More clouds over stormwater — The Pueblo Chieftain

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs is facing another federal lawsuit over stormwater violations, this time from the federal government.

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering litigation over violation of the city’s federal permit for discharging storm sewer water into Fountain Creek.

An inspection of the city’s stormwater system Aug. 18-19 found failure to meet standards or perform remediation of problems identified in a state audit in February 2013.

“I have to look at the report, but I think this highlights what we have been saying for years,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Colorado Springs has failed to meet its obligations and continues to dump on Pueblo and its other downstream neighbors.”

The Lower Ark district has its own federal lawsuit ready to go, but is holding it back as it waits to see if the city’s new leadership follows through on a commitment to fund stormwater at $19 million per year.
Colorado Springs City Council in 2009 voted to dissolve its stormwater enterprise, after it had been listed as a building block for approval of the Southern Delivery System in permits with the Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County.

The move was first protested in early 2010 by state Rep. Sal Pace, now a Pueblo County commissioner, to the Bureau of Reclamation, Corps of Engineers and EPA. All three agencies indicated at the time Colorado Springs was in compliance with SDS conditions.

In early 2012, Colorado Springs’ city attorney informed then-Mayor Steve Bach and City Council that they were obligated to fund stormwater projects as a part of the SDS approval. That resulted in a stormwater task force that failed to gain voter approval for a regional drainage authority.

Also in 2012, the Lower Ark began talking with Reclamation about stormwater commitments Colorado Springs made in order to obtain approval for SDS.

“It was very disappointing that the Bureau of Reclamation did not step in at that time,” Winner said. “We went to Washington to talk to (Interior Secretary) Ken Salazar and Ann Castle (assistant secretary for water and science) and got nowhere.”

After failing to interest either the Pueblo City Council or Pueblo County commissioners in pursuing the issue in 2012, the Lower Ark’s legal staff began working on a federal lawsuit, embarking on a detailed analysis of how stormwater protection was failing. The lawsuit first targeted Reclamation, but later shifted to naming the city of Colorado Springs as the potential defendant, based on violations similar to those cited by the EPA in August.

“I think this action by the EPA shows that it is not just our district that thinks Colorado Springs has not measured up,” Winner said.

Under Bach, Colorado Springs’ interest in stormwater protection centered on dealing with damage from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, which combined claimed 832 homes and scarred more than 32,000 acres.
But Bach actively opposed the regional drainage district.

Former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers was elected Colorado Springs mayor in May, and immediately pledged to work for $19 million in annual stormwater funding, a move fully endorsed by Colorado Springs City Council.

“I think the new leadership in Colorado Springs is addressing the problem, and the voters endorsed the mayor’s and council’s plan in the last election,” said Steve Nawrocki, president of Pueblo City Council. He said more meetings on the stormwater issue should occur early next year. Nawrocki also acknowledged that pressure from the Lower Ark district helped press the issue.

“I think it helped by making the new leadership (in Colorado Springs) more proactive.”
Pueblo County is in negotiations with Colorado Springs over its 1041 permit for SDS, and is unsure of the impact potential litigation with the EPA would cause.

Colorado Springs notified the county of the impending lawsuit Monday and commissioners expect to discuss it at today’s meeting “It sounds like it vindicates us for what we in Pueblo have been alleging for more than a decade,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.

Suthers was quoted in Tuesday’s edition of The Gazette as saying: “We would rather spend money trying to solve the problem. We’re hoping both Pueblo and the EPA have some realization that we have a council and mayor that realize you can’t kick the can down the road any farther.”

Construction resumes on Fountain Creek through Pueblo

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Work is resuming on a dangerous portion of Fountain Creek through Pueblo.

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a $750,000 project to install articulated concrete blocks — held together by cable in a mat and anchored to the ground — along the Fountain Creek bank near the 13th Street Exit on Interstate 25.

Work should be complete within three months and Pueblo contractor Pate Construction is doing the work while flows are low.

The project started in April, but was interrupted by heavy rains in May and June that increased flows on the Fountain to well above normal for more than six weeks. Waters only recently receded to the point where workers could get in the channel.

Fountain Creek will be temporarily rechanneled to the east of the area while work is underway, said Jeff Bailey, assistant city manager for stormwater.

The area had been secured by a gabion — wire-wrapped rock — which washed out during the September 2013 flood on Fountain Creek.

Fountain Creek hits the bank at a right angle at 13th Street, threatening railroad tracks and roadways in the area. While the Corps is responsible for the work and funds it, the city is the sponsoring agency and coordinates such things as local permits and access, Bailey explained.

There are several other projects still in the planning stages to repair damage from this spring’s flooding, Bailey said.

The city will be removing the debris such as large trees that were deposited at the Eighth Street bridge in the near future. “We need to get that clear so the water doesn’t start undermining the supports,” Bailey said.

The city is also working on restoring trails and repairing the berm at the flood detention pond behind the North Side Walmart.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation is working on projects to repair the Colorado 47 bridge and the trail in that immediate area, as well as clearing debris at the East Fourth Street bridge.

Latest ‘The Fountain Creek Chronicle’ newsletter is hot off the presses

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Second Annual Event A Huge Success

The numbers are in, and they are impressive.

1,550 citizens in 6 communities removed almost 9.5 tons of litter and debris from the Fountain Creek Watershed during Creek Week 2015 (September 26-October 4th).

This year’s event drew more than twice the participants and collected over 2 tons more than last year’s inaugural cleanup, thanks to new Steering Committee members, generous sponsors and hard working volunteers of all ages.

New this year was a fundraiser at Fieldhouse Brewing Company – they created a special “Creek Week IPA”, a promotion for volunteers at Navajo Hogan, insulated water bottles as prizes, heavy duty gloves and trash grabbers for volunteers to keep, a commercial and newspaper ads.

The goals of Creek Week are about fostering stewardship, raising awareness of our waterways, and making the area cleaner and safer for all to enjoy. Comments from participants about their experiences were very favorable – most indicated that they would like to see more cleanups throughout the year, that they were more aware of their impacts on our water, and that they would get involved again in the future.

The Steering Committee looks forward to continued growth and expansion of Creek Week in the coming years including increased participation, development of watershed education materials and resources for teachers, coupon books for volunteers, and in-water teams…

Click here for full Report.

Colorado Springs asks councillors for water rate increase in 2016

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

The Southern Delivery System, due to become operational next year, hasn’t cost as much as predicted in 2010, which led to lower and fewer rate increases since that time. Originally, Colorado Springs Utilities planned to increase water rates by 12 percent per year for six years. Instead, rates went up by 12 percent each in 2011 and 2012 and 10 percent each in 2013 and 2014.

That said, revenue hasn’t generated as much money as CSU planned, according to a City Auditor’s Office assessment of water rates released this month.

When the costs of the pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs came in some $400 million less than originally projected, that meant the city had to borrow less, the audit reports…

In any event, Springs Utilities proposes to change gas, electric and water rates in 2016. The water rate increase would increase the typical residential bill from $57.07 a month this year to $59.62 next year, an increase of $2.55 per month, or 4.5 percent…

Rates changes will become effective January 1 if approved by City Council, which doubles as the Utilities Board.

Manitou Springs to rehab 118 year old supply line from French Creek

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

The city of Manitou Springs plans to take advantage of a much-needed upgrade to an almost 120-year-old deteriorating pipeline and become a bit more environmentally and economically efficient.

A more than $3 million project to upgrade the iron pipe just entered its beginning stages. And city officials already plan to add a small hydroelectric generator to the line that brings water from French Creek on the eastern slopes of Pikes Peak and into the city’s water treatment plant.

The city began plans for the project after heavy rains in September 2013 eroded soil that covers the pipe, which was installed in 1897 and is hidden less than three feet below the Ute Pass Regional Trail.

The line was exposed in multiple places during the 2013 storms that pummeled the entire Front Range, causing roads to wash away, resulting in at least eight deaths, according to Colorado Office of Emergency Management, and leaving some people stranded for days. The pipe sprung a couple of leaks during the torrent. The city temporarily shut off its water main for repairs. And officials became urgently concerned about just how long the three-and-a-half mile pipe will last.

“If it were to fail, there is only a couple days-worth of reserves,” said Sara Hartley, a flood recovery project manager with Manitou Springs. “This is a very high priority project.”

As city council discussed the plans earlier this year, one council woman suggested piggy-backing the hydroelectric generator onto the project.

“Coreen (Toll) brought up the idea that if we were going to replace the pipe, we might as well look into hydro,” said city administrator Jason Wells.

Just last week Manitou Springs received word from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that it will receive a $3.3 million Community Development Block Grant for the pipeline project. Adding a bypass that will send water flowing through a 40-kilowatt water turbine and generate electricity is expected to add about $300,000 to the cost.

Kurt Johnson, a consultant at Telluride Energy LLC, said a pressure-reduction valve would be needed to ensure that water flowing into the treatment plant doesn’t cause damage to the facility and its controls. According to Johnson, the bypass and the water turbine will consume any extra water pressure and make good use of the energy that would otherwise be wasted.

By adding the turbine during the pipeline project, some of the costs for installing the hydro generator will be avoided, Wells said. He and Johnson also talked about potentially designing the new pipeline so it can accommodate multiple future turbines at low cost.

Hartley said that possibility has been discussed by Manitou officials. She said those details could be added to the plans in the design and construction phases of the project.

This isn’t the first time the city has explored potential benefits of hydropower. Manitou Springs did a feasibility analysis in 1990 to see if installation of a hydro generator at the treatment plant would be cost effective, Hartley said.

According to Johnson, it wasn’t until 2013 when the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama, that small hydro projects became economically feasible. Johnson said that prior to 2013, tens-of-thousands of dollars were going toward bureaucratic paperwork and trickling down to consumers. He said the bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support and has led to “small hydro innovation,” more grant money for such projects and low-interest loan availability.

Manitou Springs plans to borrow money for the hydropower supplement to the pipeline project. The turbine is expected to generate about 237,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average residential utility customer used just under 11,000 kilowatt-hours in 2014.

The next step for Manitou Springs is to compile preliminary plans and engineering designs and turn them over to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for an environmental review. Upon completion, a “funding obligation date” will be determined. From that date, the block grant guidelines require Manitou Springs complete the pipeline project within 24 months.

Hartley said the city will submit a Request for Proposal next year and accept bids to choose a contractor. She estimates it will be at least 10 months before construction begins on the project.

In the meantime, Manitou Springs must simply wait and hope that the 188-year-old pipe holds up.

“It’s just long overdue,” said Kirk Greasby, the city’s water treatment plant operator.

Colorado Springs offers stormwater assurances — The Pueblo Chieftain

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities tried to assure a district that has threatened federal court action that it fully intends to fund stormwater control on Fountain Creek.

“We have been working with Pueblo County on an intergovernmental agreement that deals with one topic: stormwater,” Colorado Springs spokesman Mark Pifher told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday.

He said there have been three drafts of the IGA, which was initiated shortly after John Suthers was elected mayor.

“We’re meeting again next Tuesday, and hope to reach an understanding of what our commitments are,” Pifher said.

Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place in 2009 when Pueblo County approved a 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The enterprise was initiated in 2005 with the participation of the Lower Ark District. The district had a larger portfolio of water issues it wanted to address with Colorado Springs, but made headway only with Fountain Creek flood control issues.

Over the next few years, they spent a combined $1.2 million to develop a plan and keep the newly formed Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District afloat.

After the Colorado Springs City Council voted to abolish the stormwater enterprise, the Lower Ark district began to prepare a federal lawsuit, first against the Bureau of Reclamation and now against Colorado Springs, claiming violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

For the last year, Colorado Springs has asked the Lower Ark to hold off on filing the suit, and with Suthers’ election, the district has returned to a wait-and-see mode.

Pifher presented documentation that Suthers supports a 10-year program to fully fund stormwater control and permitting at $19 million annually in his budget request to City Council. Council made a similar proposal last year that was shot down by the former mayor, Steve Bach.

The upcoming vote on a sales tax to fund street repairs will not affect stormwater funding, Pifher claimed.

“They’re two separate issues,” he said.

However, Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers, is challenging that position, saying that some of the bonds being eyed for flood control could be used for streets.

Colorado Springs is working with the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on the best places to spend the money. It also intends to start up SDS early next year, which would release $50 million in flood control payments over five years to the Fountain Creek district, Pifher noted.

Southern Delivery System moving along

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities got a clean bill of health from Pueblo County’s weed manager Monday and answered questions raised at a Sept. 25 hearing about revegetation along the 17-mile route of the Southern Delivery System through Pueblo County.

Still, commissioners want more time to study documents submitted and continue a public hearing on SDS 1041 permit commitments to 9 a.m. on Dec. 8.

Utilities needs to fulfill conditions of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS in order to turn on its pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs next April. Revegetation compliance also would release $674,000 Pueblo County is holding under of the permit.

Utilities revealed it has spent more than $5.3 million on revegetation work already.

Colorado Springs provided point-by-point assurances on 17 issues raised on Sept. 25, when experts from both camps agreed Utilities had tackled the problem with state-of-the-art methods. Utilities also provided documentation from contractors that the work was done correctly, and that most landowners were satisfied with the work.

“We need to work through the (final) issues to protect the citizens of Pueblo County,” said Commissioner Terry Hart, who made a motion to take the comments under advisement and continue the hearing. “What we’re trying to do is look at the work in its totality.”

Hart, along with Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen and Sal Pace, had little criticism of Utilities’ report, which pledged further work with landowners as well as reviewing procedures already put in place to bring land disturbed by SDS construction back to its original condition or better.

“It’s light years ahead of other projects,” Hart said.

Bill Alt, who manages Pueblo County’s weed control program through the Turkey Creek Conservation District, agreed. Alt toured the pipeline route last week and said Colorado Springs has lived up to its responsibilities to reseed ground disturbed by SDS.

“The grass is up and doing well,” Alt said.

“Some of the tamarisk has been dug up by the roots and removed, and the topsoil has been replaced as in any mining operation.”

The problem is that the areas on either side of the 150-foot path of SDS are still susceptible to tumbleweeds (Russian knapweed) and tamarisk, which could still find their way back onto the treated area, particularly on the route north of U.S. 50, Alt said.

Some landowners have mowed or grazed the revegetated areas prematurely instead of allowing new grasses a chance to get established, he added.

“Everything is fine for what we looked at,” Alt said. “We did not go on Walker Ranches, although I would like to go because that’s where the erosion is.”

The Walker Ranches crossing is being handled under a $7.4 million settlement as a result of a jury verdict.

Colorado Springs also said it is working on a settlement with Dwain Maxwell, a Pueblo West resident who complained about the project at an earlier hearing. Utilities also has taken on a separate project to divert floodwater around a property just south of Walker Ranches in Pueblo West.

From (Jessi Mitchell):

As part of the deal, the utility company had to repair the land after digging up 50 miles of dirt to bury the 66-inch pipe, restoring at least 90% of the vegetation that was in place before. CSU showed the county that they have gone above and beyond the requirements, but commissioners have not yet released them from the commitment.

“The work that we’ve got done so far is already light-years ahead of other projects,” admits commissioner Terry Hart. Pueblo County commissioners applauded CSU for its nearly $5.4 million efforts to re-seed and irrigate the lands it plowed through to plant the SDS pipeline.

Landowners agree, giving high praise in a report to the way workers left things better than before.

CSU’s SDS permitting and compliance manager Mark Pifher says, “We put in a very extensive irrigation system. If I had to guess, it’s probably the biggest irrigation system ever installed in Colorado.

Commissioners had lots of questions when they first met to review the re-vegetation process in September, many of which addressed future concerns over erosion and management of the property. Pifher says doing a good job is about more than protecting the pipeline; it is about respecting the landowners as well. “It’s important that you do it with a mindset that this is like your property,” says Pifher, “how would you like it restored and put back into its historic condition, if you will.”

Bill Alt has been working closely with the group to oversee the management of noxious weeds throughout the easements, which have been removed on the property in question, but remain nearby and are likely to spread. Alt suggests CSU send a notice to the owners about maintaining the landscaping moving forward. “It needs some tender, loving care,” says Alt, “and it’s good for your property because it keeps the property value up. It’s not something you’re ashamed to show a realtor or other people.”

Commissioners will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities again Dec. 8 to make sure no other questions arise before checking re-vegetation off the long SDS checklist. The only other big issue standing in the way of water flowing north is Colorado Springs’ stormwater management efforts.

To access all official documents on the SDS, including CSU’s latest report, click here.