Construction resumes on Fountain Creek through Pueblo

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Work is resuming on a dangerous portion of Fountain Creek through Pueblo.

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a $750,000 project to install articulated concrete blocks — held together by cable in a mat and anchored to the ground — along the Fountain Creek bank near the 13th Street Exit on Interstate 25.

Work should be complete within three months and Pueblo contractor Pate Construction is doing the work while flows are low.

The project started in April, but was interrupted by heavy rains in May and June that increased flows on the Fountain to well above normal for more than six weeks. Waters only recently receded to the point where workers could get in the channel.

Fountain Creek will be temporarily rechanneled to the east of the area while work is underway, said Jeff Bailey, assistant city manager for stormwater.

The area had been secured by a gabion — wire-wrapped rock — which washed out during the September 2013 flood on Fountain Creek.

Fountain Creek hits the bank at a right angle at 13th Street, threatening railroad tracks and roadways in the area. While the Corps is responsible for the work and funds it, the city is the sponsoring agency and coordinates such things as local permits and access, Bailey explained.

There are several other projects still in the planning stages to repair damage from this spring’s flooding, Bailey said.

The city will be removing the debris such as large trees that were deposited at the Eighth Street bridge in the near future. “We need to get that clear so the water doesn’t start undermining the supports,” Bailey said.

The city is also working on restoring trails and repairing the berm at the flood detention pond behind the North Side Walmart.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation is working on projects to repair the Colorado 47 bridge and the trail in that immediate area, as well as clearing debris at the East Fourth Street bridge.

Colorado Springs faces possible action from the EPA over stormwater permit violations

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs repeatedly has violated its water quality permit and now faces a potential federal lawsuit, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned the city.

The EPA inspected 14 sections of the city’s stormwater system Aug. 18-19 and found “continuous failure” to meet standards or remediate problems highlighted in a state audit conducted Feb. 4-7, 2013.

Problems cited include inadequate funding, infrastructure problems, insufficient inspections, “not holding developers’ feet to the fire,” a lack of internal controls and too many waivers, Mayor John Suthers said Monday.

The city’s federal MS4 permit (for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) requires adherence to water quality standards. While drinking water is not at issue in this report, Suthers said, heavy sedimentation and other problems were reviewed in detail.

No city official denies the long-term neglect. But the irony is rich.

Since he took office six months ago, Suthers repeatedly has vowed that $19 million a year will be spent on stormwater improvements. That has the City Council’s full support, and $16 million for stormwater has been carved out of the mayor’s proposed 2016 budget, with $3 million to come from Colorado Springs Utilities.

So the city finally is poised to address a problem that has been worsening since at least 2008. The recession kicked in that year, and the city’s Stormwater Enterprise Fund was dismantled a year later, “a bad, bad combination,” Suthers noted.

Voters in 2009 backed Issue 300, a measure weakening the city’s use of enterprise funds. In response, City Council eliminated the stormwater fund. It had six inspectors at the time; today the staff has about three.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. The Waldo Canyon Fire struck in 2012, and the burn scar contributed to widespread flooding in 2013 that exacerbated already severe problems with Fountain Creek, Monument Creek and other tributaries.

Tim Mitros, until recently the city’s Stormwater Division manager, has been widely lauded for his response to those disasters and for his diligence on stormwater issues.

Homeowners cited his vigilance and daily visits in May, when record-breaking rainfall led to landslides that endangered two Rockrimmon houses. He also oversaw updates last year to the city’s antiquated, two-volume Drainage Criteria Manual for developers.

Now the city is advertising for a new stormwater manager. Why? “I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to Travis Easton,” Mitros said.

“We’ll be introducing accountability where it wasn’t before,” said Easton, who became Public Works director in August 2014. “We recognized long before this report came out that we had issues to address.”

Said Suthers, “We need to up our game in stormwater, and that’s what’s going on there.”

But he also noted: “If you really dig deep (in the report), the problem of inadequate manpower doing inspections” is evident.

The city has retained Broomfield-based MWH Global consulting engineers to review the EPA report and “propose how to move forward to settle this,” Suthers said.

The EPA encourages settlement discussions but says any settlement must be done through a consent decree by U.S. District Court with a schedule for injunctive relief and payment of an appropriate civil penalty.

In January, city officials will meet to negotiate with representatives of the EPA, U.S. Department of Justice and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (EPA and CDPHE officials working on the issue referred calls to their communications staff representatives, who did not return requests for comment.)

Suthers said the city hopes to obtain a waiver on penalties and avoid litigation.

The city has been negotiating for months with Pueblo County, which has threatened legal action, too, over the severe problems downstream users have experienced because of Colorado Springs’ inadequately controlled stormwater.

At risk is the 1041 permit that the county issued to city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities for its Southern Delivery System, a massive water project set to deliver up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

Without the permit, CSU can’t turn on the tap for SDS.

But downstream users have incentive to let the project begin: $10 million a year for five years that the system will pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District to build even more stormwater projects.

Instead of lawsuits and penalties, Suthers said, “We would rather spend money trying to solve the problem. We’re hoping both Pueblo and the EPA have some realization that we have a council and mayor that realize you can’t kick the can down the road any farther.”

Drainage district sends out notices of impending fees — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Grand Valley Drainage District boundaries -- Robert Garcia The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Grand Valley Drainage District boundaries — Robert Garcia The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Several thousand Mesa County businesses and governments received notices this week of the bills they will get in January from the Grand Valley Drainage District.

Many of them promptly put in calls to the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which as it happens has scheduled a roundtable on Friday with the district about those very fees.

“It’s a job-killer,” chamber President Diane Schwenke said of the district’s plans.

Actually, said Tim Ryan, general manager for the district, the bills were tailored to be “palatable, but still generate revenue” the district needs to manage storm water.

While the chamber doesn’t question the need to control storm water filling the district’s pipes and ditches, the district’s plans for fees are an unnecessary damper on an already struggling local economy, Schwenke said.

While some businesses might be able to absorb the fees, for many others the costs will be significant, Schwenke said.

“They’re solving a problem by creating a problem,” Schwenke said.

The drainage district this summer put in motion plans to collect a $3-per-month base fee on the more than 44,000 tax parcels within its boundaries, and a $500-per-unit impact fee on new development. The $3 fee is based on parcels containing 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — which describes most of the affected residential parcels.

The fee schedule, however, makes no accommodation for large properties.

The biggest bill, for $14,000, will go to Halliburton, Ryan said, who noted that when the company received notification, it starting making arrangements for payment.

Many of the 100 most-substantial bills will go to companies with headquarters outside the county, so, “We’re actually bringing in outside money and hiring local people to do the construction,” Ryan said.

A major problem is that the $500 fee on new construction could damper business expansion, said Schwenke, who contends that the district should look at how other communities are collecting storm water fees.

The district’s fees, however, are minor in comparison with water, sewer and traffic fees, Ryan said.

It’s difficult to offer reduced fees to businesses or other entities with large, impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, because the size of the surfaces contributes to the runoff issues the district is trying to control, Ryan said.

The chamber is hosting a business roundtable from noon to 2 p.m. on Friday at Ute Water Conservancy District’s office, 2190 H 1/4 Road, to discuss the drainage district fees.

Larimer Co. struggles with one-size-fits-all floodway rules — Fort Collins Coloradan

Cache la Poudre River
Cache la Poudre River

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

The Larimer County Commission on Monday put the brakes on floodway regulations that focused on a Laporte neighborhood but that would have been felt county-wide.

The Laporte neighborhood, known as Cottonwillow, led a push to reform floodway regulations after residents learned stringent re-build rules cut resale values of their home to a quarter of their value, if they were able to secure an offer at all. Several of those residents lined the public seating at a non-voting work session for the county commissioners Monday.

“I want to make sure we know what we’re getting into here,” Commissioner Tom Donnelly said, regarding the regulations, which would have impacted canyon communities and county riverbank residents. “That we’re not pushing the balloon in here to see it bulge out over there.”

Donnelly was the only commissioner physically present. Commissioner Steve Johnson was attending another meeting on child welfare and Commissioner Lew Gaiter was called into the meeting.

The commission amended the county land use code earlier this year to allow property owners in floodways — areas where floods are expected to be most severe — to rebuild in cases where their buildings are substantially damaged by non-flood activities. But two of the three members balked at further action that would essentially create different tiers and regulations of floodway.

A proposal to classify floodways based on severity of anticipated flooding, one that took into account depth and flow speeds, would remove up to 93 percent of properties in a Laporte neighborhood that bumps against the Poudre River.

Boulder County officials see 2016 flood-recovery expenses approaching $76.8M — Boulder Daily Camera

Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 -- Graphic/NWS via USA Today
Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Fryar):

Ongoing or in-the-pipeline projects could cost as much as $76.8 million in 2016. Most of these projects are aimed at repairing the September 2013 floods’ damages to county roads, bridges, parks, open space areas — as well as services and programs to assist Boulder County residents and property owners still recovering from the floods.

That estimate, from a recent county staff report to the Board of County Commissioners, would be on top of more than two years of flood recovery spending that’s expected to have totaled nearly $97.9 million by the end of this year.

And 2016 won’t be the final year that county officials expect to devote a major portion of their spending on flood recovery.

The county staff is sticking by its late 2013 estimates that flood recovery projects and services will have a total cost of more than $217 million by the time they are completed, so another $43.2 million might be needed beyond 2016.

Springs street tax vote elates locals — The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo officials are encouraged that Colorado Springs voters overwhelmingly passed a sales tax Tuesday to improve roads, saying it should keep the city to the north on track to fulfill its obligation to control stormwater on Fountain Creek.

“I’m glad it passed, but the proof is in the pudding,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Colorado Springs is doing the right thing, and a lot of the credit goes to (Mayor) John Suthers.”

The Lower Ark teed up a federal lawsuit over violation of the Clean Water Act following years of foot-dragging on the stormwater issue. Prior to Suthers’ election in May, the former Mayor Steve Bach resisted efforts to find a permanent source for stormwater control funding. Bach campaigned against creating a regional drainage district that failed in a vote last year.

Shortly after taking office, Suthers and Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett gave assurances to Pueblo City Council that $19 million annually would be funneled into stormwater control. Opponents of the street tax suggested that the money targeted for stormwater could be used for streets instead.
Voters disagreed, passing the sales tax by a 65-35 margin. The 0.62 percent tax is expected to generate $260 million over the next five years for Colorado Springs streets.

“I never had any doubt they would do everything they could to get it passed,” said Pueblo City Council President Steve Nawrocki, praising the leadership of Suthers and Bennett. “This gives me a lot of confidence. We plan to meet with (Colorado Springs City Council) more often as we pursue this in the future.”

“I’m very pleased voters passed the roads tax measure,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said. “It takes care of one of their two major infrastructure problems and frees up money for stormwater.”

All were inspired in different ways by the Colorado Springs vote.

For Winner, it could mean better reception for partnerships between the Lower Ark district and Colorado Springs. While they have worked together on Fountain Creek issues, the Lower Ark has also pushed for agreements on things such as Super Ditch and conservation easements.

“I think once the leadership within Colorado Springs Utilities has stabilized, we will be able to again have productive discussions,” Winner said. Hart said it paves the way for clearer negotiations over the remaining issues in the 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System.

“It makes it easier because traditionally streets have been a competing need with stormwater. This pays for that competing need,” Hart said.

For Nawrocki, it’s more of a call to look inward, and attempt to pass a tax similar to Colorado Springs to address infrastructure needs, including streets, in Pueblo.

“As president of City Council, I am interested in finding a funding source to do those sorts of things here in Pueblo,” Nawrocki said.

Colorado Springs offers stormwater assurances — The Pueblo Chieftain

Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities tried to assure a district that has threatened federal court action that it fully intends to fund stormwater control on Fountain Creek.

“We have been working with Pueblo County on an intergovernmental agreement that deals with one topic: stormwater,” Colorado Springs spokesman Mark Pifher told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday.

He said there have been three drafts of the IGA, which was initiated shortly after John Suthers was elected mayor.

“We’re meeting again next Tuesday, and hope to reach an understanding of what our commitments are,” Pifher said.

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

The enterprise was initiated in 2005 with the participation of the Lower Ark District. The district had a larger portfolio of water issues it wanted to address with Colorado Springs, but made headway only with Fountain Creek flood control issues.

Over the next few years, they spent a combined $1.2 million to develop a plan and keep the newly formed Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District afloat.

After the Colorado Springs City Council voted to abolish the stormwater enterprise, the Lower Ark district began to prepare a federal lawsuit, first against the Bureau of Reclamation and now against Colorado Springs, claiming violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

For the last year, Colorado Springs has asked the Lower Ark to hold off on filing the suit, and with Suthers’ election, the district has returned to a wait-and-see mode.

Pifher presented documentation that Suthers supports a 10-year program to fully fund stormwater control and permitting at $19 million annually in his budget request to City Council. Council made a similar proposal last year that was shot down by the former mayor, Steve Bach.

The upcoming vote on a sales tax to fund street repairs will not affect stormwater funding, Pifher claimed.

“They’re two separate issues,” he said.

However, Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers, is challenging that position, saying that some of the bonds being eyed for flood control could be used for streets.

Colorado Springs is working with the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on the best places to spend the money. It also intends to start up SDS early next year, which would release $50 million in flood control payments over five years to the Fountain Creek district, Pifher noted.