“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.


Pueblo County is caught between enforcing water quality upstream and supporting a variance for the City of Pueblo

January 24, 2015

Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo city and county officials are at odds over water quality regulations that could add millions of dollars to city sewer expenses.

The rift was great enough that the Pueblo Area Council of Governments backed down from a vote Thursday to support a variance for selenium and sulfates the city is seeking from the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

PACOG delayed its vote one month, after putting it off in December as well, in order to allow Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart to participate in debate.

Hart, along with Commissioners Sal Pace and Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, raised concerns that the county’s ability to insist on standards from upstream communities in El Paso County under the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System would be compromised if they agreed to support a variance for Pueblo.

“Commissioner Hart is not here, and he wants to have a say,” McFadyen said. “In our future, we will have water quality issues in this county and we need to be consistent.”

That means the city will have to go into a state pre-hearing on Feb. 4 without support from other local governments. The variance itself will be considered by the state in April.

Pueblo City Manager Sam Azad said sewer fees could double or triple if the city is forced to meet numeric standards.

The reach of the Arkansas River below the Pueblo wastewater treatment plant has naturally high levels of selenium and sulfates. If numeric standards are enforced, no additional releases would be allowed.

Pueblo would have to pay up to $92 million and $9 million annually to seal its wastewater lines from collecting groundwater and to treat water released from the plant to remove all traces of contaminants, said Wastewater Director Gene Michael.

Sealing the lines from collecting groundwater, $35 million of the total, would actually increase selenium because existing treatment removes some of it from water that’s released. The disposal of waste from reverse-osmosis treatment would compound environmental damage, Michael said.

“Let me be crystal clear, the county is not in favor of spending $92 million,” Pace said.

One of the conditions of the delay was to give environmental attorneys John Barth of the county and Gabe Racz of the city time to work out a way to gain county support for the resolution without jeopardizing future SDS deliberations.

While Pace said that agreement was close, the city disagreed.

“It’s unlikely John Barth and the city would agree to anything,” said Dan Kogovsek, city attorney.

After an hour of discussion, City Council President Steve Nawrocki agreed to back off a vote until the February meeting in hopes of getting unanimous support from PACOG before the April state rule-making hearing. Pace and McFadyen promised the vote would not be delayed again.

More water pollution coverage here. More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here. More wastewater coverage here. More stormwater coverage here. More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Estes Park: Flood recovery hits some rapids, public meeting January 26

January 23, 2015
Estes Park

Estes Park

From the Estes Park Trail Gazette (David Persons):

The job of creating a master plan for the recovery and future flood mitigation of the heavily-damaged Fish Creek corridor wasn’t going to be easy.

And, it hasn’t been. It’s been hard work by a lot of well-meaning professionals and concerned individuals.

But, as it almost always is with any significant flood mitigation plan, some parts are going to rub some people the wrong way.

Count many of those living at or near Scott Ponds in the Carriage Hills subdivision on the upper reaches of Fish Creek as suitably rubbed.

When they found out that the current draft of the Fish Creek Resiliency (Master) Plan included a recommendation to remove the two dams (and related ponds) south of Scott Avenue and restore the area to historic beaver ponds, they quickly spoke out.

“I chose this (home) because of the location,” said Joe Holtzman, 1130 Scott Avenue. His home overlooks the northernmost of the Scott Ponds, the one whose dam failed and contributed greatly to a surge during the September 2013 flood.

“I’m a 50-year flyfisherman. I love it here. I have had over 250 elk go through by backyard. I’ve had numerous deer and a plethora of birds. I have seen osprey plucking fish out of those ponds. I’ve even seen bald eagles here.”

Now, he fears, he may lose all that if the Scott Ponds are removed.

Holtzman said he wasn’t aware of the recommendation to remove the ponds – one of five high priority projects recommended – until November when there was an open house presented by a representative of Walsh Environmental, the firm that has been tasked to oversee and complete the Fish Creek Master Plan.

Once completed, the Fish Creek Resiliency Plan will provide recommendations for numerous projects that may be undertaken when funding is available. If funding becomes available, for each project there will be another opportunity for public participation during the design process, town officials say.

They also point out that the master plan is just a draft and not complete yet.

“The Fish Creek master plan is still being reviewed, and even the final document will be just a recommendation from a resiliency standpoint,” said Estes Park Public Information Officer Kate Rusch. “There will be more public involvement before anything happens at Scott Ponds.”[…]

Although town officials are on record saying they would like to repair the dam as part of flood restoration work, they won’t be allowed to restore it to its former state. The state now requires that repairs and designs of dam replacements must meet current state regulations. And, that means a lot more money.

Holtzman believes that a better idea would be to reduce the size and depth of the ponds which would require a smaller dam.

He and his neighbors will get a chance to voice that opinion on Jan. 26, when the town holds a public meeting to discuss the Fish Creek Resiliency (Master) Plan. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Estes Park Event Center, 1125 Rooftop Way, at the Fairgrounds at Stanley Park…

Shafer did praise the formation of the Estes Valley Watershed Coalition, which was formed from residents in the Fall River and Fish Creek areas. The coalition, which has two voting members from the Fall River area, two from the Fish Creek area, two from the Black Canyon area, and two from the Big Thompson River area, and three at-large members will seek grants and other funding once the Fish Creek Resiliency (Master) Plan has been adopted.

Shafer said the coalition, working as a non-profit under the umbrella of the Estes Valley Land Trust, should be able to secure the needed funding to implement the plan.

Among the many funding sources available for the coalition are the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund; Colorado Watershed Restoration Grant; Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA); Colorado Drought and Flood Response Fund; Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Colorado Watershed Assembly; Basin Roundtables; and the El Pomar Foundation.

For more information on the draft plan, visit online at http://www.fishcreekcoalition.com/master-plan.


Lyons taps Boulder County Housing Authority for Bohn Park flood-recovery project — @TimesCall

January 23, 2015

Bohn Park was flooded by the St. Vrain River in Lyons, CO September 18, 2013 via Getty Images

Bohn Park was flooded by the St. Vrain River in Lyons, CO September 18, 2013 via Getty Images


From the Boulder Daily Camera (Alex Burness) via the Longmont Times-Call:

Lyons has selected the Boulder County Housing Authority as the master developer for the town’s recovery housing project, which aims to provide up to 70 affordable housing units for residents displaced by the September 2013 flood.

The town had sent out a request for proposals for a master developer for the project earlier this month and heard back from only two offices: BCHA and the privately owned firm Element Properties.

Dan Greenberg, a town trustee, said reliability was key in the board’s unanimous vote Tuesday to hire BCHA.

“I think the long-term viability of the housing authority was big. We know they’re going to be around for a long time,” he said…

The board’s selection came on the heels of a Jan. 5 resolution, in which the trustees named Lyons’ Bohn Park as the site for the proposed housing development.

Both decisions could be nullified in March, however, if voters deny the ballot measure to make the recovery housing project a reality. Colorado statute requires cities and towns to get voter approval before selling parkland.

Lyons, BCHA and the rest of the housing project’s design team will now be hosting a series of “open house and visioning workshops,” beginning Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Rogers Hall, at the intersection of Fourth and High streets.

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Fountain Creek: “When they talk [Colorado Springs] to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math” — Jay Winner

January 22, 2015

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs is trying to talk its way out of its stormwater commitment, and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is losing its patience.

“You can talk the talk, but you’ve got to walk the walk. That’s not what I’m hearing,” Jay Winner, Lower Ark manager, told his board Wednesday. “When they talk to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math.”

The board will consider whether to proceed with the federal lawsuit next month.

Winner is frustrated because his discussions with Colorado Springs Utilities have been similar to 2005 and 2007, when he was assured by Utilities the city would live up to its commitments to control drainage into Fountain Creek caused by increased runoff from development. When enumerating stormwater projects, Colorado Springs points to street projects that Winner said have nothing to do with controlling the flow into Fountain Creek.

In November, the Lower Ark board voted to prepare a lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act over violations of its stormwater permit. Since then, the district has hired a firm to sample water quality and has been moving toward a lawsuit.

“Everybody seems to say the right things,” Winner said. “But I keep getting told, ‘Nothing happens until we get a new mayor.’’’ In November, Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett asked the Lower Ark to have patience just days after voters in El Paso County rejected a drainage authority that would have raised nearly $40 million annually to improve Fountain Creek stormwater issues.

Colorado Springs council has made no overtures since then to address Lower Ark’s concerns.

“I’m not hopeful we’ll get anywhere,” Winner said.

Colorado Springs had a stormwater utility in place in 2009, when Pueblo County commissioners approved a 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The Lower Ark district lobbied Colorado Springs City Council in 2005 for creation of a stormwater utility, specifically to address past stormwater issues on Fountain Creek.

Colorado Springs has a backlog of about $535 million in stormwater projects, according to its most recent accounting.

More Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Stormwater hangs up SDS request — The Pueblo Chieftain

January 17, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Controlling stormwater on Fountain Creek has surfaced as a key issue for use of the Southern Delivery System in light of the rejection of the Pikes Peak Drainage Authority by El Paso County voters in November.

A proposal to use the SDS pipeline to deliver water to a system just north of Colorado Springs could be a test of Pueblo County’s 1041 regulations for SDS.

Donala Water and Sanitation District has asked for an exemption or finding of no significant impact from Pueblo County 1041 conditions on its plan to move water from rights it purchased in 2009 on the Willow Creek Ranch south of Leadville.

A Pueblo County analysis of votes in the Donala district shows its residents rejected stormwater control by a 60-40 margin.

“Serious concerns over compliance with (1041 conditions) are raised by the failed efforts in El Paso County, including within the city of Colorado Springs and Donala, at establishing, financing and maintaining stormwater controls,” Pueblo County Planner Joan Armstrong wrote in a letter to Donala last week.

“The recent failure of the November ballot pro­posal in El Paso County on stormwater fees only heightened those concerns.”

Donala plans to use excess capacity in the SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs and a conveyance agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities to move an average of about 436 acre-feet (143 million gallons).

SDS is not expected to come on line until at least 2016, and Donala is not the only community interested in using it. Colorado Springs has the majority of capacity in the line, which won’t reach its full volume of 78 million gallons daily for several decades.

The move would provide about one-third of the water for 2,600 taps serving 8,000 people in the Donala district. It also would reduce Donala’s dependence on non-renewable groundwater from the Denver Basin aquifer.

Donala asked for the exemption because the amount of water falls short of the 500-acrefoot threshold that normally would trigger a 1041 permit review.

Armstrong asked Donala to address the question of whether larger amounts of water could be moved through the pipeline.

She also explained that the county also is interested in the maximum — not just the average — flows that could be moved to Donala through SDS, and in complying with certain conditions of the 1041 permit for SDS, including stormwater control.

The county asked Donala if it still intends to amend its service plan to control stormwater, as manager Kip Peterson indicated in a 2013 interview with The Pueblo Chieftain.

The county also wants to know which of the projects identified in the 2013 El Paso County Stormwater Needs Assessment by CH2MHill would serve Donala and whether the district intends to fund or construct any of those projects.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


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