Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers made a strong statement for stormwater funding in his state of the city speech Wednesday.
In doing so, he prominently highlighted the reason it is needed is to reduce the harmful impact to Pueblo from increased flows on Fountain Creek caused by growth in Colorado Springs. Spring rains caused millions of dollars in damage in both counties this spring.
“As recently as the late 1960s, our neighbor to the south, Pueblo, was larger than Colorado Springs. Since then Colorado Springs has grown to be about four times the size of Pueblo and that means considerably more impervious surfaces contributing to stormwater flow into Fountain Creek, with impacts on Pueblo,” Suthers said.
The mayor carefully reviewed the history of the stormwater enterprise approved by Colorado Springs City Council in 2005. It generated about $15 million per year until 2009, when council abolished the fee on a 5-4 vote in an interpretation of a public vote.
In the meantime, Colorado Springs negotiated a 1041 permit with PuebloCounty for the Southern Delivery System that included reliance on the stormwater enterprise.
“Pueblo contends that in issuing the permit they were relying on the fact Colorado Springs would continue funding a stormwater enterprise and is considering a lawsuit to revoke or amend the permit,” Suthers said. “I and members of the City Council, which also serves as the utility board, have been negotiating with Pueblo in an attempt to resolve the matter.”
Pueblo County has hired Wright Water Engineers to document the relationship of higher impact flows on Fountain Creek and growth in Colorado Springs.
“We would like to avoid litigation that would delay SDS from going online in 2016,” Suthers said.
Suthers and council are proposing a plan to provide $19 million annually for at least 10 years, and highlighted specific budget areas where the money would come from. He also referred to last year’s vote where Colorado Springs and El Paso County voters narrowly rejected a regional drainage authority.
“While Pikes Peak area voters declined to pass a stormwater proposal in November 2014, this is a complex problem that is not going away and needs to be addressed,” Suthers said. “And I emphasize that this is a public safety issue for the citizens of Colorado Springs as well as those of Pueblo.”
Decades of planning and an $829 million investment in Colorado Springs Utilities’ biggest water project ever will be put to the test next month, and the folks behind the Southern Delivery System can’t wait.
Like children anticipating new bicycles for Christmas, project leaders are eager – not anxious – for the tests to begin. Their confidence is matched only by their pride in the project…
The water will flow from the Pueblo Dam through three new pump stations to a 100-acre water treatment plant built in Colorado Springs. The plant’s developed area alone could hold 77 football fields, noted Kim Mutchler, of CSU government and corporate affairs.
The entire system is to begin water delivery next April. But before it does, more tests will be done through September and October.
Since pipeline construction began in 2011, every piece of pipeline has been tested upon arrival, with each section water-tested once installed. Pump station testing started in July and is continuing into the fall, and small tests have been done for several months at the treatment plant.
Next month, tests are expected to begin sending water through multiple stages of treatment. Then several system-wide tests will be done through the fall before SDS starts serving customers next year…
Some of the biggest savings, says SDS Program Director John Fredell, came from the 3.62 percent interest rate on $180 million in 40-year bonds issued in September 2010. In all, $475 million in bonds have been issued.
But unforeseen cost cuts came, too, as engineers and others reviewed completed designs and plans, then unabashedly pointed to better, less expensive ways to accomplish what needed to be done.
– The sprawling campus envisioned for the water treatment plant and its 10 million-gallon tank was reconfigured to put all essential functions under one roof, saving 4 miles of piping and more than $65 million.
– A contract engineer from the Broomfield-based MWH insisted that the three pump stations could be built for under $100 million, contrary to the contractor’s contention. So the project was rebid and built for $75 million. “Those are the benefits of having a really experienced engineer on your projects,” Fredell said.
– Several million more dollars were saved when a program leader noted that single welds instead of double welds could be used on pipes not handling high pressure.
– Another $10 million was saved when Dan Higgins, then the SDS construction manager, decided the pipeline beneath I-25 and Fountain Creek should be one long tunnel rather than a series of short tunnels using extensive open trenches, as envisioned by a consulting engineer. The new method also minimized impacts to floodplains, wetlands and mature trees.
SDS leaders also changed the type of pumps used, opting for more expensive $1 million vertical pumps – 11 in all – that will last longer, have lower electric costs and produce a higher discharge pressure, so another pump station didn’t have to be built in Pueblo.
“The most expensive commodity is electricity to push the water,” Fredell said.
But the humongous project also has brought financial benefits hidden to the casual observer.
When the SDS started in 2009, along with the recession, “We wanted this to be our own stimulus,” Fredell said. “We went on the road to Pueblo and El Paso and Fremont counties and did workshops on how to work with us.
“Only one company in Colorado can build this size diameter pipe. We got other companies from out of state to bid. But they (the Colorado firm) got over $100 million worth of business during the recession. This project helped keep them from having layoffs.”
Contracts set a goal of giving 30 percent of business to Colorado companies, with a penalty for those that didn’t.
“They’ve exceeded the local spend,” Fredell said. “We’ve had over 300 Colorado companies involved and spent $650 million through June, total, and $550 million has stayed in Colorado – $269 million to employers in El Paso County” plus $73 million in Pueblo County and $208 million elsewhere in the state.
The toughest part of the project has been the permitting and planning, he said, with more than 200 major permits obtained, and about 350 total.
The greatest challenges there were creating the 3,000-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which took five years, and obtaining the 1041 Permit from Pueblo County.
The EIS was handled by Keith Riley, SDS deputy program director for CSU, with help from Bill Van Derveer, assistant SDS program director with MWH.
“The two of them were just brilliant in the way they approached it, got the science for the EIS, got all the people together, and worked well with all the agencies, including the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency),” Fredell said.
Two other key players, both now retired from CSU, were Gary Bostrom, chief water services officer, and Bruce McCormick, also a water services officer.
“That’s one of the things I’m proudest of, the people we’ve had work on this thing. They were just ingenious,” Fredell said. “The credit goes to people like that.
“This project has been so much fun. I’ve gotten all my white hair on this project. It’s definitely challenged everybody.”
Colorado Springs Utilities will have an easier time meeting conditions of its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System with Pueblo County as a result of a settlement agreement with Walker Ranches.
The $7.1 million settlement reached June 16 includes $5.78 million to pay a $4.75 million judgment awarded by a Pueblo jury in May plus interest dating back to 2011. Another $1.34 million covers the court costs and expenses incurred by Walker Ranches.
But the agreement does much more.
Pueblo County commissioners are making plans for a compliance hearing later this year on several conditions included in the 1041 permit, including Colorado Springs’ promises to revegetate the entire route of the SDS pipeline through Pueblo County and the provision that landowners would not pay out-of-pocket expenses.
But any issues concerning Walker Ranches are resolved, according to the settlement.
The Pueblo Chieftain obtained a copy of the confidential settlement agreement through a Colorado Open Records Act request after the document was alluded to at the June 26 meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The agreement blocks Gary Walker, principal owner of the ranches, and Utilities from discussing its contents without mutual consent.
Walker had been vocal about damage to the ranchland before and after the jury trial.
The agreement specifies three conditions and accompanying mitigation appendices in the 1041 permit that pre-empt any complaints about compliance from Walker Ranches.
It still leaves open the question of Pueblo County determination of compliance regarding revegetation.
In return, Colorado Springs will address several of Walker’s concerns which it fought in court.
Those include fencing off the area being revegetated, paying Walker $300 per acre annually for the area that is being fenced, working with Walker on improving drainage and modifying the language in its easement if it interferes with future conservation easements.
Future construction activities on the easement are to be addressed separately, according to the settlement.
In addition to revegetation questions, the county is looking at whether Colorado Springs is complying with its commitment to control stormwater.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and City Council President Merv Bennett outlined plans for stormwater funding to Pueblo City Council this week. Suthers also has met individually with Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, Terry Hart and Sal Pace.
Colorado Springs wants to include Pueblo County and other entities in a stormwater agreement that would provide input about whether stormwater improvements benefit Pueblo. Stormwater control is important because of the increased base flow in Fountain Creek as a result of more water coming through the SDS pipeline.
Utilities announced the settlement Thursday. It had appealed the jury decision May 7, followed by Walker’s appeal May 14. Under the settlement, both appeals will be dismissed.
The city-owned utilities company also will fence revegetated areas on the ranches to protect them from cattle and will erect berms to reduce erosion across the 5.5-mile easement Walker provided for installation of the Southern Delivery System pipeline.
The rancher and Utilities had agreed that the easement was worth $82,900, and the pipeline was installed there in 2012…
But the SDS easement caused problems, Walker said at trial, with rain eroding the pipeline scar and Utilities introducing soils contaminated with seeds of invasive species. He also said the pipeline jeopardized a $25 million conservation easement he was negotiating with the Nature Conservancy for $1,680 an acre on 15,000 acres.
The settlement says both parties are committed to work together to manage and maintain the right-of-way.
Utilities said the pact gives it “additional certainty” about SDS costs, thus minimizing risk to ratepayers.
“It has always been our intent when working with property owners to use the court process as a last resort,” SDS program director John Fredell said in a news release. “By successfully resolving these issues with Mr. Walker, we can focus on completing the required revegetation on his property and finishing the SDS project on time and under budget.”
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo County rancher Gary Walker have come to terms to settle a lawsuit over land needed for the Southern Delivery System water pipeline.
The city-owned utility will pay Walker Ranches $7.1 million, ending litigation that led to a jury award of $4.75 million earlier this year and subsequent appeals filed by both the city and Walker.
Colorado Springs Utilities and Gary Walker have reached a $7.1 million settlement for the damage to Walker Ranches from the Southern Delivery System pipeline.
The pipeline crosses 5.5 miles of the 63,000-acre property on its route from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. The $841 million SDS project is scheduled to go online next year and will supply water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.
On May 6, a jury awarded Walker $4.75 million, which included a $4.665 million judgment beyond the $82,900 stipulated value of the easement across Walker Ranches. Damages plus interest would have brought the total payment to $5.78 million, according to a joint press release.
Utilities disputed the amount, and filed an appeal on May 7. Walker Ranches appealed the decision on May 14. Those appeals were dismissed as part of the settlement reached June 16, but announced on Thursday.
The final agreement resolves all claims for $7.1 million, the press release said.
Utilities will also install fencing on Walker Ranches to prevent cattle from entering the area of the SDS pipeline scar that is being revegetated, and will work with Walker to erect berms on the property to reduce erosion.
The agreement also commits both parties to work together in the future to protect the right of way.
Utilities said the settlement provides more certainty about the ultimate cost of the project, reducing the possibility of an expensive appeals process.
“It has always been our intent when working with property owners to use the court process as a last resort,” John Fredell, SDS program director, said in the news release. “By successfully resolving these issues with Mr. Walker, we can focus on completing the required revegetation on his property and finishing the SDS project on time and under budget.”
Walker, when contacted by The Pueblo Chieftain , declined to comment because of the conditions of the settlement.
During the trial, Walker claimed the SDS project had compromised a $25 million conservation easement on 15,000 acres he was negotiating with the Nature Conservancy. He has used about $13 million from past easements to expand the ranches, which is part of a long-term plan to prevent further urban sprawl in northern Pueblo County.
Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s special counsel, said he has not seen the settlement agreement, so he is uncertain about how the county’s 1041 permit for SDS would be affected. The county is teeing up compliance hearings later this year on revegetation and Fountain Creek flood control, which are referenced in conditions that are part of the 1041 permit.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.
If rushing water had to threaten a county road, the timing couldn’t have been better for the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners.
The commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a contract with Wright Water Engineering to the accompaniment of text messages from the public works department informing them that the surging Fountain Creek was threatening a portion of Overton Road.
The $115,000 contract will allow the county to tap into Wright Water’s expertise as it continues to evaluate whether Colorado Springs has complied with provisions of the permit regarding stormwater control that allowed Colorado Springs to build the Southern Delivery System water pipeline from the Pueblo Dam to Springs.
County Land Use Attorney Gary Raso said that in his conversations with the engineers at Wright, they were very familiar with the Fountain Creek and its issues in the past.
The Fountain serves as the primary drainage for Colorado Springs, along with other communities including Fountain, Monument, Security and Widefield.
“Pueblo County is incurring significant costs due to the failures of the north,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.
But the study focuses on Colorado Springs, particularly whether the city’s lack of any sustainable funding for stormwater improvement projects that would mitigate the impacts to Fountain Creek is a violation of the agreement.
The county is waiting until August to decide whether to issue a showcause hearing to Colorado Springs on whether to revoke or make significant changes to the agreement.
Again, the commissioners discussed the impact of the various burn scars in the area, including the Waldo Canyon burn scar.
But Commissioner Sal Pace noted that the Springs had eliminated its stormwater enterprise long before the Waldo Canyon Fire devastated the community.
“I think talking about the burn scar is a distraction,” Pace said. “These problems existed before the Waldo Canyon Fire. It implies that this is a new problem because of an act of God, when it was an act of man.”
Commission Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen noted that the burn scar brings the overall lack of stormwater infrastructure into greater focus.
“This particular set of storms, combined with the burn scar, combined with the lack of infrastructure, will give Wright engineering a worst-case scenario,” she said.
More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.
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.