The launch of the long-awaited SDS hinges on a vote by Pueblo County commissioners Monday to approve a stormwater deal with Colorado Springs, thus freeing the SDS 1041 permit the commissioners granted in 2009.
The start of the SDS will culminate 20 years of planning, years of quarreling between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs, and six years of building 53 miles of huge pipelines, three pump stations and a 100-acre water treatment plant.
The $825 million project will pump 5 million gallons of water a day – and up to 50 million when needed – to Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security.
The project was a figment in 1996, when the Colorado Springs City Council approved a Water Resource Plan to explore how best to sate the thirst of a rapidly growing population.
In July 2009, the council approved the SDS as the best of seven alternatives – just as the recession struck. So the project was used as “our own stimulus,” says SDS Program Director John Fredell.
Workshops in Pueblo, El Paso and Fremont counties showed contractors how to work with Colorado Springs Utilities.
The only Colorado company that could build the huge pipes, of 66- and 90-inch diameter, competed against out-of-state bidders but got more than $100 million in business with the SDS.
And that firm wasn’t alone. A contract goal said 30 percent of business should go to Colorado firms. Contractors who failed to meet that threshold were penalized. And the goal was exceeded, Fredell said.
More than 430 Colorado companies have worked on the SDS. Of the $711 million spent through December, $585 million worth of work has stayed in Colorado – about $287 million in El Paso County, $75 million in Pueblo County and $222 million elsewhere in the state.
Meanwhile, what Fredell calls the toughest part of the whole project ensued.
His team spent five years creating a 3,000-page Environmental Impact Statement and obtaining the 1041 permit from Pueblo County. It also had to get about 350 other permits, 200 of them major. Even the Federal Aviation Administration had to OK the plan, as the water treatment plant off of Colorado 94 is in the Colorado Springs Airport flight line.
When construction commenced in 2010, the first challenge was connecting to the Pueblo Dam.
Water flowing from the dam’s North Outlet Works into the Arkansas River was rechanneled so the square outlet channel could get a round pipe fitting to connect to the liner pipe through the dam to the river outlet, said Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities.
A 0.3-mile pipe segment also was installed from the valve house to the Juniper Pump Station, to link Pueblo West to the SDS and carry water for the other users. Juniper is the first of three pump stations needed to move the water 53 miles uphill. El Paso County became home to the Williams Creek and Bradley pump stations.
The water is being moved through massive pipes buried 85 feet beneath Interstate 25, Fountain Creek and two sets of railroad tracks. One mile of that stretch is a tunnel about 20 miles south of downtown Colorado Springs.
The destination? The Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, named for “one of the real geniuses of the 1996 water master plan,” said City Council President Merv Bennett.
That 100-acre plant can purify 50 million gallons of water a day, which then goes through a pump station for treated water and more pipelines to reach customers.
The Bailey plant’s developed area could contain 77 football fields, said Kim Mutchler, of Utilities government and corporate affairs.
Utilities water customers are paying for this project. But they’re paying a lot less than projected, as cost-cutting measures shaved the project’s predicted $985 million price tag.
In 2009, Utilities predicted seven consecutive years of 12 percent water rate increases, followed by two years of 4 percent hikes. Instead, rates rose 12 percent in 2011 and 2012 and 10 percent in 2013 and 2014.
The project is needed for many reasons, community leaders agree.
Because Colorado’s second-biggest city isn’t near a major river, it has relied on water brought over the Continental Divide. But those pipelines are nearly 50 years old.
With another 350,000 residents expected to move to El Paso County over the next 30 years – while industry and businesses need water, too – the Southern Delivery System is seen as a move to secure the city’s future.
If water demand increases, SDS will add two reservoirs, increase the raw water delivery capacity, and expand the water treatment plant and pump stations to deliver more than 100 million gallons a day – double the maximum available starting Wednesday.