#Colorado Springs Issue 300 abolishing permanent stormwater funding, “the definition of hoodwink” — Jay Winner

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs city and Utilities officials on Tuesday fended off another in a rash of recent challenges to the massive Southern Delivery System water project, scheduled to start operating April 27.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to table for one month a resolution supporting Pueblo County efforts to require guaranteed stormwater funding if the SDS is to keep its hard-won 1041 permit.

Pueblo County issued that permit only after Colorado Springs Utilities spent years negotiating and crafting complex agreements with county, local, state and multiple federal agencies.

It’s the key to the $829 million SDS, one of the biggest modern-day water projects in the West, geared to deliver up to 50 million gallons of water a day to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security.

But Utilities’ massive project and its 1041 permit are not to be confused with the city of Colorado Springs’ beleaguered MS4 permit, SDS Director John Fredell told the Water Works board.

The city’s MS4, or Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, is vulnerable since longtime neglect of critical stormwater controls led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cite the city in October with multiple violations.

For years, Colorado Springs hasn’t properly enforced drainage regulations, conducted adequate inspections, required developers to provide enough infrastructure or maintained and operated its own stormwater controls adequately, EPA inspections in August concluded. [ed. emphasis mine]

Now city officials are negotiating with the EPA and the Department of Justice to maintain the MS4 permit. They don’t deny the EPA’s claims. Indeed, they had discussed the problems and started scrambling for solutions shortly after John Suthers was sworn in as mayor last June, months before the EPA inspections.

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

But downstream Pueblo County has been a prime victim of Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater surging through Fountain Creek and its tributaries. And the county holds the 1041 permit, which some believe could be used as leverage.

As Colorado Springs development has sprawled farther, more sponge-like land has morphed into impermeable pavement, leaving stormwater roiling across the terrain.

Sediment in Fountain Creek has increased at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, pushing water levels far higher, reported Wright Water Engineers Inc. of Denver, contracted by the county. [ed. emphasis mine]

Sediment grew from 90 to 25,075 tons per year while water yields increased from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found. [ed. emphasis mine]

City and Utilities officials have been meeting with those engineers and their own consulting engineering firm, MWH Global, to prioritize projects.

They’ve developed a list of 73, including 58 projects recommended by Wright Water, said city Public Works Director Travis Easton. Work on the first of those commences next week, with detention ponds to be developed along flood-prone Sand Creek near the Colorado Springs Airport.

But skepticism lingers in Pueblo County, despite that effort plus creation of a new Stormwater Division, more than doubling the number of city inspectors and enforcement staff and the vow to dedicate $19 million a year to stormwater solutions.

They’ve heard promises before, Water Works board members noted Tuesday. They want a guaranteed, ironclad source of funding to stanch the stormwater that inundates their communities. And they want it yesterday.

“History’s important,” said Dr. Thomas V. Autobee, a Water Works board member.

Jay Winner, executive director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, had threatened in August to file a federal lawsuit against Colorado Springs for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Tuesday, Winner reminded the water board of how the then-Colorado Springs City Council eradicated its stormwater enterprise fund in 2009 – soon after the 1041 permit was issued – “the definition of hoodwink.”

Voters had just passed Issue 300, requiring payments to city-owned enterprises to be phased out. The subsequent council vote still rankles downstream Fountain Creek denizens.

Still, that fund never provided more than $15.8 million, Fredell noted. By contrast, the city and Utilities now are determined to spend more than $19 million a year on stormwater for at least 10 years.

They’re working on an intergovernmental agreement that would provide the guarantees Pueblo County seeks.

“Enforceablity is always an issue,” Mark Pifher, SDS permitting and compliance manager, told the Water Works board. “But we’re in discussion with the EPA and Department of Justice. The handwriting is on the wall. There will be either a consent decree or a federal order, and nothing is more enforceable.”

“If we can work this draft into something sustainable,” Autobee said, “that’s what I’d like to see.”

Board Chairman Nicholas Gradisar said he’s encouraged by the city and Utilities’ concerted efforts and swift action. “What I’m not encouraged by is the inability to come to agreement with Pueblo County.”

Gradisar said the funding must be guaranteed in perpetuity, not only 10 years, with an enforcement mechanism that doesn’t require a federal lawsuit.

Suthers, City Council President Merv Bennett and Utilities officials will meet with the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Monday to continue discussions on the fate of the 1041 permit.

That meeting is in commission chambers at the old downtown Pueblo County Courthouse, 215 W. 10th St.

That night, the Pueblo City Council is to decide on a resolution similar to that tabled by the Water Works Board. It would support the county’s efforts to obtain sustained stormwater funding from Colorado Springs.

The council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 1 City Hall Place, in Council Chambers on the third floor.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Pueblo Board of Water Works decided to wait a month before dipping its toes into the fray between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over the Southern Delivery System.

The board tabled a resolution demanding a permanent funding mechanism for stormwater control on Fountain Creek in connection with Pueblo County’s 1041 permit with SDS, after testimony muddied the waters.

After SDS Project Director John Fredell tried to convince the water board that the two issues are not related, Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District cried foul.

“When you talk about stormwater, it’s not about the law or politics,” Winner said, turning to Colorado Springs oŸcials and inviting them to look at the damage along Fountain Creek in Pueblo. “The people are the ones getting injured. You need to do something about stormwater. You people are causing the issue.”

Winner said the Lower Ark district has tried for more than a decade to get Colorado Springs to agree to permanent funding.

Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett, under questioning by water board President Nick Gradisar, admitted that Colorado Springs has not been in compliance with its stormwater permit. He, along with Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico and Public Works Director Travis Easton, explained in detail how the city would spend $19 million annually to address stormwater control.

About $12 million would go toward capital costs and $7 million to maintenance.

“It’s not only for downstream users, but for the benefit of Colorado Springs,” Bennett said. “We’re not waiting.
We’re moving forward.”

Colorado Springs is trying to negotiate a 10-year agreement with Pueblo County to ensure the funds stay in place.

Part of the water board’s resolution was to support Pueblo County in the bargaining.

Gradisar questioned whether that would go far to cover $500 million in identified stormwater projects, and blamed politics for the failure of past efforts to fund flood control.

“Left to its own devices, Colorado Springs Utilities would have taken care of these problems,” Gradisar said.

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

“But your voters . . . they probably wouldn’t have passed SDS.”

Water board member Tom Autobee brought up the issue of the $50 million Colorado Springs Utilities promised to pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District when SDS goes on line.

Fredell explained that the SDS pipeline, pumps and treatment plant still are in testing, so Utilities does not believe the payment is due until 2017 under the 1041 agreement. Fountain Creek district Executive Director Larry Small, a former Colorado Springs councilman, said it should have been paid last week.

Fredell argued that stormwater control is not a condition of the 1041 permit, since the permit deals with new growth related to SDS.

Since SDS is not serving customers, it does not apply, he said.

“But the damage is being caused now, what happens with SDS,” Gradisar replied?

That drew a reaction from Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member Mark Carmel, who questioned whether SDS was just a speculative venture for Colorado Springs. He called for reopening the entire 1041 permit to incorporate new concerns.

Water board member Mike Cafasso said the draft resolution presented at Tuesday’s meeting could be improved and moved to table it. Other board members agreed to take it up again at the board’s February meeting.

The latest e-News from Northern Water is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Snow accumulation season looks promising
Colorado’s 2016 snowpack is off to a good start. Most of the state’s river basins have above normal snowpack, and more importantly, above normal snow water equivalent readings. Northern Water monitors two river basins for forecasting – the Upper Colorado and the South Platte – which are at 99 percent and 105 percent of average, respectively, as of Jan. 14, 2016. Colorado’s statewide snowpack is 104 percent of average.

Precipitation in the mountains over the next few months will help determine the 2016 water supply. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a higher probability of above average precipitation for Colorado over the next three months. Beginning in February Northern Water will release monthly streamflow forecasts and which will be available here.

precipitationoutlook1217thru03312016cpc

#COWaterPlan: The Irrigation and Water Efficiency Conference, January 20

Ridgway via AllTelluride.com
Ridgway via AllTelluride.com

From The Montrose Daily Press (Devin O’Brien):

The Shavano Conservation District will provide an opportunity for area residents to slake their thirst for information about the Colorado Water Plan and water management.

The Irrigation and Water Efficiency Conference will address the recently adopted plan as well as management methods, Colorado water law, funding for irrigation improvements and wildlife habitat, according to a press release. Shavano Conservation District President Ken Lipton said information about the future of water use in Colorado is applicable to those whose interest is agricultural, environmental or otherwise.

“It’s important that every citizen understands the Colorado Water Plan,” Lipton said. “It’ll affect everyone.”

One of the areas the conference will cover will be small acreage management, which, according to Lipton, is growing in popularity in Montrose and Ouray counties.

John Rizza, a Small Acreage Management Specialist, is one of the speakers at the event. Water rotation among small farms and crops able to withstand drought are among the subjects he will address.

Oftentimes small acreage farms are formed by dividing land from a larger farm. In terms of water, this means a source is being used by multiple people for the first time, according to Rizza. Communication with other landowners is necessary to ensure a water source isn’t compromised through multiple people watering their fields on the same day. This is especially important in areas prone to droughts.

Another method of small acreage water management comes in the form of the perennial farm system. Perennial crops, such as the feed crops of Needle and Thread, Blue Grama, Indiana Rice Grass and Wheatgrass, are able to adapt to waterless conditions by hibernating. What results is a crop that is able to thrive until precipitation returns to an area.

“They can handle a little bit of drought and still produce a well for landowners,” Rizza said…

Other speakers include Special Policy Advisor to the Governor for Water John Stulp and former Division Four Water Court Referee Aaron Clay.

The conference is sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resource Conservation Service in addition to the Shavano Conservation District…

The event will be 2 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 20 at the 4-H Event Center in Ridgway. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP by calling (970) 249-8407, or emailing mendystewart@co.nacdnet.net

Pueblo Dam hydroelectric project DEIS is on the street

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A draft environmental assessment statement has been completed for a proposed 7-megawatt hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Dam.

The Bureau of Reclamation is accepting comments until Jan. 30 on the project.

The project is a joint eort of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

Two generators designed to operate at both high and low flows would be constructed on the North Outlet Works, which was built as part of the Southern Delivery System. A separate connection for hydropower was included in the design.

Electrical generation would not consume any water, operating on flows that already are released from the dam.

The Western Area Power Administration would have first opportunity to purchase power, which would be available to Black Hills Energy or Utilities if WAPA declines.

However, the power lines would be connected to the Black Hills substation that provides electricity to the Juniper Pump Station that provides power for SDS to pump water to Pueblo West and El Paso County.

The assessment notes there would be potential temporary impacts on air quality, water quality and wildlife (including some fish die-o) during construction.

Long-term eects would be less noticeable and not significant, because the flows into the Arkansas River, state fish hatchery, South Outlet Works or the SDS pipeline are not altered, according to the document.

The draft environmental assessment statement may be found at http://usbr.gov/gp/nepa/sopa.

Comments should be addressed to TStroh@usbr.gov.

For copies or more information, call Terence Stroh, 970-962-4369.

Saving the Fraser River — Grand Water #ColoradoRiver

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

Drive around Grand County for a little while and you’ll notice our profusion of bumper stickers with slogans admonishing you to “Save the Fraser River”.

For many folks in the valley their bumper stickers are a sign of solidarity but for others such statements are more than mere words, they represents a visceral call to action. The issues and obstacles that confront the Fraser River are deeply rooted and solutions can be difficult to agree on, let alone implement. The Fraser River and its tributaries experience what is called an altered flow regime, meaning the natural stream flows of the river have been altered. According to Kirk Klancke, President of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited located in Grand County, currently around 60 percent of the native flows of the Fraser River are diverted out of the valley.

“One of the problems is the stream bed is native but the flows are not,” Klancke said. “Over half are diverted out of the Fraser valley. When you have diminished flows like that the stream loses its velocity. The river needs enough velocity to flush sediment out of the rocks on the bottom.That is where the macroinvertebrate life is.”

Macroinvertebrate life, or bugs, live within the voids in the rocks on the bottom of the river, Klancke said. As the river loses its velocity the flows are not able to flush the sediment out from the rocks and the amount of bug habitat is diminished, which has a corresponding effect on the amount of bug life on the river. The amount of bug life on the river has a direct correlation to the amount of fish within the river.

The reduced native stream flows also have a strong impact on the temperature levels within the streams and rivers. “When you have diminished flows the stream becomes wide and shallow and it heats up in ways it never did before,” said Klancke. “Seventy degrees is the limit trout can withstand. We are seeing temps in some places higher than that.”

In an effort to address both of these issues several western slope interests along with eastern slope diverters such as Denver Water have partnered together to form a group called Learning by Doing. Learning by Doing is a cooperative group that seeks to address the environmental impact concerns of Grand County organizations while still providing sustained diversion of water to the Front Range. The group has been developing project ideas and in the fall of 2016 they expect to begin a large rechanneling project on the Fraser River called the Fraser Flats Habitat Project.

Project organizers are planning to rechannel approximately half a mile of the Fraser River on the Fraser Flats, just outside of the Town of Fraser. The works is being done on a section of the river owned by Devil’s Thumb Ranch. So far around $100,000 have been raised to fund the project with roughly half of those funds coming from Denver Water and the other half coming from Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Trout Unlimited also has a $5,000 grant they will apply to the project, allowing for an additional 135 feet of rechanneling.

“The idea of rechanneling is to match the stream bed to the stream flows,” said Klancke. “We create a channel within a channel.”

In the simplest terms the rechanneling work is accomplished by physically digging a deeper channel within the center of the existing streambed where water can recede to at low flow times. The new channel provides a deeper and narrower pathway for the stream to follow, increasing the velocity of water while also decreasing temperatures. The work must be performed carefully so as not to damage the natural streambed either. The native streambed remains essential for allowing larger flows of water during spring runoff. Along with digging a new channel within the Fraser River workers will also move and adjust rocks to create a healthy ratio of riffles to pools within the river.

The collaborative project is the first from the Learning by Doing group and represents a very exciting step forward for people like Klancke who spoke highly of Denver Water and that organizations willingness to engage in the process and work to further the proposed actions. Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead echoed his views.

“The most exciting aspect to this project is that all the parties to Learning by Doing are beginning work before it is technically required under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement,” Lochhead stated. “This is due in large part to the partnerships and relationships that have developed over the past few years, and the value we place on the environmental resources in Grand County. We don’t want to lose momentum, and the fact that Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Trout Unlimited and others in the county have stepped up to move this effort forward is a great indication of our common commitment. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to enhance the health of the aquatic environment in Grand County.”

Learning by Doing plans to put the rechanneling project out for bidding in mid Jan. and hope to have a contractor chosen by the end of Feb. Work on the project is expected to begin in the fall of 2016.

R.I.P Fred Kroeger

Fred Kroeger via the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District
Fred Kroeger via the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

Whether you call him the epitome of the Greatest Generation or the man who would not give up, former Durango Mayor Frederick V. Kroeger, who died Saturday at 97, left a legacy for generations of Southwest Coloradans to come.

The most visible parts of that legacy? Lake Nighthorse, Kroeger Hall and the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College and the business he founded in 1967, Kroegers Ace Hardware, an expansion of his family’s Farmers Supply that dates back to 1921…

“He had a huge talent for leadership and was always positive and forward-looking,” Short said, “He never gave up. When I think about all the support, rallying and lobbying he did for the (Animas-La Plata Project) … he wasn’t going to stop until he saw it through.”

Water conservation and storage were key issues for Kroeger most of his life, in part because of his family’s connection to the agricultural sector through Farmers Supply and in part because extended family members lived in southwest La Plata County, where water is scarce. Kroeger made countless trips to Washington, D.C., and Denver to lobby federal and state agencies on behalf of Southwest Colorado.

“What more can I say? He’s one of the great figures in Colorado water history,” said former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs, who told the Herald in 2009 he’d been inspired by his Southern Colorado counterparts while serving as the counsel for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

“He was from that Greatest Generation, and he did everything with the highest integrity and ethics,” [Sheri Rochford Figgs] said. “I admired all of them so much – Fred Kroeger, Robert Beers, Morley (Ballantine) – because if they said they were going to do something, they did it, and they did it with gusto and enthusiasm.”

SDS — American Infrastructure Magazine “Water Project of the Year”

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

From American Infrastructure Magazine (Genevieve Smith):

Not many cities can claim their infrastructure was of leading concern from the beginning, but Colorado Springs is one of them. Concrete evidence was left in a time capsule by one of the city’s founding engineers, Edwin W. Sawyer, via documents dated in 1901 which state, “It seems to me that nothing except the lack of water can stop the growth of a city so desirable for residence as this…Our people are becoming aroused to the need of securing at once all the available reservoir sites and water rights…”

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

Continuing in the same water-conscious spirit as those earlier citizens, three different mayors and at least eight previous city councils have been involved and invested in the planning of the Southern Delivery System, American Infrastructure magazine’s Water Project of the Year.

Awarded for its forward-thinking and comprehensive approach to water management, the regional project will be built in phases through 2040 based on customer demands, and will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs and partner communities, Fountain, Security, and Pueblo West.

The project is more than a simple fix for major pipelines that are now over 50-years-old and nearing capacity; Jerry Forte, the current CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities, hopes that this project “will serve as an engine, driving more efficiency, effectiveness, and reliability in our system.”

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

Phase I, which is now under construction, will transport water from Pueblo Reservoir through approximately 50 miles of underground pipeline, and is on schedule for April 2016. The project is estimated to cost $841 million at completion (thus far, under budget by $156 million)…

The four-part Water Resource Plan, of which the SDS is the major component, includes conservation, non-potable water development, existing system improvements, and major water delivery systems (the SDS itself). After the 2002 drought heightened public awareness of water scarcity, Colorado Springs has been able to make improvements to increase the efficiency of the existing water system before constructing SDS. Today, their per capita residential water use is among the lowest in the region. Colorado Springs also has the second-largest nonpotable water system in the state and has expanded their use of non-potable water in recent years.

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

Like any other project, this process hasn’t gone without headaches. However, clearing some of these hurdles was no easy feat, including dozens of permits and an Environmental Impact Statement that took almost six years to complete. In order to mitigate concerns that the proposed SDS would cause damage to Fountain Creek and surrounding wetland areas, a significant portion of the $1.4 billion overall cost of the project is a $75 million in wastewater system improvements to help prevent wastewater spills into Fountain Creek, a $50 million payment to the newly formed Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District; additional payments will be allocated towards various mitigation and flow maintenance programs on Fountain Creek in the future.