Study: Local water contaminated — The Colorado Springs Business Journal

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

Recent studies in Fountain, Security and Widefield show that the water there is contaminated with industrial chemicals that could cause a public health hazard.

Known as perfluoroalkyls, or PFAs, research suggests the chemicals are potent carcinogens and endocrine disrupters at levels far below the Environmental Protection Agency’s provisional exposure limits for drinking water.

And no one seems to know where the contaminants are coming from — or even that they were there in the first place. The city of Fountain’s 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report doesn’t mention PFAs or any other “unregulated reportable contaminant.”

Ron Woolsey, who heads Fountain’s Water Department, was unaware of any PFA contamination of the city’s water supply or of the EPA test results. It’s not clear if the EPA reported these results to the three affected systems.

“We get about 70 percent of our water from the Frying Pan/Arkansas project, via Pueblo Reservoir,” he said. “The remaining 30 percent comes from wells in Fountain and wells on the Venetucci Farm that we share with Security and Widefield. When [CSU’s] SDS [Southern Delivery System] comes on line, we’ll get 100 percent of our water from Pueblo Reservoir.”

[…]

It could be that water from Fountain Valley wells or surface water sources are contaminated by either landfills or residue from industrial processes, but no one is really sure.

WHAT ARE PFAS?

Perfluoroalkyls were first developed by 3M in 1951. DuPont used them for decades to manufacture common commercial products such as Teflon and Scotchgard.

Many are ubiquitous in world ecosystems. Once in a fish, a bird or a human body, they neither decay nor metabolize. The chemicals have been found in people’s bloodstreams, in polar bears in the Arctic and salmon caught in Alaska.

PFAs are highly toxic, but it has long been assumed by public health officials that minute quantities in drinking water pose no risk.

But that might not be the case.

TESTS CONFIRM

Although industrial use of these compounds has been curtailed recently, EPA testing has found that 6.5 million Americans in 27 states are exposed to PFA-tainted drinking water. The chemicals have been detected in 94 public water systems — including the three El Paso County systems.

According to information on the EPA’s website, PFAs are present in drinking water systems that serve 70,000 customers in El Paso County; the agency found more than 200 contaminants in 106 tested samples with a maximum contaminant level of 1.3 parts per billion — among the highest levels of all the water systems that showed evidence of PFA contamination.

“In January 2009,” according to the EPA’s website, “the EPA’s Office of Water established a provisional health advisory of 0.2 micrograms per liter for PFOS and 0.4 µg/L for PFOAs to assess the potential risk from short-term exposure of these chemicals through drinking water. PHAs [advisories] reflect reasonable, health-based hazard concentrations above which action should be taken to reduce exposure to unregulated contaminants in drinking water.”

[…]

CHANGING REGULATIONS

But the EPA might soon deliver new regulations based on recent studies. A paper by Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health and Richard Clapp of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell published in the journal “New Solutions” found that PFAs are hazardous at much lower levels. They can cause cancer, heart disease, birth defects and weaker immune systems.

“Grandjean and Clapp suggested that the EPA’s approach in 2009 led to a presumed safe level ‘at least two orders of magnitude’ higher than the newer studies indicate would protect human health with an adequate margin of safety,” the Environmental Working Group said in an analysis of the study. “… lower than the EPA advisory level by a factor of more than 1,300.”

About 200 prominent scientists worldwide signed the 2015 Madrid Statement, calling on the international community to limit the production and use of PFAs. The statement noted the “growing body of epidemiological evidence” linking PFAs to testicular and liver cancer, liver malfunction, hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, obesity, decreased immune response to vaccines, reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty.

If EWG’s calculations are correct, drinking water in Security, Widefield and Fountain could contain hundreds, even thousands of times the safe level of PFOA and PFOS contaminants. Other PFA contaminants detected in the three systems include perfluoroheptanoic acid, perfluorohexanesulfonic acid and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid.

A REGULATORY TANGLE

Thanks to legal constrictions, the EPA has little power to regulate industrial chemicals such as PFAs.

“Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act,” reporter Nathaniel Rich pointed out in a recent New York Times article, “the EPA can test chemicals only when it has been provided evidence of harm. This arrangement, which largely allows chemical companies to regulate themselves, is the reason that the EPA has restricted only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands on the market, in the last 40 years.”

Lawsuits related to a class action against DuPont for harmful use of PFAs have been making their way slowly through the courts. Filed on behalf of thousands of residents of Ohio and West Virginia, the suits allege that DuPont is responsible for adverse health effects from PFA pollution of multiple drinking water systems.

While there are no certain guidelines that specify PFA drinking water safety levels. The lawsuit against DuPont in West Virginia included anyone whose drinking water had PFOA or PFOS levels above 0.05 parts per billion.

Water provided to residents of Fountain, Security and Widefield showed maximum PFA contaminant level of 1.3 ppb, 26 times greater than the 0.05 cut-off for West Virginia plaintiffs.

NO STATE RECOURSE

Although a handful of states — Minnesota, New Jersey and North Carolina — have established guidelines for PFA contaminants, Colorado is not among them.

CDPHE administers the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, but its regulatory flexibility is limited by state legislative mandate to be neither more nor less restrictive than those set by the EPA. CDPHE is able to give assistance to local water providers.

“We provide assistance to water systems throughout the state,” said Nicole Graziano, CDPHE’s technical and regulatory implementation and coordination unit manager for the safe drinking water program.

“We have a lot of staff who work to assure that drinking water is at the highest level of safety to protect public health.”

Fountain’s Woolsey is determined to find the source of the PFA contaminants and eliminate them. It’s not his first rodeo.

“We went through this sort of thing with Schlage Lock and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) years ago,” he said. “Well pollution has always been a concern. The three systems are all interconnected in lots of ways, so it’s possible that we can identify the source, but it may not be simple.”

The EPA confirmed that the chemicals can be removed from water by implementing treatment at centralized facilities or in homes by installing activated carbon filters.

Fountain Creek: “Colorado Springs has offered $19 million a year, which is inadequate” — Ray Kogovsek

Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB
Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo City Council wants the federal government to crack down on Colorado Springs for violating its stormwater permit in order to reduce the risk of damage from Fountain Creek flooding.

Two weeks after approving a resolution with a list of recommended conditions for Pueblo County commissioners to apply in an anticipated intergovernmental agreement, council voted to send the same list to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Among the conditions would be the expenditure by Colorado Springs of $50 million annually to address a $534 million backlog of stormwater control projects, adequate staffing to maintain structures already in place, a reliable source of future stormwater funding and additional help to dredge Fountain Creek in Pueblo in order to maintain levees.

The action was requested by City Council President Steve Nawrocki because Colorado Springs is on two tracks of negotiations over its lack of stormwater control, City Attorney Dan Kogovsek explained.

“Colorado Springs has offered $19 million a year, which is inadequate,” Kogovsek said.

Pueblo County is looking at assurances of future stormwater control in relation to its 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System. The U.S. Attorney’s office is working with the Environmental Protection Agency on prosecuting Colorado Springs violations of its stormwater permit.

The city’s resolution refers to the 2009 demise of the Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise as a contributing factor to continued sedimentation in Fountain Creek that increases the risk of flooding in Pueblo.

A Wright Water Engineers report for Pueblo County revealed that 370,000 tons of sediment annually is deposited in Fountain Creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo. A root cause for the increased load is the increase in impervious surfaces in Colorado Springs since 1980.

Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in March 2009 when Pueblo County issued the 1041 permit for SDS. The Bureau of Reclamation considered it to be in place when it issued a record of decision for SDS.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs has not confronted its stormwater problem on Fountain Creek for years, and there’s no reason to believe they will after the current crisis blows over, in Jay Winner’s opinion.

“Every elected official from the Springs knows how to feed this crap to Pueblo in order to keep sending it down Fountain Creek,” said Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Every city council comes to us with the same message. I want our elected officials in Pueblo to understand what has happened.”

Colorado Springs last month sent emissaries to the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Pueblo City Council and Pueblo County commissioners to convince them that the city has seen the light after facing legal action from the federal Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency.

That didn’t stop council from passing a resolution recommending that commissioners push for $50 million annual funding for stormwater in Colorado Springs, more help with dredging Fountain Creek and other measures to mitigate damage from increased flows. Commissioners maintained a hard stance that the 1041 conditions require stormwater control, and might not be enough if just followed to the letter.

Do the right thing

In short, both wanted Colorado Springs to do the right thing when it comes to Fountain Creek.

The Lower Ark district has been trying to do that since 2005, shortly after Winner stepped into his job — first through negotiations and then through the threat of a federal lawsuit. They worked cooperatively on a $1.2 million Fountain Creek corridor plan that was crucial to early funding of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. The relationship has soured.

Winner was at some of the meetings last month where Colorado Springs pleaded for time and understanding, but is far from convinced Colorado Springs will follow through on promises this time. He heard Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers’ pitch that it’s better to spend money on solutions than lawyers — even though lawyers were in the mayor’s entourage.

“Put your money where your mouth is. There are a couple of ways to do this. Maybe it’s time the legal system goes through the process, to make sure Colorado Springs spends the money on the solution,” Winner said. “I believe they could be fined up to $38,000 a day, so that might get their attention. Maybe the EPA could talk to its sister agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, and not let them turn on SDS until this gets taken care of.”

2013: Shortfalls found

Winner is concerned that last year’s EPA audit said Colorado Springs had taken little action to correct deficiencies identified in a February 2013 audit.

A look at the audit reveals the Colorado Springs stormwater department had been gutted in late 2012 and personnel reassigned to other areas.

Testing of water quality samples in the Fountain Creek watershed was farmed out to the U.S. Geological Survey, the results were ignored and staff was poorly trained to do the work itself.

Waivers of regulations meant to assure developers would properly install drainage structures and ponds were granted routinely without inspection, resulting in siltedup, overgrown ditches and basins.

City staff failed to follow through on cleaning up a gasoline spill that occurred during the inspection while the EPA waited on site. Snow was forecast for the next day.

The solution promised to federal inspectors was a regional stormwater task force that would eventually try to form the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage District, which would have generated $40 million annually to address a $700 million backlog of needs in El Paso County.

When voters rejected that idea in November 2014, Colorado Springs apparently did nothing to correct the problems by the time EPA inspectors returned.

2015: Nothing fixed

The 2015 EPA audit revealed interviews with city stormwater staff who said they did not have the funding or personnel to fix the problems identified by the EPA.

It revealed other things too.

For instance, a 2010 Colorado Springs Utilities stabilization project for a 66-inch-diameter sanitary sewer line on Shooks Run was not properly installed, never inspected by city stormwater staff and never maintained.

Colorado Springs staff told inspectors $11 million in high priority projects could be undertaken when Federal Emergency Management Agency funds came through. The EPA noted that some of the projects were routine maintenance, not flood damage.

The audits are far from exhaustive. In 2013, a team of four inspectors spent four days poking through records and visiting some sites. In 2015, five inspectors spent two days.

But the offenses were judged serious enough that EPA threatened legal action last year.

Chess game

So what was the Lower Ark district doing during the two-year gap?

Trying to move stormwater into the limelight.

Unsuccessfully, it turned out, as Colorado Springs made flanking maneuvers in a political game of chess.

Colorado Springs was, in 2013, trying to deal with the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon Fire, which destroyed 346 homes in 2012 and badly damaged the mountains west of the city. The challenges included building storm detention ponds that were quickly filled in with silt and overrun by summer rains.
Winner tried to raise the issue with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which had shelved its own plans to secure a funding source — state law allows it to collect a mill levy — while the stormwater task force worked in El Paso County.

In July 2013, Winner raised questions about Fountain Creek water quality as it relates to downstream farming, but was told by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King that the city was not obligated to do projects that benefit Pueblo or downstream communities in the Arkansas Valley.

Bach presented a list that purported to show $46 million in stormwater projects, although many of those used federal grants, were aimed at fire mitigation or would not be completed by the end of the year. Many dealt with new damage that occurred after the 2009 demise of the stormwater enterprise.

In September 2013, during one of the most intense floods on Fountain Creek since 1999, Lower Ark attorney Peter Nichols explained the connection between high water levels on Fountain Creek and the presence of E. coli in the water at a Pueblo County commissioners hearing.

Nichols pointed out the 2012 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers that gave Colorado Springs mostly Ds and Fs when it came to stormwater control. The city’s per capita funding was the lowest for any large city in Colorado.

At the same meeting, Pueblo County commissioners heard assurances from Colorado Springs Utilities officials and Councilwoman Jan Martin, who voted to repeal the stormwater enterprise in 2009, that stormwater needs would be met.

Colorado Springs also was successful in 2013 in fending off a legal challenge in the state Supreme Court and an appellate court by the Pueblo district attorney — Bill Thiebaut started it; Jeff Chostner finished it — over water quality in Fountain Creek.

A lawsuit is born

A week after the commissioners’ hearing, the Lower Ark board instructed Nichols to begin preparing a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Clean Water Act. That lawsuit was put on hold last year until the EPA action plays out, but federal attorneys are plowing some of the same ground.

Originally, the Lower Ark sought to sue Reclamation because stormwater control is tied into the federal contract for Southern Delivery System. It’s also a part of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, which must be met under federal guidelines.

After the 2014 vote against the regional stormwater authority, the focus of the lawsuit shifted to Colorado Springs.

“We’d heard enough by that point,” Winner said.

Winner has pushed for setting up stormwater as a standalone utility that would be isolated from political whims of Colorado Springs City Council. The current promise of $19 million annually doesn’t necessarily bind future councils to spend money in a way to improve conditions on Fountain Creek, he said.

“I’m glad the EPA is doing something, because Colorado Springs has been thumbing their noses at us for a long time,” Winner said. “They came down here and tried to tell the water board that street sweeping in Colorado Springs will somehow benefit Pueblo. I’d recommend we delay SDS until the EPA gives Colorado Springs a clean bill of health.”

Monument proposes steep increases to water bills — KOAA.com

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From KOAA.com (Andy Koen):

Water bills will likely get more expensive in Monument this year. Under a proposed rate schedule, customers could end up paying nearly double what they did for water last year.

The largest increases will be applied to base rates. For residential customers, the base rate would increase nearly 5 fold from the current $8.80 per month to $40. Commercial customers would see their base rate grow some 789% from $9 per month $71.

The Town of Monument uses a tiered water rate structure that increases the price depending on the volume of water consumed. Rates would also be increased at each of the four tiers under the proposed schedule.

Factoring for water usage of between 3,000 and 6,000 gallons per month, the Town calculates a sample residential bill increasing from $28.76 per month to $46 in the winter. With a usage at 31,000 gallons per month, that same bill increases from $214.49 to $329.75 during the summer.

The worksheet also shows winter bills for commercial customers growing from $430.42 to $651.50 per month and from $805.95 to $1,267.25 in the summer.

The board is also proposing an additional 8 percent increase to the base rate every year through 2021.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Kaiser said previous Boards of Trustees kept water artificially low for too long.

“For the last 20 years, there has not been a water rate increase for a small subset of our population who are serviced by the town’s water district,” said Jeff Kaiser, Mayor Pro Tem.

He said the water enterprise has run deficits each year since 2012. Trustees have paid the bills by redirecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the general fund. Kaiser said that is unfair to citizens who get water from other utilities such as Woodmoor Water and Sanitation and the Tri-View Metro District.

“Those citizens who are paying their fair share for the water, yet are being asked to in addition to that, subsidize 20 to 30 percent of our citizens such that they can enjoy extremely low water rates,” Kaiser said.

But business leaders warn the new rates are jumping too fast.

SDS: Mayor Suthers tries to calm Pueblo councilor/commissioner complaints

Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette
Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette

From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.

Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…

So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.

Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”

Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”

“These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”

The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.

The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.

Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.

On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.

“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.

But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.

He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.

Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.

Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.

On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.

Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.

And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…

Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.

While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.

Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.

Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.

At stake is the city’s own water permit.

The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.

When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.

“It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”

Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.

“I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”

The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.

“We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”

The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.

Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.

Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.

Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.

Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.

Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.

“We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.

As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”

Stormwater control ‘lumped in’ with SDS — The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

John Fredell, project director for Southern Delivery System, last week tried to build a case that the EPA’s enforcement action on the failure of Colorado Springs to maintain stormwater control is unrelated to SDS.

He told the Pueblo Board of Water Works that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS only applies to ensuring new development won’t increase Fountain Creek flows.

“It’s not all lumped into SDS,” Fredell said, trying to convince the water board of his position.

But a review of the history leading up to the county’s 1041 permit shows he is wrong.

The first sentence of condition No. 23 in the 1041 permit indeed mimics the incremental approach taken by the Bureau of Reclamation, holding Colorado Springs liable for new development as a result of SDS. That’s exactly the point Fredell made.

Further on in the condition, however, it states:

“Regulations shall comprehensively address peak flow conditions, runoff volumes, and flood hazards, incorporating at a minimum all relevant components of existing regulations of Colorado Springs.”

It also calls for maintaining all structures and complying with stormwater permits, things the EPA says Colorado Springs has not done.

Presumably, those regulations would not apply only to new growth, but to the entire city of 186 square miles that already exists — 20 percent of the Fountain Creek watershed.

Beyond that, Fountain Creek was always a big part of SDS.

Stormwater permits and the need to control flows into Fountain Creek are mentioned in the 2004 intergovernmental agreement that was used to get support for SDS from the city of Pueblo and the Pueblo Board of Water Works. On its face, Colorado Springs’ lapsed performance appears to put it in violation of the IGA.

When the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force began meeting in 2006, many conversations mentioned the increased flows that would occur when SDS was in operation. Planning for more flows was added to an ongoing effort to deal with flows that already had increased as Colorado Springs grew from the 1970s on.

The demise of Colorado Springs’ stormwater enterprise was foreseen by Pueblo County’s attorney in comments in 2008 as the environmental impact statement for SDS was being prepared by Reclamation.

Reclamation did not consider the possibility, saying comments about stormwater were unrelated to the federal permit in its responses. The record of decision that approved SDS made the assumption the stormwater enterprise would stay in place before and after the project was built.

So Pueblo County put additional assurances that Colorado Springs would be responsible for controlling water going into Fountain Creek. It also required the city to pay $50 million to a district that had not yet been created.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District was formed by the state Legislature in 2009 to improve Fountain Creek and administer those funds, and has taken Utilities to task over the timing of payments.

The county’s 1041 regulations also were written and adopted when a stormwater enterprise that generated $15.8 million in revenue annually already was in place.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Who said this?

“The City of Colorado Springs is moving forward to address long-term stormwater management.”

No, it wasn’t Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett talking to the Pueblo Board of Water Works last week. The above quote came from Mayor Lionel Rivera during a presentation by Colorado Springs Utilities officials to the Pueblo City Council on July 11, 2005.

They were there to assure Pueblo that Colorado Springs was dead serious when it came to living up to the conditions of an Intergovernmental Agreement signed a year earlier. An agreement that would eventually pave the way for the construction of the Southern Delivery System.

More than a decade later, Colorado Springs Utilities and political leaders are back in town trying to head off a rising tide of outrage in Pueblo County that has been bubbling up the last two months. In November, Colorado Springs learned it faces Environmental Protection Agency enforcement action for failing to meet the minimum requirements of its state stormwater discharge permit.

“They come down here and tell us what they think we want to hear, and then they do nothing,” said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District General Manager Jay Winner. “How many times are we going to let that happen?”

Last week, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard what Colorado Springs had to say for itself. This week, Pueblo County commissioners and Pueblo City Council will get more of the same.

On Monday, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and others is scheduled to meet with commissioners at 1:30 p.m. and with City Council at 7 p.m.

What Colorado Springs is offering involves more than lip service. There are real dollars on the table.

The city will double the size of its stormwater staff by the end of 2017, and a new stormwater director will be on board within a month. About $12 million a year will be spent on capital projects to begin to address a $535 million backlog, and $7 million for maintenance. There is another $1.5 million from other city departments directed toward maintenance.

There will be 70 actions to meet the deficiencies outlined in the EPA audit, Utilities reported.

Several slides in the Colorado Springs presentation show before and after photos of neglected drainage ditches that were highlighted in the EPA audit.

Not everyone’s convinced this is a step forward.

“Those trees in the drainage ditches must have been growing for two years to reach that size,” Winner said. “When you look at the numbers they’re throwing around, you have to wonder what happened during the seven years they didn’t have a stormwater enterprise. Are they just playing catch-up, or is this a real improvement?”

That’s been a common pattern, a review of documents about stormwater collected over the past 11 years reveals.

For instance, the progress report of stormwater improvements given to Pueblo City Council in 2007 are identical to a list of unfinished business presented to Colorado Springs City Council in 2009 as it was demolishing the stormwater enterprise after it had been operating for two years on a $15.8 million annual budget. The list of most critical projects then totaled about $40 million and none of them had been touched.

The total backlog was about $500 million.

Although the Lower Ark district, then-Rep. Sal Pace, county commissioners and other local officials pressured Colorado Springs on stormwater, there was little action for two years. The city adopted a new strong-mayor form of government and its council membership completely turned over in a four-year period. At one point, the city failed to send an elected representative to meetings of Fountain Creek district for six months in 2011.

Finally, in 2012, the city’s attorney advised then-Mayor Steve Bach that, in his legal opinion, Colorado Springs ought to be spending at least $13 million annually to control stormwater. Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners answered by forming a regional stormwater task force, which Bach opposed on the grounds that Colorado Springs should manage its own storm systems, ultimately dooming regional stormwater control.

By 2014, the $500 million project list was scrapped after a stormwater task force decided it was old and outdated — largely because of new damage from the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 and to a smaller degree, the Black Forest Fire in 2013.

In a new study, CH2MHill came up with 239 projects totaling almost $535 million in Colorado Springs, carefully weeding out obsolete and duplicated projects. Of those, 44 totaling $160 million were called high priority, which indicated there are public health or safety issues evident, according to the engineers’ report.

The regional cost, which included all needed work on Fountain Creek and its tributaries in El Paso County, was $723 million.

Later in 2014, El Paso County voters rejected a proposal by the task force to raise $40 million annually with a regional drainage district to address all those issues.

The huge backlog was mentioned at both the water board and Lower Ark meetings, with some trying to do the math at how long it would take to address the problems if the $12 million annual capital expenditure stays in place — say 40 or 50 years.

But Colorado Springs backs away from saying those lists will ever be completed or that they even mean anything.

At the Lower Ark meeting last week, Colorado Springs Utilities consultant Mark Pifher called the $534 million figure a “wish list,” insisting that projects with the highest priority would be tackled first. Utilities board Chairman Andy Pico told the water board that work will start soon on the highest priority projects.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs has found the $841 million needed to build SDS, a project that will supply the city with the water it needs for the next 40 years, completing all major construction in just five years.

“They’ve done what they wanted to do, while doing the minimum to comply with their obligations to Pueblo,” Winner said. “How much longer are we going to put up with that?”

Pueblo West official tells Pueblo County to renegotiate the SDS 1041 permit

Pueblo West
Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member wants Pueblo County commissioners to renegotiate the 1041 agreement for the Southern Delivery System.

“There are numerous, fatal flaws in the present 1041 agreement; too many to mention,” Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel told the Pueblo Board of Water Works this week. “I respectfully suggest that the 1041 permit must be renegotiated to create a true agreement.”

It’s a significant development because Pueblo West is a partner in the SDS water pipeline project, and has already benefited from an emergency use of SDS last summer.

The metro board took a position on Jan. 12 that its water should not be held hostage during the current SDS discussions, but Carmel made it clear that he was speaking as an individual at Tuesday’s water board meeting. The metro board will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to address Carmel’s concerns.

Both the water board and Pueblo City Council are pondering resolutions requiring more action on stormwater in relation to SDS. Pueblo County commissioners are in the process of determining 1041 compliance on stormwater and other issues in the permit.

The Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District has requested action by the Bureau of Reclamation under the federal SDS contract and by the Pueblo County commissioners under the 1041 permit to delay SDS until a stable source of stormwater funding is found.

Carmel, a former Pueblo County engineer, said he has seen firsthand the damage Fountain Creek causes in Pueblo. He wants to make sure Colorado Springs has adequate stormwater control measures in place.

“As Colorado Springs’ partner in the SDS project, I believe perhaps Pueblo West bears the most local responsibility to ensure SDS is implemented in such a way that the city of Pueblo does not get wiped out by floodwaters, in our name, if we stand by and do nothing,” Carmel said.

He said politicians’ current assurance of $19 million in annual funding for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs is not adequate because future councils could easily reverse the action.

“A 10-year intergovernmental agreement is not worth the paper it is written on under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, because it may be canceled at any budget cycle,” he said.

Carmel said the 1041 agreement should be renegotiated to avoid future misunderstandings.

“Now is the time to ask Colorado Springs to cooperatively renegotiate the terms of the SDS 1041 permit to ensure that it is a win-win deal for both communities,” Carmel said. “Any deal that fails to prevent flooding in Pueblo — through a permanent funding mechanism that cannot change with each election — is not a win for Pueblo.”

LAWCD board meeting recap: Shut down SDS

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities claims that violations of federal stormwater standards are not related to permits for the Southern Delivery System being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“Documents for the (Bureau of Reclamation’s) Record of Decision refer to the stormwater enterprise numerous times, so to me there’s a tie,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the board Wednesday.

The Lower Ark board agreed, and fired off two letters to regulatory agencies requesting to delay SDS until stormwater issues are solved. They ask for protection for Pueblo and other downstream communities from Fountain Creek flows that have been increased by decades of growth in Colorado Springs.

The first — brought to the board by Winner and Pueblo County board members Melissa Esquibel and Anthony Nunez — asks Reclamation to review its contract for SDS and suspend it until Colorado Springs proves it has a stormwater control plan in place.

The second letter — drafted by attorney Peter Nichols at Winner’s request — is to Pueblo County commissioners and cites provisions in the Record of Decision and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws. John Fredell, the director of the SDS project, tried to make the case Tuesday to the Pueblo Board of Water Works that the enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency against Colorado Springs has nothing to do with SDS.

That viewpoint was echoed Wednesday by Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs consultant, at the same time as he enumerated renewed efforts by Colorado Springs to beef up stormwater control.

Pifher touted that new leadership in Colorado Springs is committed to correcting the errors that led up to the EPA action.

Winner wasn’t buying it.

“We listened to ‘there is a real commitment’ in 2005, when (water chief) Gary Bostrom, (council members) Lionel Rivera, Larry Small and Richard Skorman came here and told us the same thing,” Winner said. “We tried to get an IGA so there would be an enforceable document.”

Winner said the commitment appears to come and go depending on who is elected, and doubted whether the current plan to fix stormwater control would stay in place after the next cycle.

Nichols questioned whether the $19 million Colorado Springs has committed to stormwater control would come close to the $600 million in needs identified by one study.

Pifher tried to deflect that by saying many of the projects identified fall into the category of a “wish list,” while the action plan now under consideration addresses the most critical projects.

“We’re skeptical,” Nichols said.

Both letters tie the current EPA enforcement action to the Record of Decision and 1041 permit, saying the violation of the federal stormwater permit alone should trigger denial of use of SDS by Colorado Springs.
Winner added that there is no acknowledgement by Colorado Springs that flooding on Fountain Creek is a result of unchecked growth upstream.