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.

Road to Jamestown open to all travelers for first time since 2013 flood — The Denver Post

April 8, 2015

2015 Colorado legislation: Water basins could have costly legal ramifications for El Paso County — @csgazette

April 1, 2015
Waldo Canyon Fire

Waldo Canyon Fire

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

More than two dozen El Paso County water basins that hold back flood debris and ensure local water quality are caught up in an unforeseen battle over water rights, putting the basins at the mercy of state lawmakers.

Colorado Springs utility and stormwater managers, along with nonprofits charged with managing recovery in the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar, were taken aback last fall when the state declared that 25 of the 30 major basins violate a state statute that prevents stored water from affecting other water rights. In a January follow-up letter, the Colorado Division of Water Resources said unless the handful of entities that manage the basins can afford to replace some of the lost water, they could face legal action from the state.

But the letter could all be for naught, if a bill clarifying water use in basins passes through the Colorado Legislature this spring. Senate Bill 212, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would allow retention basins to hold water for 72 hours without requiring agencies to make up for lost water.

But this is more than a tiff over water rights. The letter jeopardizes some of the most effective life-saving tools in western El Paso County, said Theresa Springer, environmental education coordinator for the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, known as CUSP. The 25 basins listed in the letter catch flood debris coursing off the Waldo Canyon burn scar – debris that has claimed lives and damaged homes and roadways in the county since the 2012 fire.

“This is the biggest tool in our tool box,” Springer said of the basins. “Right now, we’ve got all of our hopes on this bill.”

Although the basins have become a key part of post-fire flood mitigation in the county, some were built without taking into consideration state requirements, said Steve Witte, a division engineer with the state who sent the letter.

Witte toured the basins with Springer last summer, and Springer had no idea the basins were in violation until she read the letter, she said.

Witte determined that the basins violate state guidelines because they do not make provisions for lost water to downstream junior rights users.

“We outlined some parameters under which these basins could be constructed,” Witte said. “But when we investigated, we found those parameters had not been observed. That’s what created some concerns for us.”

The majority of the basins inspected hold water for 72 hours, during which time they slowly drain. When it comes to basins, that’s a practice that Colorado has always allowed, although it wasn’t officially on the books, said Tim Mitros, the stormwater engineer for the city of Colorado Springs, which also received a copy of the letter from Witte. To his knowledge, this is the first time that the de facto 72-hour rule has been challenged, Mitros added.

The letter also calls into question state-mandated detention basins that are required to ensure water quality, Mitros said.

According to the letter, those kinds of basins are also in violation of junior water rights.

Springer said CUSP cannot afford to buy extra water rights to make up for what its basins hold.

In Colorado, “water is more valuable than gold,” Mitros joked.

Witte said he is protecting the water rights of those who live in a drought-stricken watershed. The basins have no right to hold water, particularly from junior water rights holders who depend on excess water.

“They are among those who are entitled to receive water when there is a shortage, and there is always a shortage,” Witte said.

There are a variety of fixes for the situation, Witte said, but none strikes a perfect balance between the needs of recovery managers and junior water rights holders, he added.

“The ponds could be filled in, but that doesn’t afford any flood protection. Not every solution is a satisfactory one for everybody,” he said.

The most typical solution would be for agencies like CUSP and Colorado Springs Utilities, among several others, to purchase water rights. While it might be the simplest solution for Witte, buying more water would be expensive and probably not feasible for others, Mitros said.

“There is no water available to purchase to offset that,” Springer said. “We are in the business of saving lives. Why would we spend the money to buy that water?”

Now everything depends on the outcome of [SB15-212: Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights], which is expected to be heard in the Senate’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy committee April 9.

Sonnenberg could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Although Witte requested that action be taken by April 1, he said he will wait to act until the legislative session is over. CUSP, along with the city of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities, will also be waiting to see if the bill passes.

As for what will happen if the bill gets killed, no one had a guess.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Mitros said. “I think the state needs to get that figured out between itself first.”

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

“It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had” — Melissa Esquibel to Colorado Springs

February 19, 2015

Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.

Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pleas to reconsider a federal lawsuit over water quality fell on skeptical ears Wednesday.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board listened patiently to Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett’s assessment of stormwater protection progress, but in the end voted to continue to pursue a federal court filing charging that Colorado Springs is violating the Clean Water Act.

The board instructed attorney Peter Nichols to continue building a case.

Bennett urged the Lower Ark board to stay out of court, saying money would be better spent elsewhere. Still the board voted 7-0 to continue the lawsuit.

“Nothing’s binding on this council, the next council or the next mayor,” board member Melissa Esquibel said, clearly frustrated by Bennett’s promises. “It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had. What’s going to happen?”

Colorado Springs City Council last month commit­ ted $19 million annually to stormwater projects, shuffling existing funds in the city’s general fund and adding $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities beginning in 2016.

But Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark, asked Bennett if other funds in the city would be shorted in the process and political pressure would again lower stormwater as a priority.

Bennett countered that the current council is committed to funding stormwater control, as well as the candidates for mayor in the April municipal election. He said the city’s other problems, such as potholes, would be settled in some other way not related to stormwater. He maintained the city currently is spending the required amount on stormwater and council’s action makes the funding permanent.

“I believe in the integrity of the people running,” Bennett said in response to Esquibel’s comments. “I feel we’ve made progress and we’ll continue to make progress.”

But he acknowledged that three to five new members may be elected to the nine-member council, and he could not personally guarantee that the stormwater money would remain in place.

“I can’t solve it by myself and we can’t solve it overnight,” Bennett said.

Winner pressed Bennett on several issues, including the council’s 2009 decision to dissolve its stormwater enterprise, stormwater funding that has been missing in the intervening years and whether the money would go toward projects identified when the enterprise was formed in 2005.

Bennett agreed that council made the wrong decision in response to Doug Bruce’s Issue 300 in 2009. He said Colorado Springs is working on a report that would show its funding level for stormwater projects has been higher than the $17 million the stormwater enterprise would have generated each year.

He pledged to have city staff develop a side-by-side comparison of projects.

The stormwater issue is tied to Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, which was negotiated earlier in 2009, before the stormwater enterprise was abolished. Flood control is needed because growth in Colorado Springs has elevated flows on Fountain Creek, increasing the danger of flooding in Pueblo.

More stormwater coverage here.

Judge rules that Adams County stormwater utility is exempt from TABOR

February 13, 2015
Adams County photo via CIG

Adams County photo via CIG

From The Denver Post (Anthony Cotton):

A judge in Adams County ruled Monday in favor of the county in a lawsuit filed by residents who opposed the stormwater utility fee that was approved by the county commissioners in 2012.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2013 by the Stop Stormwater Utility Association, which argued that the fee was really a tax and therefore a violation of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the Colorado Constitution because the collection was not approved by voters.

“Throughout this process the county has maintained the belief that the stormwater utility is a fee, not a tax and is necessary to provide storm water related services and facilities,” Commissioner Chaz Tedesco said.

In his ruling, Judge Mark Warner said “The utility is a government-owned business that receives less than 10 percent of its funds from state and local authorities combined, and is therefore an “enterprise” that is exempted from TABOR. Further, defendant has not engaged in an unconstitutional “bait and switch” by imposing the fee and using it, in part, for administrative and personnel costs.

“Further, the Court concludes the stormwater utility fee is reasonably related to the overall cost of providing services related water drainage and water related activities in the service area. Thus, based upon the foregoing interpretation of Colorado law, the stormwater utility charge is a fee, not a tax and not subject to TABOR.”

More stormwater coverage here.


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