Colorado Springs asks councillors for water rate increase in 2016

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

The Southern Delivery System, due to become operational next year, hasn’t cost as much as predicted in 2010, which led to lower and fewer rate increases since that time. Originally, Colorado Springs Utilities planned to increase water rates by 12 percent per year for six years. Instead, rates went up by 12 percent each in 2011 and 2012 and 10 percent each in 2013 and 2014.

That said, revenue hasn’t generated as much money as CSU planned, according to a City Auditor’s Office assessment of water rates released this month.

When the costs of the pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs came in some $400 million less than originally projected, that meant the city had to borrow less, the audit reports…

In any event, Springs Utilities proposes to change gas, electric and water rates in 2016. The water rate increase would increase the typical residential bill from $57.07 a month this year to $59.62 next year, an increase of $2.55 per month, or 4.5 percent…

Rates changes will become effective January 1 if approved by City Council, which doubles as the Utilities Board.

Southern Delivery System moving along

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities got a clean bill of health from Pueblo County’s weed manager Monday and answered questions raised at a Sept. 25 hearing about revegetation along the 17-mile route of the Southern Delivery System through Pueblo County.

Still, commissioners want more time to study documents submitted and continue a public hearing on SDS 1041 permit commitments to 9 a.m. on Dec. 8.

Utilities needs to fulfill conditions of Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS in order to turn on its pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs next April. Revegetation compliance also would release $674,000 Pueblo County is holding under of the permit.

Utilities revealed it has spent more than $5.3 million on revegetation work already.

Colorado Springs provided point-by-point assurances on 17 issues raised on Sept. 25, when experts from both camps agreed Utilities had tackled the problem with state-of-the-art methods. Utilities also provided documentation from contractors that the work was done correctly, and that most landowners were satisfied with the work.

“We need to work through the (final) issues to protect the citizens of Pueblo County,” said Commissioner Terry Hart, who made a motion to take the comments under advisement and continue the hearing. “What we’re trying to do is look at the work in its totality.”

Hart, along with Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen and Sal Pace, had little criticism of Utilities’ report, which pledged further work with landowners as well as reviewing procedures already put in place to bring land disturbed by SDS construction back to its original condition or better.

“It’s light years ahead of other projects,” Hart said.

Bill Alt, who manages Pueblo County’s weed control program through the Turkey Creek Conservation District, agreed. Alt toured the pipeline route last week and said Colorado Springs has lived up to its responsibilities to reseed ground disturbed by SDS.

“The grass is up and doing well,” Alt said.

“Some of the tamarisk has been dug up by the roots and removed, and the topsoil has been replaced as in any mining operation.”

The problem is that the areas on either side of the 150-foot path of SDS are still susceptible to tumbleweeds (Russian knapweed) and tamarisk, which could still find their way back onto the treated area, particularly on the route north of U.S. 50, Alt said.

Some landowners have mowed or grazed the revegetated areas prematurely instead of allowing new grasses a chance to get established, he added.

“Everything is fine for what we looked at,” Alt said. “We did not go on Walker Ranches, although I would like to go because that’s where the erosion is.”

The Walker Ranches crossing is being handled under a $7.4 million settlement as a result of a jury verdict.

Colorado Springs also said it is working on a settlement with Dwain Maxwell, a Pueblo West resident who complained about the project at an earlier hearing. Utilities also has taken on a separate project to divert floodwater around a property just south of Walker Ranches in Pueblo West.

From (Jessi Mitchell):

As part of the deal, the utility company had to repair the land after digging up 50 miles of dirt to bury the 66-inch pipe, restoring at least 90% of the vegetation that was in place before. CSU showed the county that they have gone above and beyond the requirements, but commissioners have not yet released them from the commitment.

“The work that we’ve got done so far is already light-years ahead of other projects,” admits commissioner Terry Hart. Pueblo County commissioners applauded CSU for its nearly $5.4 million efforts to re-seed and irrigate the lands it plowed through to plant the SDS pipeline.

Landowners agree, giving high praise in a report to the way workers left things better than before.

CSU’s SDS permitting and compliance manager Mark Pifher says, “We put in a very extensive irrigation system. If I had to guess, it’s probably the biggest irrigation system ever installed in Colorado.

Commissioners had lots of questions when they first met to review the re-vegetation process in September, many of which addressed future concerns over erosion and management of the property. Pifher says doing a good job is about more than protecting the pipeline; it is about respecting the landowners as well. “It’s important that you do it with a mindset that this is like your property,” says Pifher, “how would you like it restored and put back into its historic condition, if you will.”

Bill Alt has been working closely with the group to oversee the management of noxious weeds throughout the easements, which have been removed on the property in question, but remain nearby and are likely to spread. Alt suggests CSU send a notice to the owners about maintaining the landscaping moving forward. “It needs some tender, loving care,” says Alt, “and it’s good for your property because it keeps the property value up. It’s not something you’re ashamed to show a realtor or other people.”

Commissioners will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities again Dec. 8 to make sure no other questions arise before checking re-vegetation off the long SDS checklist. The only other big issue standing in the way of water flowing north is Colorado Springs’ stormwater management efforts.

To access all official documents on the SDS, including CSU’s latest report, click here.

Suthers: Flood funding needed — The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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.”

Southern Delivery System testing to start up next month

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

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.

To wit:

– 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.

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

“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.”

Settlement calms the waters — The Pueblo Chieftain

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here

Colorado Springs Utilities to pay $7.1 million to settle lawsuit with Pueblo County rancher — Colorado Springs Gazette

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

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.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: Springs, Walker settle for $7.1M — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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.