“There’s a heavy mistrust of government” — State Senator Larry Crowder

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A state lawmaker who voiced support for a dam on Fountain Creek after this spring’s flooding says downstream opposition has changed his course.

“A dam on Fountain Creek was, still is, a good idea. But when I went down there to talk to people about it, there was opposition from three counties and several groups of farmers,” state Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, said. “There’s a heavy mistrust of government.”

Crowder made waves in July when he voiced support for a flood-control dam on Fountain Creek in light of the constant erosion caused by heavy flooding in May and June.

On paper, having three dams in the Lower Arkansas Valley — Pueblo, John Martin and Fountain Creek — could allow for better water management to supply water to farmers, Crowder said Tuesday.

“I still believe having three dams would have extended water rights,” he said.

But commissioners in Otero, Prowers and Kiowa counties have voiced opposition, saying a dam on Fountain Creek would harm junior water rights.

Preliminary results from a study by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District earlier this year show that damage would be relatively small and that slowing down water could actually prolong the time some junior rights are in priority.

“The way I see it, we are always playing defense,” Crowder said. “I thought a dam would be a good way to play But after several meetings and letters of opposition to a dam, Crowder said he is no longer interested in pushing for state support of a Fountain Creek dam. He was also dissuaded from supporting it by comments last week that made at a joint meeting of Pueblo and Colorado Springs city councils.

“It’s a quandary for me, but I have to go with what people in my district want,” Crowder said. “I can’t fight everybody.”

Fountain Creek: “The annual maintenance of the levee [in Pueblo] has been neglected” — Ken Wright

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It’s like adding insult to injury.

As if flooding on Fountain Creek weren’t bad enough, mountains of sand are stacking up north of Pueblo waiting to descend on the channel through the city.

Dealing with it will take cooperation from the north and decades to correct.

“It’s like a big anaconda eating an animal and moving it down,” said Ian Paton, part of the Wright Engineering team hired by Pueblo County commissioners to analyze the problem. Commissioners heard a status report on what will be an ongoing study on Friday.

The problem may be bigger than previously thought, Paton explained.

The net gain of sediment in Fountain Creek works out to about 370,000 tons a year between Fountain and Pueblo, causing the river to shift its flow in the channel as the increasing amount of material obstructs its path. It keeps piling up year after year as it eats away 20-foot cliffs.

And, it has become worse since 1980, when Colorado Springs started booming in population and major infusions of water from outside sources — Homestake, Blue River and the Fountain Valley Conduit — began putting more water into Fountain Creek.

Southern Delivery System, a 66-inch diameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, could increase Fountain Creek flows 60-100 percent, while depleting the Arkansas River through Pueblo. Water quality will become an increasing concern as more sediment is churned up.

“Population is the driving factor,” said Andrew Earles, Wright’s top water resources engineer. “To have growth, you need water, and since the 1970s, you’ve been putting more and more water into Fountain Creek.”

Additional water has allowed more growth, and increased base flow threefold.

But the growth also has increased impervious surfaces — roofs, parking lots and streets — by 10 percent of the total watershed area upstream of Security, and caused base flows, high flows (the kind seen this spring) and big floods to become more intense at all times.

The Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires of 2012 and 2013 have caused storms to generate up to 100 times the damage that would have occurred prior to Colorado Springs’ growth surge, Earles explained.

“We can’t turn back the clock. We can’t put it back to the way it was in the 1950s and ’60s,” Earles said. “We can put it in better shape for the future.”

A big part of that will be developing ways to deal with increased flows into Fountain Creek at the source.

That would include detention of floods, bank stabilization and control of tributaries in ways that reduce damage on the main stream.

Wright Engineers evaluated Colorado Springs and El Paso County estimates of 454 flood control projects that could cost $723 million to complete for their benefit to Pueblo County. About two-fifths of the projects totaling $537 million would reduce destruction to Pueblo.

Colorado Springs officials are proposing $19 million annually to bring stormwater control back to the level it was before its City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise in 2009.

“So far we agree with their list,” said engineer Wayne Lorenz.

Lorenz said a dam between Fountain and Pueblo is “worthy of consideration,” but cautioned that such a oneshot solution could fail.

“A dam is more of a treatment for a symptom rather than a cause,” Lorenz said. “We can’t put all our eggs in one basket with a dam because it might not happen.”

Commissioners are also concerned that projects be maintained.

In Pueblo, the Fountain Creek levees are in need of repair in order to provide the same protection they were designed to give 25 years ago.

“The levee is badly silted and vegetated, and it would take $2 (million)-$ 5 million to bring it back to standards,” said Ken Wright, head of the engineering firm.

“The annual maintenance of the levee has been neglected.”

The fear is new projects on Fountain Creek could sink in the same boat.

“We need to make sure we’re not just building projects, but have the money to maintain them,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

The latest issue of the ‘Fountain Creek Chronicle’ is hot off the presses

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

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

Second Annual Creek Week Planned for September 2015

What do old tires, a water gun, rugs and shopping carts have in common? They are just a few of the nearly 7 tons of litter and debris collected during last year’s weeklong, watershed-wide litter cleanup event called Creek Week.

The District, along with numerous community organizations and individuals, will host this event for the second year. Creek Week is open to citizens in all 8 municipalities within the Fountain Creek watershed: Monument, Palmer Lake, Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls, Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs, Fountain, and Pueblo. 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.

This year’s Creek Week will be held from Saturday, September 26th through Sunday, October 4. Organizers comment that just one week’s worth of collaborative cleanup can do much to beautify our watershed and community.

Creek Week is a perfect opportunity to form a Creek Crew and participate in your own cleanup or any of the public efforts happening in Teller, El Paso, and Pueblo Counties. Online registration for groups and individuals begins September 1. Click here for more information. Volunteer information and instruction packets will be sent along with your confirmation. Each participant is required to complete paperwork prior to starting work. Youth aged 17 and under may participate with at least one supervising adult 21 years+.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

Colorado Springs City Council okays funds for Fountain Creek District

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

A City Council resolution approved Tuesday lets Mayor John Suthers start funneling city money to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

“It’s a big deal,” says district Executive Director Larry Small.

It’s a big deal because farmers and ranchers along Fountain Creek lose farmland with every storm. The Air Force Academy is being inundated, too.

Without stormwater mitigation upstream, a 100-year storm could overtop east Pueblo levees and flood neighborhoods there.

Downstream, the Arkansas Valley suffers when Fountain Creek flows too high, such as the 20,000 cubic feet per second it reached on June 15, and Pueblo Reservoir stops releasing water. Then Fountain Creek gushes into the Arkansas River.

Colorado Springs is the watershed’s biggest city with the most impervious area.

“So it generates a huge amount of runoff,” Small said. “Then when you have fire in Black Forest and Waldo Canyon – a two-year storm in that area is equivalent to a 100-year storm – it’s just creating huge flows in that creek.”[…]

The City of Colorado Springs will provide $150,000 toward creating a flood restoration master plan for Monument Creek, the third and last tributary in the watershed without such a plan.

Cheyenne and Upper Fountain creeks’ plans are done. But Monument Creek is the biggest part of the Fountain Creek Watershed and has the most tributaries.

Its plan, like the others, will prioritize projects, identify conceptual designs and estimate budgets.

“The next step will be finding a way to implement those projects and getting funding for those projects,” Small said.

That work is expected to restore the watershed after 2013 floods associated with the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, as well as the May rains and high flows on June 15.

The flood district has built a coalition of El Paso and Teller counties, multiple cities, the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Air Force Academy, all working to obtain state grants to remedy the fire- and flood-caused damage.

In addition to the $150,000 Colorado Springs now can provide to match a $300,000 state grant, for example, the Monument Creek restoration plan will get $50,000 each from El Paso County, the Air Force Academy and Colorado Springs Utilities.

“I hope the relationships are going to get better between Pueblo and Colorado Springs with the initiatives John Suthers has proposed,” Small said.

That appears to be happening already. Pueblo threatened to sue Colorado Springs but rescinded that threat after repeated visits by the mayor and Council President Merv Bennett.

“We’re in negotiations with Pueblo County commissioners as to putting together an intergovernmental agreement that puts some teeth into this so they have confidence we’ll follow through with it,” he said.

Suthers has vowed that $19 million a year will be spent on stormwater problems: $8 million from retiring bonds in the Springs Community Improvement Program, $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities and $8 million he says he’ll squeeze out of city coffers.

“The problem is, as you’ve seen, there’s about $500 million of need. So $20 million a year – you can do the math and see how many years it would take,” Small said.

Colorado Springs Utilities agreed in 2009 to spend $50 million on waterway improvement projects, $75 million to upgrade its own wastewater or water-reuse systems and $2 million to dredge the creek at Pueblo’s levees.

Those promises were made in conjunction with getting a 1041 permit from Pueblo County to build the Southern Delivery System to pump water from Pueblo Reservoir to residents of Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

The $50 million comes when SDS starts operating in 2016. But $50 million “is just a drop in the bucket for taking care of the corridor from Colorado Springs to the Arkansas.”

Nonetheless, said Councilman Don Knight, “Any progress is a move in the right direction. … We’re all moving in the same direction. We don’t have a stormwater task force and mayor with different solutions. We realize we have to come together with one solution.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

Landowner challenges state’s interpretation of old decree — The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Fountain Creek landowner has filed a complaint in Pueblo water court saying he has a right to the Fountain Creek underflow, as well as surface water.

Ralph “Wil” Williams, trustee of the Greenview Trust, filed the complaint in June, saying the state has incorrectly administered the water right to the 313-acre farm as solely surface water.

The property, located 8 miles north of Pueblo on Fountain Creek is emblematic of man’s interaction with Fountain Creek throughout recorded history. It was first settled by “Uncle Dick” Wooten in 1862 and has always been in farmland.

In the 1990s, it began to experience severe erosion from growth upstream, particularly the development in Colorado Springs.

Problems with the ditch came to a head after the 1999 flood, leading the owners to sue Colorado Springs for dumping more water in the creek, only to be locked out when the Legislature granted governmental immunity for flood damages.

In the most recent floods of the past five years, the Greenview has continued to lose land, including about 10 acres of trees to the storms in May and June.

“We’re trying to conserve the farm,” Williams said. Pueblo County, through a program in conjunction with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, is interested in purchasing the property as a restoration project.

The water rights are crucial to determining land value, Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

“We weren’t successful in a Great Outdoors Colorado grant this cycle, and one of the things we have to do is shore up the land and water value,” Hart said.

Williams contends that past owners always intended to use the underflow of Fountain Creek as an alternate source to irrigate 315 acres of the property. Fountain Creek had intermittent flows, so the underflow would have been used during dry times when surface water could not be diverted, he claims.

Other water users employed the strategy in the early 1900s, when well technology was more limited. Most famously, the Ball brothers — who found success in the canning jar and aerospace industries — used the underflow of Fountain Creek to fill reservoirs in hopes of selling the water to Puebloans. The quality was unsuitable for drinking, however.

In preparing for the water court case, Williams collected old plats that show the location of underflow structures, basically horizontal wells that draw water by gravity.

The Colorado Division of Water Resources does not recognize the dual water right, and says Greenview Trust needs a substitute water supply plan if it plans to irrigate with wells.

“It’s based on an old statement that was not picked up in the decree itself,” said Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte. “It appears to us that there never was the intention to have a well.”

Williams disagrees, saying he spent two years collecting information in state files that he was initially told did not exist. “For me to have to spend two years researching the archives is ridiculous,” Williams said. “We are decreed against the source and the underflow. It’s one natural stream.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District meeting recap

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It may be time to pass the hat again for the district trying to fix Fountain Creek.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday looked again at a dismal funding picture or a model for government austerity, depending on point of view.

The discussion came up as Cole Emmons, El Paso County’s assistant attorney, reviewed the formation and operation of the district for new board members. One key point was the district’s reliance on member governments to get things done. For example, Emmons’ time are legal fees donated by El Paso County.

But even in this administrative barter system, real cash is sometimes needed.

In 2013, a plan to collect $50,000 by Executive Director Larry Small worked fairly well. The largest members of the district — El Paso and Pueblo counties, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — each contributed $10,000. Fountain, a mid-sized city, chipped in $5,000. Four smaller incorporated communities in El Paso County contributed $1,400 of the $5,000 expected from them.

Prior to that, the district had been on life support under a master corridor agreement jointly funded by Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“These are anemic funds for the work we have to do,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

The district is waiting for $50 million from Colorado Springs Utilities to begin arriving once the Southern Delivery System is turned on. But Hart pointed out that money is required to be spent on flood control projects that exclusively benefit Pueblo County.

“The real focus is taking on projects that are larger than the $50 million can fund,” Hart said. “We are in the sixth year, and we are doing the best we can. Sometimes we discount the work we’ve done. It’s been spectacular.”

The district has channeled $1.5 million in grants into Fountain Creek projects in the past two years, as well as cooperating with its members to line up other projects since being formed in 2009. But it has backed off its role in commenting on land-use decisions because it lacks qualified staff to review applications, Small said.

In its first year, the district held hearings on projects that could impact the flood plain of Fountain Creek. Small now reviews applications filed in either county, although most come from El Paso County.
The district could do more.

It has the authority to levy up to 5 mills in property taxes on all residents in El Paso and Pueblo counties, if voters approve the tax. Discussions on a strategy to obtain approval were shelved in 2012 as El Paso County moved toward an unsuccessful attempt to form a regional stormwater authority last year.

“At the last two meetings, we got an earful from landowners on Fountain Creek,” Hart said. “I’d like to take a realistic look at what we should be doing.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

“There is not consistent political leadership in Colorado Springs” — Jay Winner

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In order to ensure stormwater control in Colorado Springs in the future, Colorado Springs Utilities needs to take over the job, or the city will face further legal action over the issue.

“Everything’s in place to do this,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “If this were an enterprise of Utilities, the work would be brought up to speed immediately.” Utilities controls water, sewer, gas and electricity in Colorado Springs.

Winner is suggesting adding stormwater as a fifth utility. The idea has been discussed, but has not had a champion until now.

Attorneys for the Lower Ark are wrapping up the final draft for a federal district court complaint over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act by Colorado Springs. The lawsuit has been contemplated for two years, based on Colorado Springs’ inability to find a permanent stormwater funding source. A filing is expected within 60 days.

Making stormwater a fixture within Utilities might be a way of avoiding the lawsuit, Winner said.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and City Council President Merv Bennett on July 6 gave assurances to Pueblo City Council that the city would find ways to fund $18 million in stormwater control activities annually from its general fund.

Winner, who attended that meeting, was not convinced.

“They’re constantly telling us how they are doing these wonderful things,” Winner said. “But their political leaders can be recalled or choose not to run again. There is not consistent political leadership in Colorado Springs. One of the things Utilities is good at is leadership.”

Bennett also has made appeals to the Lower Ark board to hold off on the lawsuit while Colorado Springs gets its house in order. But Winner said there are no actions to back up the rhetoric.

“Merv Bennett turned it over to Colorado Springs staff. I’ve had no meaningful conversations with them in the last six months,” Winner said.

Colorado Springs voters last November turned down a regional stormwater fee concept that sprung from two years of political meetings in El Paso County.

Colorado Springs City Council eliminated its stormwater fee following a 2009 vote on a proposal launched by Doug Bruce, a tax activist who became an El Paso County commissioner and state lawmaker before he was convicted for tax evasion.

Funds totaling about $29.6 million for six Colorado Springs enterprises, and transfers from Utilities to the general fund, were to be phased out over eight years under Issue 300 on the 2009 Colorado Springs ballot. Before the election, council members had talked about making about $3.7 million in cuts annually until the total was reached. After the election, council has opted only to eliminate the stormwater enterprise, which would have generated about $15.4 million in 2010.

“Springs City Council made the wrong decision,” Winner said. “If there’s one thing that Utilities knows how to do, it’s make good decisions.

They would not have made that decision to eliminate the stormwater enterprise.”

Council in August 2010 made the determination that Colorado Springs could keep “surplus payments” from Utilities without violating Issue 300. Those payments have totaled more than $30 million annually since that time, according to a 2014 bond rating statement filed by Utilities.

“Seems like there would already be some funding available for stormwater,” Winner said. “Plus, Utilities has the engineering, equipment and experience to do the sorts of projects that need to be done.”

While council oversees Utilities, future members would be less likely to arbitrarily end stormwater funding, any more than they would remove water, sewer, gas or electric service, he added.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.