Southern Delivery System: Closing arguments expected to conclude today in Walker Ranch lawsuit

April 22, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Closing arguments are expected to wrap up sometime today in a jury trial to determine the value of the Southern Delivery System easement across Walker Ranches in Pueblo County.

Expert witnesses for Colorado Springs testified Tuesday, the seventh day of the trial.

Attorneys for both sides indicated the testimony would wrap up soon and they were preparing to present closing arguments today. After that, the jury will begin its deliberations.

Court records indicate Gary Walker was offered $100,000 for easements on a 150-foot wide strip 5.5 miles long through Walker Ranches in northern Pueblo County. Colorado Springs, which is building SDS, also paid Walker $720,000 to relocate cattle during three years of construction.

Construction on SDS began in 2011, and includes 50 miles of underground pipeline 66 inches in diameter in Pueblo and El Paso counties. The final phase of construction in Pueblo County is the Juniper Pump Station being built near Pueblo Dam.

Walker claims the choice of pipeline route has contributed to erosion and diminished the value of his land. His court records claim SDS has caused $25 million worth of impact on his ranches, which total 65,000 acres. He’s also claiming damages under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, which protects landowners from out-of-pocket expenses and requires Colorado Springs to use eminent domain only as a last resort.

District Judge Jill Mattoon is presiding over the trial.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-212 scheduled for hearing today in Senate Ag committee #coleg

April 22, 2015
Detention pond

Detention pond

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would allow flood water to be stored regardless of the impact on water rights would not affect a proposal to build flood control structures on Fountain Creek.

The district is looking at building a dam or several detention ponds on Fountain Creek. It has no interest in getting blanket authority under [Senate Bill 15-212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)], which is moving slowly through the Legislature.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board has taken a neutral position on the legislation, and would not interrupt its study of flood control and water rights even if SB212 passes, said Larry Small, executive director.

“We have no intention to infringe on water rights,” Small said Tuesday. “We live and operate in this basin, and whatever we do has to be mutually beneficial.”

Small was speaking to a technical committee Tuesday studying how water rights can be protected while constructing flood control structures on Fountain Creek.

The Denver Urban Drainage District and other water interests are pushing SB212, which is scheduled to be heard today in the Senate agriculture committee.

Farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley are interested because of its impact on junior water rights. Several testified last week against the bill. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District offered amendments to the bill that would exempt Fountain Creek or the Arkansas River basin from the bill.

“Once again, it looks like the Legislature wants to put all the mitigation for these projects on the backs of farmers,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

It also was suggested that fire mitigation basins, which are needed in areas such as Colorado Springs to deal with the aftermath of large wildfires, be allowed but to postpone action on flood control basins.

The state of Kansas also wrote an April 10 letter to Mike King, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Dick Wolfe saying the [bill] could have a negative impact on the Arkansas River Compact. It said a proposed notification system is not sufficient to protect its interests.

Small said that it might not be possible to move the legislation this year, since it would face more of a challenge in the House and the Legislature is set to adjourn on May 6.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Trial opens on Walker’s SDS costs — The Pueblo Chieftain

April 15, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A contentious jury trial over the value of easements for the Southern Delivery System pipeline crossing Walker Ranches opened Monday in District Judge Jill Mattoon’s courtroom.

Colorado Springs Utilities offered about $100,000 for the easements, and has paid rancher Gary Walker $720,000 for moving cattle to alternate grazing pastures. Walker claims the value of SDS impacts on his land are $25 million, according to court documents. The 66-inch diameter pipeline has a 50-foot permanent easement and 100-foot temporary easement across 5.5 miles of Walker Ranches.

The total length of the SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs is about 50 miles.

Walker spent about eight hours on the stand Monday and Tuesday testifying about the impact SDS has had on his cattle, violating existing conservation easements, introducing toxic materials and invasive species and other issues he has experienced since Colorado Springs constructed the underground pipeline in 2011. Water from the pipeline scar flooded other areas of the ranches and contributed to erosion, Walker said.

Walker stressed throughout that he does not believe he has been treated fairly in his dealings with Colorado Springs.

“After dealing with Colorado Springs since 2011, I’m worried about anything that occurs between you and I,” Walker pointedly told Colorado Springs attorneys during a testy cross-examination.

Colorado Springs in February won an appeal to the state Supreme Court to overturn a $500,000 judgment for court costs awarded by retired District Judge Victor Reyes in December. Walker had claimed Colorado Springs delayed the trial while he accrued costs for expert witnesses.

Colorado Springs is questioning Walker’s basis for damages, claiming conservation easements do not affect the parcels where the pipeline was built and that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit is an agreement between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, not individual landowners. One of the conditions of the 1041 permit states that landowners should not have out of pocket expenses because of real estate transactions related to SDS.

Because of the large volume of documents in the case, the trial is expected to take about two weeks.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: The Pueblo County commissioners take first step to evaluate Colorado Springs’ 1041 permit compliance

March 31, 2015
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker):

The Pueblo Board of County Commissioners got a first look at a resolution that will allow the board to retain legal counsel along with engineering consultants and other staff to evaluate whether Colorado Springs’ lack of any consistent stormwater funding is a deal-breaker for the Southern Delivery System.

The board took no official action on the measure, instead instructing attorneys Gary Raso and Ray Petros to fine-tune the resolution before it comes back for a vote.

The crux of the issue is the failure of a ballot measure in Colorado Springs in November that would have created a dedicated funding source for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs that could mitigate the impact of runoff into the Fountain Creek.

The work that would be cleared by the resolution will allow staff to examine what’s been done so far and what still needs to be done for Colorado Springs to comply with the stormwater requirement in the SDS 1041 permit.

“We need to develop a factual basis for any action we take,” said Raso. “It would be the first time that Pueblo County would have an independently established set of facts about the stormwater flowing through the Fountain Creek.”

Petros told commissioners Monday that Colorado Springs has provided staff a summary of its stormwater expenditures.

Colorado Springs has indicated that it has budgeted $17 million this year for more improvements, but Petros said there’s yet to be any indication what those improvements are or if they’re among the 239 projects worth more than $534 million identified in 2013.

Commissioner Sal Pace said he wants a clear picture on what projects Colorado Springs has planned that directly mitigate impacts on the Fountain Creek and which ones are aimed at fixing the challenge of runoff from the various burn scars in the area.

It’s possible that building flood control projects for the burn scar will have an impact on the flooding in Fountain Creek. But Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen wondered whether the impacts of the Waldo Canyon Fire are accounted for under the current agreements over the SDS, since those were signed before the first spark of the catastrophic fire ever landed.

McFadyen also worried that the work set forth in the resolution may be at odds with the needs of the county’s own constituents in Pueblo West. The metro district ties into SDS.

“I don’t want to see Pueblo West used in a way that could be interpreted as gamesmanship in all of this,” she said.

Commissioner Terry Hart noted that the $50 million being paid to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District likely won’t be enough to pay for the mitigation projects in Pueblo County and asked Petros and Raso to include a specific date in the resolution as to when the information will be ready.

Petros suggested the end of June, to give the newly elected mayor and City Council time to get sworn in after April 7 elections and for next month’s lawsuit over compensation by Colorado Springs to Walker Ranches to run its course.

However, Hart said he’d like to see it sooner.

“I didn’t create this problem,” he said. “What created this problem was the failure of the question in November.”

More stormwater coverage here.


The Fountain Creek District is focusing on maximizing SDS payments from Colorado Springs

March 30, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Big money for flood control on Fountain Creek would become available in January the year after Southern Delivery System begins delivering water.

But the district that will receive the $50 million in payments over five years wants to make sure the money is safe from Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights legislation that could erode the funds.

Most likely, the money would begin arriving in 2017, provided that Colorado Springs meets all conditions of its agreement with Pueblo County.

Last week, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board asked Pueblo County commissioners and Colorado Springs Utilities to amend the 1041 agreement on SDS to make payments to its newly created enterprise, rather than the district. The resolution passed 9-0.

“The money has to be redirected so we can comply with the TABOR spending limit,” Executive Director Larry Small explained.

The money has to be spent on flood control projects that directly benefit Pueblo County, and the district has studies in progress to determine what sort of projects it could be applied.

The Fountain Creek district is looking at a dam or detention ponds between Colorado Springs and Pueblo to reduce the damage from large floods. It is also tackling the questions of impacts of temporary storage on water rights raised by farmers downstream on the Arkansas River.

TABOR puts limits on how much spending can increase by publicly funded entities in Colorado, year over year. Small gave his board projections that showed the full $50 million would not be available. The district intends to use the money to leverage other sources of payment.

Conservancy districts, including Southeastern and the Lower Ark, have long used enterprises to deal with funds collected and spent on top of property taxes. Under state law, the Fountain Creek district can assess up to 5 mills in property tax with voter approval, but it has never approached voters in El Paso and Pueblo counties to initiate any tax.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Pueblo County water rights buy: “This meets all the charges the district has” — Terry Hart

March 28, 2015
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County is angling to become the owner of the most senior water rights on Fountain Creek.

The purchase would be aided by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which voted Friday to line up financing for the deal, which is expected to complete by the end of the year.

“I see this as a fascinating project. This meets all the charges the district has: flood control, recreation, restoration and conservation,” Commissioner Terry Hart said. “I love history. I’m thrilled with it.”

The Greenview Trust property, located 8 miles north of Pueblo along Overton Road, is about 360 acres with water rights dating back to 1862. Like other farms on Fountain Creek, it has faced erosion issues for years, and the owners sued the city of Colorado Springs after the 1999 flood over the growth that increased the base flows in the waterway.

Negotiations are still underway for the purchase of the property and details cannot be discussed publicly, Hart said.

“We still have some due diligence issues,” Hart said.

The county has some other water rights, but the Fountain Creek purchase would give it more legal standing on water rights issues as projects develop along Fountain Creek.

The Fountain Creek district board voted 9-0 to line up some of the financing for the possibly $3.72 million project in open session Friday, since public grants and loans are involved.

Collateral for the $1 million loan from the CWCB would be the upcoming payments by Colorado Springs Utilities to the Fountain Creek district under the 1041 permit with Pueblo County. The first payment would come due in early 2017, if the Southern Delivery System goes online by 2016, as expected.

The property could be used for wetlands or for detention facilities that would aid flood control.

Pueblo County intends to put a conservation easement on the property as well because of its historic significance, Hart said.

“This is exactly what we want to be doing as a district,” said Richard Skorman, who sits on the Fountain Creek board.

“The Lower Ark is obviously excited about this,” said Melissa Esquibel, a Lower Ark board member who sits on the Fountain Creek board.

Board member Jane Rhodes, a Fountain Creek landowner, is related to the family which is selling the property.


Southern Delivery System: “It’s a wonderful, wonderful day to celebrate” — John Fredell

March 19, 2015

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The last 50-foot pipe of the 50-mile-long Southern Delivery System arrived at a construction site Wednesday, marking a key milestone for the project as it nears completion next year both on time and under budget.

“We put to rest a lot of doubters that we’d get this done,” said Lionel Rivera, Colorado Springs’ former mayor, who helped approve the project.

With Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” playing in the background, a truck hauled the massive blue pipe to a site just south of Pikes Peak International Raceway. Crews will place it underground in the coming weeks, completing a system spanning from Pueblo Reservoir to a new water treatment facility in Colorado Springs, which is under construction.

More than 7,000 of the steel, 66-inch-diameter pipes were installed since in 2010. That included a mile-long stretch bored 85 feet below Interstate 25 – a tunnel that was $10 million cheaper than creating a surface trench, according to Colorado Springs Utilities.

Current and former elected officials from across southern Colorado, along with several contractors who have worked on the project, were among scores of people on hand to watch the pipe being delivered. Many signed their names on it.

“It’s great – we’ve been at this a long time,” said John Fredell, the Southern Delivery System’s program director. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful day to celebrate.”

Three pump stations and the treatment facility are expected to be completed this year, with the system up and running for customers in Colorado Springs by the first quarter of 2016, Fredell said.

The project is on track to cost $841 million, below Colorado Springs City Council’s approved budget of $880 million in 2009, which did not account for inflation or rising material costs. The council also serves as Utilities’ board. Those savings rise to about $150 million when factoring in the cost of inflation and increases in material costs, said Fredell, who credited design changes to the pipeline and water treatment facility for much of the savings.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

One of the biggest water projects in the western U.S. will hit a major milestone this month, when the last piece of 50 miles of pipe is laid for the Southern Delivery System, the $841 million project to bring new water supplies to Colorado Springs and nearby communities.

The project includes 50 miles of pipeline, three pump stations and a water treatment plant. It will deliver water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

More than 7,000 sections of blue-colored, welded, steel pipe 50 feet long and most of it 66 inches in diameter were installed on the project during the last 3 1/2 years of construction.

The project spent $204 million on pipe and installation, according to the Colorado Springs Utilities.

“The pipe is the main artery for this water project and we are extremely pleased with how the pipeline construction went,” said John Fredell, the program director for the Southern Delivery System project.

The project is in the final year of construction and Fredell said the costs are expected to be nearly $150 million under the original budget…

Northwest Pipe (Nasdaq: NWPX), based in Vancouver, Washington, manufactured the SDS pipe at its Denver plant.

Three contractors installed the pipe, Garney Construction, headquartered in Kansas City with an office in Littleton; ASI/HCP Contractors of Pueblo West; and the heavy civil division of Layne, a construction firm based in The Woodlands, Texas, which has four offices in Colorado.

Construction is continuing on other elements of the Southern Delivery System project, including a $125-million water treatment plant and pump station that will have the capacity to treat and pump 50 million gallons of water per day. Three pump stations will help move water uphill, about 1,500 feet in elevation, from the Pueblo Reservoir, also are under construction.

Construction on the remaining portions of the project are expected to be finished by the end of 2015.

From KRDO (Rana Novini):

Community leaders gathered Wednesday to celebrate the completion of pipeline construction for the Southern Delivery System (SDS). The project consists of more than 7,000 50-foot sections of steel pipe that have been installed over the last three and a half years. The pipe will transport water stored in the Pueblo Reservoir north to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs.

“It’s taken many years and it’s taken many city councils and it’s taken many leaders and many workers to accomplish this,” said Colorado Springs City Councilman Merv Bennett. “Our friends to the south, the Lord gave them the Arkansas River as their delivery system. To the north, Denver has the South Platte River as their delivery system. We have Fountain Creek and we ran out of that water in 1912.”

Proponents of the SDS argue the pipeline will ensure Colorado Springs and surrounding areas can continue to grow, especially toward eastern El Paso County. The region will have to worry less about drought and watering restrictions.

“Water is important. It’s the lifeline of a community,” said Lionel Rivera, former mayor of Colorado Springs. “It’s the way you grow and I think we’ve ensured the water supply for at least the next 50 years.”

Rivera was mayor from 2003 until 2011 and helped get the project rolling. He said Tuesday that it was one of the most rewarding things he did as mayor.

“It’s very exciting, a little bit emotional to see that pipe,” Rivera said. “It just made me think of all the stuff we had to go through to get this approved. We were told back when we started it that it couldn’t get done from a political standpoint, but we proved the doubters wrong.”

The project has had opponents over the years, many from Pueblo who are concerned over stormwater issues.

Though pipeline construction is complete, workers still need to build water treatment plants and pump stations. The first drop of water is expected to be delivered in spring 2016.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Construction crews are poised to lay the final pipeline link for Colorado’s biggest water project in decades — an $841 million uphill diversion from the Arkansas River to enable population growth in Colorado Springs and other semi-arid Front Range cities.

Eleven 2,000-plus horsepower pumps driven by coal-fired power plants will propel the water from a reservoir near Pueblo through a 50-mile pipeline with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet.

This is the first phase, moving up to 50 million gallons a day, for a Southern Delivery System that utility officials estimated will eventually cost $1.5 billion.

“It means we will have greater water security,” Colorado Springs utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel said. “Businesses need water. Our communities need water to survive. It means we can continue to serve our population as it grows.”

Water challenges loom across Colorado, with state officials projecting a 163 billion-gallon shortfall. A few years ago, drought forced Colorado Springs to stop watering municipal parkways and gardens.

The diverted water can be used only within the Arkansas River Basin, officials said, ruling out sales to south Denver suburbs. And the river water, after treatment, must be returned to downstream farmers.

Colorado Springs residents have been paying for the project through water bills, which increased by 52 percent over four years. Utility officials spent $475 million from bonds.

The water will flow by next March, officials said. At full buildout, the system will store water in two new reservoirs east of Colorado Springs.

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

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southern Delivery System pipeline’s completion was marked by a contingent of El Paso County officials and a smattering of Pueblo County folks as well.

For John Bowen, president of ASI Constructors of Pueblo West, the SDS project has meant bread on the table as well as water in the pipes.

“It’s generated $50 million in contract values for our company,” Bowen said during a ceremony to mark completion of the SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. “We were able to grow as a business during a time when a lot of contractors were laying people off.”

ASI was the primary contractor for the connection at Pueblo Dam, as well as 12 miles of the 50-mile SDS pipeline route, and relied on 70 local businesses for support services. The SDS project generated $800,000 in wages for ASI workers.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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