews will be flushing the A and B canals in the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter today as part of the efforts to have that system fully operational by next week.

After the tribe eased water-use restrictions last year, the Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters continued to oppose reopening the Hogback Irrigation canal due to concerns about the amount of heavy metals released during the mine spill into the river.

The Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter approved resuming irrigation activities, and the tribe’s Department of Water Resources installed pipelines and pumps to deliver river water to fields.

Gilbert Harrison is the farm board member for the Gadii’ahi-Tokoi Chapter and president of the San Juan River Farm Board. He said the farmers were satisfied with the information they received April 15 about the testing completed on the soil and river water.

“We look forward to it and (are) glad the water is back on,” Harrison said about the canal openings.

The Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters approved separate resolutions this month to open the Hogback canal.

Shiprock voted 46-14 in favor of the measure with 10 abstentions on April 17, and the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter voted 17-4 in favor of it with nine abstentions on April 18, according to a press release from the Shiprock Chapter.

Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said in the press release the decision was “anticlimactic,” and concerns remain, but chapter members “made efforts to reassure” themselves.

“All in all, we are farmers, and farmers must farm, so the people have spoken,” Yazzie said.

Jean Jones, the farm board member for the Tsé Daa K’aan Chapter, said chapter members voted on the matter after hearing testing results, which indicated the water is safe to use for agricultural purposes.

“I guess it’s good,” Jones said adding a number of farmers are glad the Hogback canal is operating.

#AnimasRiver: “…shift here from skepticism toward energetic stewardship” — The Denver Post #GoldKingMine

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)
Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Animas River headwaters contamination exceeds state standards for cadmium, copper, lead and other toxic acid metals draining from inactive mines, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and Sunnyside Gold Corp. revealed Tuesday.

Until now, federal pronouncements after the EPA-triggered Aug. 5 Gold King blowout touted a return to pre-disaster conditions along the river.

But the move toward an ambitious Superfund cleanup of 48 mine sites in southwestern Colorado has catalyzed cooperation and a far more aggressive, comprehensive and precise approach toward acid mine drainage.

At Tuesday’s Animas River Stakeholders Group forum, locals along with EPA and Sunnyside officials all said they now find those “pre-spill conditions” intolerable. Fish haven’t been able to reproduce in the Animas for a decade, even 50 miles to the south through Durango.

Beyond the Gold King and other Cement Creek mines, “there are elevated levels (of heavy metals) in all three drainages” flowing into the Animas, said Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s project manager. “It is a much broader look now.”

[…]

EPA officials this week are holding forums in tribal communities, Durango and Silverton to discuss their Superfund process, which usually drags out for more than a decade. An official listing of the Animas area as a National Priority List disaster, a step toward funding for cleanup, isn’t expected until fall.

The shift here from skepticism toward energetic stewardship is reflected in more community groups demanding, and in some cases conducting, increased testing of river water and sediment to monitor contamination.

The Mountain Studies Institute, a Durango-based research group, did an investigation of aquatic insects that live in sediment on river banks and found that copper levels increased between 2014 and 2015.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. manager Larry Perino presented data from tests of mining wastewater launched last fall on the day of the Gold King disaster. Contractors sampled on Sunnyside properties a couple of miles east of Silverton — a different drainage from Cement Creek — where mining waste tailings sit along the main stem of the upper Animas.

Those tailings as water rushes over them apparently are leaking the cadmium, copper and six other metals at levels exceeding Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards. The cadmium and copper had dissolved into Animas headwaters.

Sunnyside shared the data at Tuesday’s meeting in Silverton.

Dan Wall of the EPA then presented federal data showing lead contamination of soils along Cement Creek and in water near the tailings heaps containing elevated cadmium, zinc, manganese and copper.

EPA crews have done tests around Animas basin for decades and increasingly are trying to pinpoint mine site sources of contamination.

“We have to do more high-resolution work before we start talking smoking guns,” Wall told the locals at the forum.

A broadening cooperation is happening despite EPA efforts to target Sunnyside, owned by the global mining giant Kinross, as a responsible party obligated to pay a share of Superfund cleanup costs.

“Just because you are a potentially responsible party doesn’t mean it has to be adversarial,” Perino said.

Conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited have raised concerns about possible re-churn of heavy metals from the 3 million-gallon Gold King deluge as snow melts, increasing runoff into the upper Animas. But biologists also point to benefits of dilution to reduce concentrations of dissolved heavy metals.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White confirmed that, since the shutoff of a water treatment plant on Cement Creek in 2005 when Sunnyside’s American Tunnel was plugged, fish populations deteriorated along a 30-mile stretch of the Animas south of Silverton.

There are few rainbow and brown trout today, and brook trout decreased by 80 percent after 2004, White said.

“It is not healthy. Things have gotten worse in the Animas River since 2004 or 2005,” he said. “We’ve seen this consistent dropoff — the primary thing is the dissolved metals” including zinc, cadmium and aluminum.

Even 50 miles south in Durango, the fish put into the river in stocking programs have not been able to reproduce, he said.

“We’re just not seeing young fish surviving, in Durango as well,” White said.

Other forces, such as sediment from urban development and fertilizer runoff, also play a role downriver in addition to acid metals drainage from inactive mines.

Hundreds of inactive mines continue to drain more than 1,000 gallons a minute of toxic acid heavy metals into Animas headwaters. It is one of the West’s worst concentrations of toxic mines.

For at least a decade before the Gold King disaster, the mine drainage reaching Animas canyon waters along a 30-mile stretch south of Silverton “had a hideous impact,” Trout Unlimited chapter president Buck Skillen said.

“We’ve lost almost all of the trout and a number of bugs,” Skillen said. “We’ve had the equivalent of the Gold King spill every four to seven days over the last 10 years. But the water didn’t turn orange. So it wasn’t on everyone’s radar.”

Pueblo County OKs stormwater deal with Colorado Springs — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

It was called a historic day for Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.

Pueblo County commissioners approved an agreement over the Southern Delivery System with its Front Range neighbors to the north during a meeting at the courthouse.

The agreement is a clarification of the rules and responsibilities with regards of one of the issues with a 1041 permit dealing with the SDS project, mainly how to control stormwater, flooding and sediment transports along Fountain Creek.

“We think it is historic,” Commissioner Terry Hart said. “This has been a growing process. It’s been a learning process as the growth of Colorado Springs has impacted more and more our downstream community.”

In the agreement, Colorado Springs would pay more than $605 million to cover environmental damage for SDS should the intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County be approved.

The proposed deal includes a guarantee to spend at least $460 million over the next 20 years to repair and build storm water structures in Colorado Springs in a way that benefits downstream communities, particularly the city of Pueblo.

Colorado Springs approved the agreement last week.

“We are thrilled that we reached this point,” Hart said.

“A lot of folks see this as an ending to a process and it’s just the opposite. It’s just the beginning. It’s a more cooperative approach between the two communities.”

Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain
Cartoon via The Pueblo Chieftain

SDS: #Colorado Springs councillors OK stormwater agreement with Pueblo County

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

The City Council committed Colorado Springs on Wednesday to spend more than $460 million over 20 years on a stormwater projects pact with Pueblo County.

The intergovernmental agreement, negotiated chiefly by Mayor John Suthers, is expected to resolve Fountain Creek stormwater problems for downstream residents and avert lawsuits threatened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Department of Justice and by Pueblo County.

Further, the accord would allow Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System to start pumping water as scheduled on April 27.

Pueblo County officials threatened to rescind that $825 million project’s 1041 permit, which they issued in April 2009, if the city didn’t ante up enough guaranteed funding for stormwater projects.

The deal now hinges on a vote by Pueblo County’s three commissioners, set for 9 a.m. Monday.

Any delay of the SDS would reduce the worth of warrants on equipment and work while leaving four partner communities – Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security – without the water deliveries they expect.

The council, meeting in special session Wednesday, didn’t hesitate to approve the pact. Only Councilwoman Helen Collins, a steadfast foe of government spending, dissented in the 8-1 vote.

The agreement calls for 71 stormwater projects to be completed by 2035. Engineers for Pueblo County and Colorado Springs chose the projects and will review them each year to allow for fluctuating priorities.

The money will be spent in five-year increments, at a rate of $100 million the first five years followed by $110 million, $120 million and $130 million. Any private developers’ projects or other efforts would be in addition to the promised amounts.

If the projects aren’t completed in time, the accord will be extended five years. And if Colorado Springs can’t come up with the money required, the city-owned Utilities will have to do so.

The agreement was tweaked slightly Wednesday, on request of the Pueblo County commissioners, to increase one miscalculated payment to a water district by $332, to add the word “dam” to references to a study of water-control options, and to add “and vegetation” to a clause about removing debris from Pueblo’s city levees. A clause was added to note that after the agreement expires, both sides agree to coordinate and cooperate with one another, as they always will be upstream-downstream neighbors.

“This is basically an investment in this city,” said water attorney David Robbins, a consulting lawyer for the council. “The stormwater facilities would have ultimately had to be built anyway. They benefit your citizens, not just the people downstream.”

Asked about the option for a dam, Robbins said, “It has been studied, studied again, and another study may add to our knowledge, but doesn’t require this city to contribute any more money. The dam would require moving two railroads and an interstate highway. Just the facility relocation costs make it quite expensive.”

Colorado Springs has failed to properly enforce drainage regulations, conduct adequate inspections, require enough infrastructure from developers or properly maintain and operate its stormwater controls, the EPA found during inspections in August.

The downstream victim has been Pueblo County, which saw Fountain Creek sediment increase at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, degrading water quality and pushing water levels higher, Wright Water Engineers Inc. found during a study for the county last year.

Sediment increased from 90 to 25,075 tons a year, while water yields rose from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found.

As Colorado Springs development sprawls, the amount of impermeable pavement grows. So the city also is beefing up its long-underfunded Stormwater Division, increasing the staff of 28 to 58 full-time employees, mostly inspectors, and more than doubling the $3 million budget for compliance to about $7.1 million.

The city and Utilities negotiated for nearly a year with Pueblo County, as Colorado Springs has beefed up its stormwater program to fix the problems and fend off the threats of lawsuits.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works would like to see up-front bonding and longer term for an intergovernmental agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.

Still, it’s probably the best deal possible, the board agreed during comments on the proposed deal at Tuesday’s monthly meeting.

In February, the board provided its input with a resolution recommending certain actions to Pueblo County commissioners.

Colorado Springs City Council approved the deal Wednesday, while Pueblo County commissioners will meet on it Monday. It provides $460 million for stormwater projects over the next 20 years, triggers $50 million in payments over five years for Fountain Creek dams and adds $3 million to help dredge and maintain levees in Pueblo.

“One of the things we encouraged Colorado Springs to do was bond the projects up front,” said Nick Gradisar, president of the water board. “It would be to everyone’s advantage to do the projects sooner rather than later.”

Board member Tom Autobee said the agreement is comprehensive, but was uncertain about the 20-year timeline for improvements.

“What I’d like to see is to extend it beyond 20 years for the life of the project,” Autobee said. “We need to look at that.”

Board member Jim Gardner was assured by Gradisar that Pueblo County is guaranteed a voice in which projects are completed.

“They have a priority list and can’t switch unless both sides agree, as I understand it,” Gradisar said.

“This is a great opportunity to correct the issues,” said Mike Cafasso.

“What we said got listened to,” added Kevin McCarthy. “I think this is the best deal we’re going to get.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs won’t need the full use of the Southern Delivery System for years, but some can’t wait for the $825 million water pipeline to be turned on.

Pueblo County commissioners heard testimony supporting a proposed agreement with Colorado Springs designed to settle issues surrounding the City Council’s decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise after the county had incorporated it into conditions for a 1041 permit in 2009.

“One in five people in Pueblo County live in Pueblo West and are impacted by SDS,” said Jerry Martin, chairman of the Pueblo West metro board. “With the newest break, we will depend on SDS for a very long time.”

Pueblo West joined the SDS project as a costsaving alternative to a direct intake on the Arkansas River downstream of Pueblo Dam. It shared in the cost of permitting and building the pipeline.
Last summer, it used SDS when its own pipeline broke.

Pueblo West’s main supply comes from the South Outlet Works and crosses under the river. The new break is more severe, Martin explained.

An agreement reached last summer allows Pueblo West to use SDS before it is fully operational, and settled some lingering legal issues related to Pueblo West’s partnership in SDS.

Security Water and Sanitation District, located south of Colorado Springs, also needs SDS to go online before summer, said Roy Heald, general manager of the district.

“Security has an immediate need for water because there are emerging contaminant in our wells,” Heald said.

Seven of the district’s 25 wells into the Fountain Creek aquifer were found to be contaminated earlier this year. The solution is to blend water from the Arkansas River with the well water to dilute contaminants. Right now, Security gets enough water from the Fountain Valley Conduit to make its supply safe. But in summer, water demands will increase, Heald explained.

Larry Small, the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, said the agreement paves the way for flood control projects seven years after the district was formed.

Small was on City Council when the stormwater enterprise was abolished on a 5-4 vote. He voted against eliminating the fee that was then in place. He was hired to run the Fountain Creek district two years later. The district has representatives from both Pueblo and El Paso counties.
The district was formed by the state Legislature out of concerns about the effect of El Paso County’s growth on Fountain Creek and the danger that is posed to Pueblo.

The $460 million for Colorado Springs stormwater projects over the next 20 years is needed to slow down Fountain Creek, but that doesn’t mean Pueblo would be protected. There are at least 18 projects south of Colorado Springs involving either detention ponds or dams that the district wants to get started on.

That process would get a kick start with $20 million in the next nine months if the agreement is approved by commissioners and Colorado Springs City Council in the next week. Three more payments of $10 million over the next three years would follow under terms of the 1041 agreement.

“This agreement says that we’re not just going to put something in place, but that we’re going to monitor it,” Small told commissioners. “It’s a cooperative, collaborative process. We don’t have to rely on rumors and innuendo.”

The city of Pueblo also would benefit from a potential $6 million in Fountain Creek dredging or levee maintenance projects that would cost the city only $1.2 million over the next three years. Pueblo Stormwater Director Jeff Bailey last week told The Pueblo Chieftain that the city has projects lined up, depending on how the funds are structured.

A separate $255,000 project to dredge between Colorado 47 and the Eighth Street bridge already is in the works. It would be funded by Pueblo County, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Fountain Creek district and the state.

For Colorado Springs, SDS is a 40-year solution to provide water both for future growth and redundancy for the major water infrastructure it already has in place. Earlier comments to commissioners from Colorado Springs officials indicated only about 5 million gallons per day initially would flow through the SDS pipeline to El Paso County. It has a capacity of 75 million gallons per day.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said warranties on the project kick in when testing on SDS is completed at the end of this month, however, so Colorado Springs also would like to see the pipeline up and running by next week.