Fountain Creek: May rainfall was not kind to the stream

July 4, 2015
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Large chunks of the bank plunked into Fountain Creek Wednesday evening as Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart got a close-up look at the damage to Overton Road.

Two large wooden utility poles floated in the muck below, as the river cut back from the west base of the old Pinon Bridge, which washed out in the 1999 flood. After it slammed back into the east bank, it ran along the channel into a clump of trees. By morning the trees and part of the road would be gone.

“This is unbelievable,” Hart said. “The engineers tell us that Fountain Creek acts like a firehose, the way it moves around.”

Neighbors soon gathered at the spot. One of them was Tony Faxon, bringing his two children home to his 90-acre farm on Overton Road. He was worried about his well, which he had fortified a few days earlier after the last round of floods.

“It looks like the Washington Monument now,” Faxon said on Friday.

He explained the well is now a pole sticking 30 feet into the air — about half of its total depth.

He’s lost a chunk of land 80 by 500 feet and 30 feet deep so far this year.

While the house is on higher ground, he’s now faced with putting in a new well.

The Faxons have lived on Overton Road for four years.

“It’s been an ongoing struggle, but this has been the worst year,” Faxon said. “We couldn’t have anticipated this would happen.”

He’s not alone.

‘We need help’

At Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which Hart chaired, a litany of damage was recited.

“We need some sort of help,” said Tracy Tolle, who farms for Frank Masciantonio in Pueblo County and Clear Springs Ranch in El Paso County.

“That’s our livelihood.”

Tolle has fought Fountain Creek for years and has seen it through higher water than what was flowing last week.

But the sustained midrange flows for weeks on end and saturated ground are taking their toll.

From his perspective, the actions of one landowner to wall off water just moves the river to the other bank, where the damage is amplified.

John Browning, who has a place on the east side of Fountain Creek in El Paso County, agrees.

He said fortifications on the west bank have created 50-foot cliffs where children play on the other side.

“You need to take care of both sides of the creek,” Browning said.

“Something needs to be done several decades ago.”

Jane Rhodes, Masciantonio’s sister and a Fountain Creek board member, brought pictures and descriptions of damage at a dozen places along Fountain Creek in Pueblo and El Paso counties.

Irrigation headgates are gone, acres of pasture and fields have vanished and wells wiped out by the whipsaw motion off the water over the past few weeks. Water snaked around one end of the new Pinon Bridge, setting up the possibility of future erosion.

Down the drain?

Up in El Paso County, a demonstration project sponsored by the Fountain Creek district — a showpiece that would show landowners how to use natural materials to turn the current — is gone, landowner Ferris Frost said.

Barriers set up to protect an organic gardening spot are washing away.

“The main channel is cutting through our headgates,” Frost said.

“It’s huge and fast . . . really extreme.”

The Fountain Creek board had few answers for landowners seeking help.

The district has no money, as it is awaiting $50 million from Colorado Springs Utilities when Southern Delivery System goes online. Ironically, SDS has permit issues ahead related to Colorado Springs’ failure to provide a stable source of funding for stormwater control.

Three weeks of rain have also cast clouds over some of the district’s activities, not just the Frost Ranch demonstration project.

“There is debris everywhere,” Hart said, telling the Fountain Creek board he has been watching the damage daily. “There is a lot of destruction going on and this is just the beginning.”

The city of Pueblo was getting ready to fire up its sediment collector again before the rains hit. The collector, installed four years ago when Fountain Creek was behaving itself, ran for a few weeks before a big wave buried it. It’s now under about three feet of sediment.

“We wanted to see if we could make it work without having to build coffer dams,” said Jeff Bailey, stormwater superintendent for the city of

Pueblo. The district also pushed for a demonstration project behind the North Side Walmart, where a detention pond and wetlands was constructed. The pond’s embankment partially washed out in the 2013 flood — and is probably eroding this time around — it’s been difficult to check. The pond has not had an impact on really large flows through Pueblo.

“Right now, it’s a money pit for us,” Bailey said. The city has to augment water stored in the area as well as maintain the pond.

There have been some things that work on Fountain Creek.

Things that work

At Clear Springs Ranch, which is owned by Colorado Springs Utilities on the east side of Interstate 25 near the Ray Nixon Power Plant, a ditch diversion structure across Fountain Creek was built in the 1970s. It survived the 1999 flood, but posed a problem for small native fish. A million-dollar fish ramp was constructed to help the fish get through.

In Pueblo, the city built rock jetties several years ago behind the Target Store on the North Side after Fountain Creek cut perilously close to the area in 1999. Those have held up through high water events as well.

The district still is studying construction of a dam or series of detention ponds along Fountain Creek to hold back the water and release it at more opportune times, but that effort is mired in a study of how to satisfy downstream water rights. In the meantime, Fountain Creek is playing ping-pong with land along its banks. Shoring up one side sends the water to the other and new channels are constantly being cut. While cities and counties have applied for disaster aid as roads, parks, trails and homes are threatened, the farmers are losing ground they’ll never get back. There’s no clear path for financial aid to the property owners.

“There’s a domino effect,” Tolle said, saying he thinks a multimilliondollar project built by Colorado Springs at Clear Springs Ranch may have breached in recent flooding. “Those ponds are not going to work.

You’ve got to give us help or there won’t be any farms.”

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs is looking at changing building codes to help minimize runoff into Fountain Creek. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

After the recent stomping by Mother Nature, the Fountain Creek technical team dug out the playbook Wednesday.

Like any team, the group is focused more on future victories and overcoming challenges than dwelling on past mistakes.

The team in this case is the technical advisory committee of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. It includes planners and engineers from Pueblo and El Paso counties, including the cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

A big part of reducing future damage from flooding on Fountain Creek will be requiring future development — whether it’s a new project or redeveloping areas — to make sure flooding is not intensified by new hard surfaces such as streets, parking lots, sidewalks and roofs that prevent water from soaking into the ground.

“So often the developers design the development and tell the engineers, ‘Here, make it work.’ But urbanization almost always spurs the need for channel stabilization,” Steve Gardner, of the Colorado Springs stormwater department, told the group.

Gardner was explaining a drainage criteria manual Colorado Springs has developed in response to years of meetings that have improved understanding of Fountain Creek’s destructive nature. The earlier versions of the drainage manual supported projects that dumped water as quickly as possible into the waterway from flooded streets.

The new approach is to mimic natural conditions with techniques that encourage infiltration, move water through wetlands where possible and build detention projects that will handle a full spectrum of floods, Gardner said.

But it’s difficult to make up for the mistakes of the past, when many of the hills in Colorado Springs were paved as the city grew. One of the tough realities is that stormwater detention projects require land. Apparently, the government will take ground so the water won’t.

“Land allocation is a critical component,” Gardner said. “To get the water to spread out, you need more land. Urbanization results in taller peaks.”

That was seen during the May floods on Fountain Creek, the most recent of events where the creek turned into a river that ate banks, ripped away roads and changed course. With the ground saturated by weeks of rain, there was no opportunity for infiltration.

In that case, the drainage criteria manual recommends detention ponds to hold back the water, which also require land. A series of smaller ponds on tributaries would cost less to build and require less maintenance, Gardner said.

Such a system would allow localized storms to be contained, while reducing the cumulative effect on the creek. Among options studied by the U.S. Geological Survey, that system does not provide as much protection to Pueblo as larger detention ponds or a big dam.

Like any game plan, it has to be executed well to work. Issues still remaining include incorporating the drainage criteria manual with site planning, floodplain management on a larger scale, project phasing to make sure each project fits with others and adopting the same criteria throughout the entire 932-square-mile Fountain Creek watershed. Colorado Springs also faces challenges for funding a backlog of more than $500 million in stormwater projects in a way that satisfies Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

But standards for future development are an important step. Gardner said some developers are talking with the city and finding that things like natural infiltration channels can become amenities that increase property values.

“A lot of folks are stuck in the old way of doing things,” Gardner said.

It’s going to take a lot of dough and some big projects to fix problems on Fountain Creek. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

It’s going to take big projects to tame Fountain Creek. Even a $4.2 million project by Colorado Springs Utilities to redirect Fountain Creek into a less damaging course suffered damage from the June 15 storm surge after holding up reasonably well during relentless rain in May.

But a series of smaller attempts to protect property by armoring it with piles of concrete or a living shield of plants were swept away in the raging waters.

And the district that was formed to find the best way to fix Fountain Creek has no money and unfinished plans on how to mend the monster.

“There’s good news and bad news,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart. “The good news is that the district has the authority to handle the entire watershed. The bad news is that there’s a lot to study and we’re still trying to understand how this works.”

Even when the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District figures out the best way, there remains the question of money.

“There isn’t an unlimited source of money,” said Pueblo City Councilman Dennis Flores. “Our task is to find out what will work with the amount of resources we have.”

So far, not much is working, the Fountain Creek board learned from presentations Friday.

As part of its commitment to the Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County for the Southern Delivery System, Utilito ties is required to restore wetlands, and its $4.2 million Clear Springs Ranch project was the way to achieve that. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers certified the work in January, said Allison Moser, an engineer for Utilities.

The project covered 6 acres, fixed a past erosion cut and routed Fountain Creek away from the bluff to the west, which it had been undercutting. Thousands of plants were just getting established after being planted last year. The spreading wetlands were designed to handle the overflow of Fountain Creek during high water without sacrificing ground.

But the May storms deposited silt over much of the area and began to damage the bank of a channel that had been reinforced with 2-foot boulders.

“We really saw a lot of sedimentation, but the wetlands were designed to handle sedimentation,” Moser said. “The intention was to have the plants fill in over 10-15 years, but it took it in just two weeks (of high water). It left a lot of debris.”

The June 15 storm, which caused peak flows of 20,000 cubic feet per second at Fountain the next day, ripped through the new bank and left the river in its old course and sent the main flow of Fountain Creek to the west bank again.

“There’s still some evidence the structures held,” Moser said. “We have not been able to get our guys back down there to look at it.”

Utilities has the kind of resources unavailable to most landowners to undertake such a large project, and from Moser’s description it may not be enough to keep Mother Nature under control.

“One of the things we learned is that you need a big footprint to make a difference,” Moser said.

That was borne out by comments from Ferris Frost, whose family’s ditches and a district demonstration project were destroyed in the May floods. The June flooding added more silt to injury.

She showed slides of the damage, as well as how concrete rip-rap installed by her neighbor Jane Green after the September 2011 flood was obliterated this year. Green had put in the bank armor after a 2011 flood cut through an old levee and added even more material when the 2013 flood took a second bite.

Some of the slides showed a large island with mature cottonwoods that had developed years ago from the constant erosion of a 50-foot bluff that Frost calls “The Great Wall.”

“This is terrible,” said Jane Rhodes, a Pueblo County landowner who sits on the Fountain Creek board. “It looks this way all down the creek.”

Pueblo County is still assessing the damage to see if disaster aid is available, Hart said in response to questions from Frank Masciantonio, Rhodes’ brother and one of the owners of land that has been severely eroded.

The district has master plans for Monument Creek and Fountain Creek south of Colorado Springs, and is in the process for developing another for Upper Fountain Creek, which has its own set of problems stemming from the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, General Manager Larry Small explained.

What it does not have is money. It will begin receiving $50 million in five annual installments in 2016 if SDS comes on line. That’s on schedule, but Pueblo County commissioners are lining meetings later this year to determine if Utilities is complying with all of its commitments under the county’s 1041 permit for SDS.

“What we’re trying to get our minds around are these two projects (Clear Springs Ranch and Frost Farms) and how well they survived or didn’t survive,” Hart said. “The question is whether we stabilize stream banks or do we need to look at the source of the water?”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Fountain Creek: High water is delaying assessment and mitigation in Pueblo

May 29, 2015
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A project classified as an emergency will take more time to complete.

There’s no clear timetable for fortifying the Fountain Creek embankment at the 13th Street interchange of Interstate 25, where the river is continuing to cut at the ground under a Union Pacific Railroad track.

“We’re still waiting for the water to go down,” said Corinne O’Hara, project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “The flow had been diverted to a diversion ditch to reduce the attack of the water on the slope.”

But the Corps won’t know how successful that move was until Fountain Creek settles down, which could be months from now. The creek has been running above average for more than a month, and more than 2,000 cubic feet per second — normal is 50-100 cfs — for the past week after briefly topping 10,000 cfs on May 19. It dropped to about 1,750 cfs Thursday.

The Corps checked it at the high point, O’Hara said.

“It was in no worse shape than before the work started, but we haven’t been back to look at the damages since the last rains,” she said.

The Corps began emergency repairs after a flood in September 2013 washed out a rock gabion that was installed in 2009. However, the work did not begin until this April. While a channel to divert the flow had been cut, the berm that contained the flows broke last week. That sent the main flow of Fountain Creek back toward the rails.

As of Thursday, some water was flowing down the channel that was cut for the construction project, but the greater flow seemed to be toward the railroad tracks on the west side of the channel.

Meanwhile, all of the large trees have collapsed in that part of the channel, and some are stacked up against the Eighth Street bridge.

There appears to be no damage to any local bridges across Fountain Creek, said Jeff Bailey, Pueblo stormwater supervisor.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


Pueblo County considering show cause 1041 hearing for Southern Delivery System

May 12, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County is a step closer to calling for a hearing to decide whether to repeal or significantly alter the provisions of a 1041 permit allowing the Southern Delivery System to be built through the county.

On Monday, commissioners gave direction to staff to release a report to Colorado Springs detailing the progress of an investigation into whether that city’s lack of any specific funding for storm water permits constitutes a violation of the permit.

According to the report, staff’s recommendation is that, so far, the investigation shows there’s enough evidence to go forward with a show cause hearing on the 1041 document. But staff also asked for permission to hold off on issuing such an order until the first of August.

Waiting two months would give staff time to continue working with Colorado Springs, hire Denver-based Wright Water Engineering as a storm water consultant and give the new mayor and city council in Colorado Springs time to assess the issues for themselves.

“I am confident that there is some probability of success in coming up with some solutions to bring to the board, either as revised conditions or new amendments to the agreement,” said Ray Petros, water counsel to Pueblo County.

Petros said that it’s been six years since there was any dedicated funding in place for Colorado Springs’ storm water improvements and in that time, the number of infrastructure improvements that could help mitigate flows and improve water quality in the Fountain Creek have backlogged to the point that nearly $534 million worth of projects are awaiting completion.

Staff has been investigating the issue since April. Petros said it has been difficult to ascertain what high-priority projects have been completed or what kind of money has actually been spent on projects that would be beneficial to Pueblo County.

At the core of the investigation is the Springs’ decision to disband its storm water enterprise in 2009, along with the failure at the polls in 2014 of a measure to establish a new enterprise.

“Our issue has been from Day 1 that the 1041 permit requires some kind of dedicated funding,” said Commissioner Terry Hart. “No pun intended, but it’s been six years of water under the bridge and we’re painfully aware of that.”

Petros quoted a few passages within the 1041 permit that mentioned the funding source specifically, including the environmental impact statements attached to the permit.

The original staff report noted that the delay also gave Colorado Springs Utilities time to respond to information requests, but Hart said he felt Pueblo should set the timeline on that response.

Public Works Director Alf Randall said that the information requested by staff wasn’t complicated but understood if Colorado Springs staffers preferred to wait until the new mayor and council were sworn in.

Randall also said it would be good to have the information once Wright Water’s contract with Pueblo was finalized.

“I don’t understand what would be highly complex about providing staff a list of projects in 2015,” Randall said.

He said he thought it could be done by June 1.

The commissioners then directed that the June 1 deadline be included in the memo to Colorado Springs.

There are likely more investigations to follow. Commissioner Sal Pace asked staff to consider land purchases, reclamaneighbors. tion issues and potential impacts to Pueblo West homeowners in the investigation.

But the investigation came from a resolution focusing specifically on storm water issues.

All three commissioners said they would like to see future investigations into those other issues.

The commissioners also noted that the past week’s rainfall was a reminder of the urgency for the improvements, as runoff from Colorado Springs churned mud and debris in Fountain Creek and eroded property along Overton Road.

“We have a job to advocate for our constituents and I think the representatives from Colorado Springs, whether they like the process or not, would agree there’s been an impact to the community,” said Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Colorado Springs Utilities plans to appeal judgment that favored Pueblo-area rancher — The Colorado Springs Gazette

May 11, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs Utilities has filed notice that it intends to appeal a jury’s $4.6 million judgment in favor of rancher Gary Walker, who let Utilities build a 5.5-mile pipeline on his land for the Southern Delivery System.

Walker and Utilities had agreed that the easement was worth $82,900, and the pipeline was installed on his northern Pueblo County land in 2012 as a conduit for the Southern Delivery System, or SDS.

That regional project is designed to pump Arkansas River water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West, delivering up to 96 million gallons a day to those communities. Water delivery was expected to begin in 2016.

At trial, Walker’s counsel said Walker was negotiating a conservation easement worth more than $30 million with the Nature Conservancy, but degradation of the utility easement destroyed those prospects.

Colorado Springs, which owns Utilities, “had no opportunity to prepare a rebuttal to this surprise, unprecedented argument,” said the notice of intent to appeal filed late Thursday.

The notice questions, among other things, how a property value can be agreed upon at $82,000 and then valued at more than $30 million before a jury, and whether it was appropriate to deny the jury an opportunity to view the property.

The Pueblo County District Court jury deliberated for nine days before rendering its verdict April 23.

Neither Walker and his attorneys nor the Nature Conservancy returned calls Friday.

But SDS spokeswoman Janet Rummel said storms on the land drained water onto the pipeline alignment, causing erosion after the easement had been restored.

“We’ve been working ever since to fully restore it,” Rummel said. “His attorney was claiming actually not as much about the reclamation, but really about his lack of ability to ensure future conservation easements on his property. We really saw no evidence presented that that was the case. That was changing the big concern at the 11th hour of this trial. We need to take into account the effects on our ratepayers.”

Utilities paid Walker about $720,000 to move his cattle and laid irrigation lines along the easement to ensure that plants for restoration would survive, she said.

“From our perspective, we’ve gone above and beyond to address the concerns raised.”

The Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District isn’t taking a position on the legal battle, said Executive Director Larry L. Small. But the district is supposed to receive $10 million every year for five years to mitigate the extra flow that Fountain Creek will experience.

“If this drags on, it could impact SDS from becoming operational – and our revenue. That wouldn’t be too good because we’re waiting for that money to begin doing the work we need to do.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Rains along the Southern Delivery System pipeline scar through Walker Ranches is again causing flooding problems in northern Pueblo County.

“Prior to the SDS crossing Walker Ranches, we never had floods like these from that area,” said ranchver Gary Walker. “Mother Nature’s defenses took care of it.”

Walker is involved in litigation with Colorado Springs over the 5.5-mile stretch of buried 66-inch diameter pipeline. A jury in April awarded Walker $4.665 million in damages, which Colorado Springs is appealing.

On Friday, rains created a river of mud along the pipeline route, causing some flooding in adjacent areas. Walker supplied aerial photos to The Pueblo Chieftain that show water crossing and sheet off the pipeline scar, with several hundred feet of plastic irrigation pipe — used for revegetation — hanging above a chasm of rushing water.

Walker said this is a violation of Colorado Springs Utilities’ commitments under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS because the area has not been returned to pre-construction conditions.

He first raised the issue of the pipeline route, which crosses arroyos, in 2008. He wanted the pipeline to follow the route of the Fountain Valley Conduit, constructed in the 1980s, which he said would be less damaging to his ranchland.

“Now Walker Ranches will become part of the flooding problem to downstream residences of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River,” Walker said. “These are not Biblical events. Our weather is just returning to normal and our drought is ending, as any ‘old-timer’ like me will tell you.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Thursday appealed a $4.665 million jury award for damages to Walker Ranches by the Southern Delivery System water pipeline.

The appeal was made in Colorado Court of Appeals in Denver.

The city’s lawyers said the April 23 verdict was delivered after a nine-day trial without any other findings or calculations.

The city’s lawyers added they had no chance to rebut the closing argument of Walker Ranches’ lawyers that the SDS pipeline across 5 miles of the property had diminished the value of surrounding land and that testimony did not support the verdict.

They also claimed the basis for diminished value of the property was not revealed until opening arguments and the value itself only in closing arguments.

A court judgment on the $4.665 million award was entered Wednesday by Pueblo District Judge Jill Mattoon.

Gary Walker, whose family owns the land, said the Nature Conservancy was negotiating with him to buy conservation easements for $1,680 per acre on about 15,000 acres, about $25 million.

“The city had no opportunity to reply to this surprise, unprecedented argument,” Colorado Springs attorneys wrote in the appeal.

Neither side disputed the value of the $82,900 150-foot-wide utility easement for a buried 66-inch diameter pipeline which Colorado Springs offered $1,400 an acre.

Colorado Springs’ filing lists 14 points of law, as well as a catch-all “any other issues” that were not covered by crossappeal.

Among the points raised by Colorado Springs lawyers is whether conservation can be considered the highest and best use for property, a topic Walker elaborated on in an interview with The Pueblo Chieftain after the trial.

Walker explained that conservation is the main purpose for Walker Ranches and illustrated that by pointing out that the millions of dollars from previous conservation easements was used to purchase more land with the intent of preserving ranch land and open spaces for future generations.

Colorado Springs’ attorneys also raised the question of whether Mattoon erred by denying the jury an opportunity to view the property.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


2015 Colorado legislation: Ranchers and farmers on the lower Ark oppose SB15-212

April 30, 2015
Detention pond

Detention pond

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Megan Schrader):

Several farmers and ranchers along the Lower Arkansas River remain opposed to a bill they say will harm their water rights, but proponents say [Senate Bill 212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)] is essential to protect the public from floods and contaminated water.

“It does harm rights, or it has the potential to harm rights,” said Don McBee, who made the long trek from his farm 10 miles north of Lamar to advocate for a change to the bill Wednesday when it was considered in the House Local Government Committee.

“We lost,” he said after an amendment he supported failed 8-3 and left him still opposing the bill.

The bill would do two things.

It would ensure flood mitigation and filtration systems constructed in response to wildfire burn scars can hold water without having to pay for the water rights of those downstream.

No one takes issue with that portion.

The second half of the bill deals with other water quality detention ponds that hold water to filter out sediments and prevent flooding. The bill stipulates those ponds cannot hold water for more than 72 hours unless it’s more than a five-year flood and then the water must be released within not more than 120 hours. But it also says that those facilities do not hurt downstream water rights and puts the onus of proving harm on water rights holders. In water court, it’s usually the opposite.

McBee said holding water in that way reduces the amount of water that comes during a peak flow, which will reduce the water that is available for junior water rights holders who can only get water when the flow of the Arkansas reaches a certain level.

Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer with the Division of Water Resources, said the farmers’ concerns are not unwarranted and water rights could be impacted by regional detention projects. But he said the bill is necessary.

“We definitely see the value in this bill giving us that codification in the statutes to say that yes, this detention is allowed,” Rein testified Wednesday. “It’s not the perfect bill, but what it does do is provide us that balance.”

McBee and others are particularly concerned about plans for flood restoration and mitigation projects along Fountain Creek, which flows from Colorado Springs to Pueblo where it joins the Arkansas.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, amended his bill in the Senate specifically to exempt Fountain Creek projects from protections under the bill.

McBee said that wasn’t enough.

Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff, R-Pueblo, agreed the bill didn’t do enough to protect downstream water rights. She proposed an amendment that McBee said would have allowed him to support the bill about guaranteeing that peak flows were not injured by detention systems.

The amendment failed. The bill passed out of committee 10-1 with Navarro-Ratzlaff the only no vote. It now goes to the House floor for consideration. If it passes, it will have to go back to the Senate for consideration of a technical change made in the House.

Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, sponsored the bill in the House.


Southern Delivery System: Jury awards rancher $4.6M — The Pueblo Chieftain

April 28, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Pueblo jury late Thursday awarded rancher Gary Walker a $4.6 million judgment against Colorado Springs Utilities for the Southern Delivery System pipeline crossing Walker Ranches in Northern Pueblo County.

Walker contends the amount is far short of what the pipeline has cost him. During the trial, he contended that the conditions of the SDS easement have jeopardized a $25 million conservation easement he was negotiating with the Nature Conservation for $1,680 an acre on 15,000 acres.

Walker said the conditions of the utility easement through his property allow for access that negates the value of the conservation easement, and that soils from offsite that were used as fill are contaminated with seeds from invasive species. Rain storms already have caused erosion on the pipeline scar and the damage could be greater in the future.

He also said he is fearful that Colorado Springs will take action against him if normal ranch activities interfere with the SDS permanent easement that is 100 feet wide across 5.5 miles of Walker Ranches.

The jury awarded Walker $4.665 million in damages in addition to the $82,900 actual value of the easement. The actual value was part of Judge Jill Mattoon’s instructions to the jury.

“We stung Colorado Springs, but it will do little to protect the next little guy or rare environmental landscape that gets in their way,” Walker said in a written statement provided to The Pueblo Chieftain. “My attorneys were amazed at CSU’s response against one rancher. It was like using a tank to kill a fly.”

The rancher charged that Colorado Springs drove up litigation costs intentionally. In December, Walker won a Pueblo District Court decision on costs of about $500,000 to that point, but the state Supreme Court pushed the decision back until the trial concluded. In that case, Walker said Colorado Springs had needlessly delayed trial.

“Colorado Springs punished us a great deal both financially and emotionally but I am glad we did it and I would do it again even though we lost a lot more than we gained,” Walker said. “Our financial loss is minor when compared to the loss of another open space and protected wildlife habitat area.”

Walker plans to raise the issue of how he was treated by Colorado Springs to Pueblo County commissioners, who issued a 1041 permit for SDS in 2009.

“My hope is that Pueblo County stands their ground and protects everyone by holding the city of Colorado Springs and their utility company to the terms of the 1041 contract they signed in 2009,” Walker said.

Walker also indicated that he is nervous about whether he will actually be able to collect the $4.6 million, since he expects Colorado Springs to appeal.

Colorado Springs has not indicated if it will ap- peal the judgment.

“We are disappointed in the outcome and will be exploring our options to protect the interests of those residents who are helping to fund the SDS project and will be impacted by this outcome,” said Janet Rummel, SDS spokeswoman for Colorado Springs Utilities. “We do not believe the result was supported by the evidence presented.”

She contended that Colorado Springs has worked to address Walker’s concerns and to offer fair compensation for the easements, along with paying $720,000 to relocate cattle during construction.

“We will continue to work with Mr. Walker and all easement holders on the SDS alignment to complete successful restoration and revegetation, as well as to responsibly maintain the condition of our easements,” Rummel said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Fountain Creek District meeting recap

April 28, 2015
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A debate over water quality on Fountain Creek in Pueblo County bubbled over into last week’s meeting of a district formed to improve Fountain Creek.

Pueblo Wastewater Director Gene Michael told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District that studies by the city show no clear link between increased development and increased amounts of selenium in the water supply.

He said information from some city studies was misinterpreted at a recent function of the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum and he wanted to clear the air for the Fountain Creek district.

“There’s no way to measure what the selenium was 100 years ago,” Michael said. He explained there simply was no technology to measure parts per billion at the time. “The levels in 1981, when it was first measured, were higher than today.”

Selenium is known to accumulate in the Pueblo area because of water flowing over the Pierre shale formations.

The arguments are crucial to a case Pueblo is trying to make with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission that it should have a specific discharge variance. An April hearing on the issue was postponed.

Pueblo maintains that it removes some selenium from groundwater intercepted in its treatment plant under a temporary modification. The ambient concentration of selenium in Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River near Pueblo is more than three times the EPA’s numeric standard, 4.6 parts per billion, he said.

The discussion touched a political nerve with the Pueblo city and county representatives on the Fountain Creek board.

“This is an interesting discussion to have with the Water Quality Commission,” said County Commissioner Terry Hart. The commissioners have supported a numeric standard on Fountain Creek, largely because of dealings with Colorado Springs Utilities for increased releases related to the Southern Delivery System. “My feeling is that we study it, find out where it is coming from and take it out.”

“It’s important to discuss it,” said City Councilman Dennis Flores, who invited Michael to speak at Friday’s meeting. He noted that the Pueblo Area Council of Governments supported the city of Pueblo 9-2, with two county commissioners in opposition. “I feel strongly about this and think it’s important.”

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here.


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