Stormwater: “I really hope the new mayor [John Suthers] puts a higher priority on this issue” — Jay Winner

May 20, 2015
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A move by Colorado Springs to try for federal money to cover costs from storm damage earlier this month got no crocodile tears from Pueblo officials.

“Don’t you think it’s disingenuous that we have the same problems downstream and Colorado Springs is not willing to pay for it?”

said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“I really hope the new mayor (John Suthers was elected Tuesday) puts a higher priority on this issue.”

Colorado Springs announced Monday it will seek reimbursement of up to 75 percent of its estimated damage of $8.2 million from heavy rain from May 3-12.

The initial assessment recorded $5 million damage from landslides or erosion, $2.9 million to parks and trails and $281,000 in sinkholes.

Greater amounts are anticipated as assessments of damage continue, according to a worksheet released by Colorado Springs.

Outgoing Mayor Steve Bach is requesting disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“They’ve got to have somebody fund stormwater,” Winner said.

The Lower Ark district is working toward a federal lawsuit that charges Colorado Springs has violated the federal Clean Water Act by failing to control stormwater after its City Council abolished a stormwater enterprise and fee in 2009. The lack of a stable source of funding for controlling periodic storms is a sore point.

“I’d bet that when they show us an accounting of stormwater payments, they include the federal money that they were unwilling to provide,” Winner said.

That, in fact, is what Bach did in 2013, when he sent Pueblo County commissioners a letter claiming $46 million in stormwater expenditures. Much of the money was from federal grants for multiyear projects.

“I have to commend Colorado Springs for their ability to get federal money,” Winner said. “I do wish the city of Pueblo was as good at getting money.”

Pueblo, which has a stormwater enterprise and fee in place, is not planning on filing for FEMA money from the storm, but is still assessing damage on Fountain Creek.

“Pueblo would apply if the damage is greater than the normal scope of our stormwater repair budget,” said Pueblo City Manager Sam Azad. “We had damages at the airport from hail, but that is outside of what FEMA will cover.”

Pueblo has taken care of much worse problems on Fountain Creek on its own in the past, so it is unlikely the city would apply for assistance as Colorado Springs has done, Azad acknowledged.

El Paso County voters, including Colorado Springs, rejected a plan that would have established a regional stormwater district that would generate nearly $40 million in funding annually.

Stormwater also is an issue for Pueblo County commissioners, who are conducting an investigation now to determine if Colorado Springs is living up to its commitments under the county’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System.

Meanwhile, Fountain Creek has been flowing high and causing damage this week. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Fountain Creek churned again on Tuesday following a night-long rain over much of Southern Colorado.

By early afternoon, flows through Pueblo had peaked at 6,500 cubic feet per second, bringing with them debris such as large tractor tires, conduits and trees from the north.

At Avondale, east of Pueblo, the Arkansas River reached flood stage Tuesday evening. “Fountain Creek’s a mess,” said Van Truan of the local U.S. Corps of Engineers office.

“It’s such an active stream and has been for years.”

Rainfall in the region totaled anywhere from 1-3 inches, with the heaviest storms in El Paso County in the foothills west of Colorado Springs.

This is the second-wettest May on record, with 13 days left and more rain forecast through the weekend. “With the pattern we’re in, it’s possible this will be the wettest May ever,” said Mark Wankowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Pueblo Memorial Airport.

Fountain Creek washed out parts of the trail alongside the river, including at 13th Street where the creek has been temporarily diverted for Army Corps of Engineers work along the west bank to protect railroad tracks and an Interstate 25 interchange.

The trail has been closed from the trailhead at U.S. 50 east to Runyon Lake, the city of Pueblo announced in a press release. Some parts that have not washed out are covered with 3-4 inches of mud.

The creek also finished off structures in the flood plain at Belmont Stables on Overton Road. About five stables and a large metal pen were in danger from earlier high flows on Fountain Creek and now have been swept downstream. A swath about 25 yards wide has been cut in the past 10 days, in addition to land that disappeared earlier this month.

“It took it all,” said Cathy Todd, owner of Belmont Stables. The horses that were in the lower stables were all moved to higher ground.

Fountain Creek now is undercutting the bluffs on her property, she said. Fountain Creek shifted toward the east several years ago and began eroding the site, but it has accelerated with the rains in recent weeks.

Elsewhere in Pueblo County, the rain was making its presence known, but was manageable.

“I haven’t been over to the SDS scar; we’ve got our own problems on Turkey Creek to worry about Colorado Springs’ problems today,” said rancher Gary Walker, who is in a legal fight with Colorado Springs over the Southern Delivery System pipeline across his property.

“I was up at 1:30 a.m. releasing water so we wouldn’t have problems,” said Mike Hill, superintendent of the Bessemer Ditch. He said there were not any weather-related problems with the ditch from the storm.

More stormwater coverage here.


2015 Colorado legislation: Stormwater ‘recycling’ could help boost urban water supplies — The Colorado Independent #coleg

May 12, 2015
Detention pond

Detention pond

From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):

Even though the rain-barrel bill got dunked in the Colorado Legislature this year, another measure that could help conserve and reuse urban water on a much larger scale passed without much controversy.

Senate Bill 212 could make it easier for places like Denver to start designing new stormwater management systems that would reduce the demand for water from rivers and reservoirs. Instead of simply letting stormwater run down the drain, the water could potentially be slowed down to water parks and ballfields.

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican representing a rural agricultural district in northeastern Colorado. Sonnenberg opposed the rainbarrel bill partly because he feared that a boom in the urban rain-barrel biz could cut flows to rivers that supply water for farms farther downstream.

But [SB15-212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)], the stormwater bill, doesn’t pose the same threat because it doesn’t specifically allow people to capture and use water, Sonnenberg said, explaining that his bill was aimed at ensuring that cities don’t have to apply for water rights when they design and build stormwater systems.

In a comment letter on the Colorado water plan, Denver Water explained the history of the stormwater runoff issue. Most senior water rights were established in a time when there weren’t a whole lot of paved surfaces to channel water into drains. Instead, the water from big rainstorms spread out evenly over the land.

The idea that cities should have to apply for water rights for the stormwater they manage is “shortsighted, unnecessary and in conflict with the goals and values” of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for the plan, Denver Water wrote.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage 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.


The Town of Vail is embarking on a stormwater study to improve stream health in Gore Creek

May 3, 2015
Gore Creek

Gore Creek

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

When tackling a big job, success often depends on good information. Cleaning up Gore Creek is one of those big jobs, and people in charge of that task are still working to find out exactly what they’re facing.

To that end, the town of Vail this year has hired SGM, a Glenwood Springs-based engineering, surveying and consulting company, to do some of the most basic research — locating all of the town’s storm sewers and finding out exactly where they go.

That’s a more complicated job than it sounds. At the moment, town officials know the location of no more than 70 percent of the existing storm drainage system.

Kristen Bertuglia, the town’s environmental sustainability manager, said knowing where all of the town’s storm drains are, and where they go, is an important part of the bigger cleanup effort.

VAIL’S VAULTS

Most of the town’s storm drains flow into vaults, essentially big tanks where sand, oil and other pollutants are separated out before water ends up in the creek.

Bertuglia said knowing where those vaults are, and which parts of the drainage system flow into them — along with good mapping of the system — will help town officials develop a schedule for cleaning the vaults, thus keeping them working as they should.

“As soon as the inventory’s done, we can do a better schedule,” Bertuglia said.

More stormwater coverage here.


City releases stormwater expenditure report — Colorado Springs Business Journal

April 26, 2015
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Bryan Grossman):

According to a news release issued by the city, the stormwater program for the city of Colorado Springs has included substantial spending over the past 15 years on “new flood control and conveyance infrastructure, maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure, and water quality protection and compliance.” Expenditures for the city’s stormwater program, the release states, have come from the city’s general fund, bonds (Springs Community Improvement Program, or SCIP), grants (FEMA and others), and, for a period of time in the mid-2000s, stormwater program fees collected by the city’s stormwater enterprise, also called the “SWENT.”

“Substantial portions of the city’s stormwater infrastructure have also been constructed by the development community and as part of large transportation projects that have stormwater components,” the release states. “However, stormwater program expenditures historically did not appear in a single comprehensive financial report until now.”

This report highlights more than $240 million spent on stormwater program management and projects in Colorado Springs from 2004 through 2014.

— Colorado Springs General Fund; $40 million

— Stormwater Enterprise (SWENT); $53 million

— Federal/private grants; $13 million

— Colorado Springs Utilities; $36 million

— Private development/PPRTA; $88 million

— COS Airport; $13 million

TOTAL-$243 million

More stormwater coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: Closing arguments expected to conclude today in Walker Ranch lawsuit

April 22, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Closing arguments are expected to wrap up sometime today in a jury trial to determine the value of the Southern Delivery System easement across Walker Ranches in Pueblo County.

Expert witnesses for Colorado Springs testified Tuesday, the seventh day of the trial.

Attorneys for both sides indicated the testimony would wrap up soon and they were preparing to present closing arguments today. After that, the jury will begin its deliberations.

Court records indicate Gary Walker was offered $100,000 for easements on a 150-foot wide strip 5.5 miles long through Walker Ranches in northern Pueblo County. Colorado Springs, which is building SDS, also paid Walker $720,000 to relocate cattle during three years of construction.

Construction on SDS began in 2011, and includes 50 miles of underground pipeline 66 inches in diameter in Pueblo and El Paso counties. The final phase of construction in Pueblo County is the Juniper Pump Station being built near Pueblo Dam.

Walker claims the choice of pipeline route has contributed to erosion and diminished the value of his land. His court records claim SDS has caused $25 million worth of impact on his ranches, which total 65,000 acres. He’s also claiming damages under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, which protects landowners from out-of-pocket expenses and requires Colorado Springs to use eminent domain only as a last resort.

District Judge Jill Mattoon is presiding over the trial.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


2015 Colorado legislation: SB15-212 scheduled for hearing today in Senate Ag committee #coleg

April 22, 2015
Detention pond

Detention pond

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would allow flood water to be stored regardless of the impact on water rights would not affect a proposal to build flood control structures on Fountain Creek.

The district is looking at building a dam or several detention ponds on Fountain Creek. It has no interest in getting blanket authority under [Senate Bill 15-212 (Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights)], which is moving slowly through the Legislature.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board has taken a neutral position on the legislation, and would not interrupt its study of flood control and water rights even if SB212 passes, said Larry Small, executive director.

“We have no intention to infringe on water rights,” Small said Tuesday. “We live and operate in this basin, and whatever we do has to be mutually beneficial.”

Small was speaking to a technical committee Tuesday studying how water rights can be protected while constructing flood control structures on Fountain Creek.

The Denver Urban Drainage District and other water interests are pushing SB212, which is scheduled to be heard today in the Senate agriculture committee.

Farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley are interested because of its impact on junior water rights. Several testified last week against the bill. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District offered amendments to the bill that would exempt Fountain Creek or the Arkansas River basin from the bill.

“Once again, it looks like the Legislature wants to put all the mitigation for these projects on the backs of farmers,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

It also was suggested that fire mitigation basins, which are needed in areas such as Colorado Springs to deal with the aftermath of large wildfires, be allowed but to postpone action on flood control basins.

The state of Kansas also wrote an April 10 letter to Mike King, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Dick Wolfe saying the [bill] could have a negative impact on the Arkansas River Compact. It said a proposed notification system is not sufficient to protect its interests.

Small said that it might not be possible to move the legislation this year, since it would face more of a challenge in the House and the Legislature is set to adjourn on May 6.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


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