Southern Delivery System: “It’s a wonderful, wonderful day to celebrate” — John Fredell

March 19, 2015

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The last 50-foot pipe of the 50-mile-long Southern Delivery System arrived at a construction site Wednesday, marking a key milestone for the project as it nears completion next year both on time and under budget.

“We put to rest a lot of doubters that we’d get this done,” said Lionel Rivera, Colorado Springs’ former mayor, who helped approve the project.

With Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” playing in the background, a truck hauled the massive blue pipe to a site just south of Pikes Peak International Raceway. Crews will place it underground in the coming weeks, completing a system spanning from Pueblo Reservoir to a new water treatment facility in Colorado Springs, which is under construction.

More than 7,000 of the steel, 66-inch-diameter pipes were installed since in 2010. That included a mile-long stretch bored 85 feet below Interstate 25 – a tunnel that was $10 million cheaper than creating a surface trench, according to Colorado Springs Utilities.

Current and former elected officials from across southern Colorado, along with several contractors who have worked on the project, were among scores of people on hand to watch the pipe being delivered. Many signed their names on it.

“It’s great – we’ve been at this a long time,” said John Fredell, the Southern Delivery System’s program director. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful day to celebrate.”

Three pump stations and the treatment facility are expected to be completed this year, with the system up and running for customers in Colorado Springs by the first quarter of 2016, Fredell said.

The project is on track to cost $841 million, below Colorado Springs City Council’s approved budget of $880 million in 2009, which did not account for inflation or rising material costs. The council also serves as Utilities’ board. Those savings rise to about $150 million when factoring in the cost of inflation and increases in material costs, said Fredell, who credited design changes to the pipeline and water treatment facility for much of the savings.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

One of the biggest water projects in the western U.S. will hit a major milestone this month, when the last piece of 50 miles of pipe is laid for the Southern Delivery System, the $841 million project to bring new water supplies to Colorado Springs and nearby communities.

The project includes 50 miles of pipeline, three pump stations and a water treatment plant. It will deliver water from the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

More than 7,000 sections of blue-colored, welded, steel pipe 50 feet long and most of it 66 inches in diameter were installed on the project during the last 3 1/2 years of construction.

The project spent $204 million on pipe and installation, according to the Colorado Springs Utilities.

“The pipe is the main artery for this water project and we are extremely pleased with how the pipeline construction went,” said John Fredell, the program director for the Southern Delivery System project.

The project is in the final year of construction and Fredell said the costs are expected to be nearly $150 million under the original budget…

Northwest Pipe (Nasdaq: NWPX), based in Vancouver, Washington, manufactured the SDS pipe at its Denver plant.

Three contractors installed the pipe, Garney Construction, headquartered in Kansas City with an office in Littleton; ASI/HCP Contractors of Pueblo West; and the heavy civil division of Layne, a construction firm based in The Woodlands, Texas, which has four offices in Colorado.

Construction is continuing on other elements of the Southern Delivery System project, including a $125-million water treatment plant and pump station that will have the capacity to treat and pump 50 million gallons of water per day. Three pump stations will help move water uphill, about 1,500 feet in elevation, from the Pueblo Reservoir, also are under construction.

Construction on the remaining portions of the project are expected to be finished by the end of 2015.

From KRDO (Rana Novini):

Community leaders gathered Wednesday to celebrate the completion of pipeline construction for the Southern Delivery System (SDS). The project consists of more than 7,000 50-foot sections of steel pipe that have been installed over the last three and a half years. The pipe will transport water stored in the Pueblo Reservoir north to Pueblo West, Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs.

“It’s taken many years and it’s taken many city councils and it’s taken many leaders and many workers to accomplish this,” said Colorado Springs City Councilman Merv Bennett. “Our friends to the south, the Lord gave them the Arkansas River as their delivery system. To the north, Denver has the South Platte River as their delivery system. We have Fountain Creek and we ran out of that water in 1912.”

Proponents of the SDS argue the pipeline will ensure Colorado Springs and surrounding areas can continue to grow, especially toward eastern El Paso County. The region will have to worry less about drought and watering restrictions.

“Water is important. It’s the lifeline of a community,” said Lionel Rivera, former mayor of Colorado Springs. “It’s the way you grow and I think we’ve ensured the water supply for at least the next 50 years.”

Rivera was mayor from 2003 until 2011 and helped get the project rolling. He said Tuesday that it was one of the most rewarding things he did as mayor.

“It’s very exciting, a little bit emotional to see that pipe,” Rivera said. “It just made me think of all the stuff we had to go through to get this approved. We were told back when we started it that it couldn’t get done from a political standpoint, but we proved the doubters wrong.”

The project has had opponents over the years, many from Pueblo who are concerned over stormwater issues.

Though pipeline construction is complete, workers still need to build water treatment plants and pump stations. The first drop of water is expected to be delivered in spring 2016.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Construction crews are poised to lay the final pipeline link for Colorado’s biggest water project in decades — an $841 million uphill diversion from the Arkansas River to enable population growth in Colorado Springs and other semi-arid Front Range cities.

Eleven 2,000-plus horsepower pumps driven by coal-fired power plants will propel the water from a reservoir near Pueblo through a 50-mile pipeline with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet.

This is the first phase, moving up to 50 million gallons a day, for a Southern Delivery System that utility officials estimated will eventually cost $1.5 billion.

“It means we will have greater water security,” Colorado Springs utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel said. “Businesses need water. Our communities need water to survive. It means we can continue to serve our population as it grows.”

Water challenges loom across Colorado, with state officials projecting a 163 billion-gallon shortfall. A few years ago, drought forced Colorado Springs to stop watering municipal parkways and gardens.

The diverted water can be used only within the Arkansas River Basin, officials said, ruling out sales to south Denver suburbs. And the river water, after treatment, must be returned to downstream farmers.

Colorado Springs residents have been paying for the project through water bills, which increased by 52 percent over four years. Utility officials spent $475 million from bonds.

The water will flow by next March, officials said. At full buildout, the system will store water in two new reservoirs east of Colorado Springs.

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

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southern Delivery System pipeline’s completion was marked by a contingent of El Paso County officials and a smattering of Pueblo County folks as well.

For John Bowen, president of ASI Constructors of Pueblo West, the SDS project has meant bread on the table as well as water in the pipes.

“It’s generated $50 million in contract values for our company,” Bowen said during a ceremony to mark completion of the SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. “We were able to grow as a business during a time when a lot of contractors were laying people off.”

ASI was the primary contractor for the connection at Pueblo Dam, as well as 12 miles of the 50-mile SDS pipeline route, and relied on 70 local businesses for support services. The SDS project generated $800,000 in wages for ASI workers.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


US Senators Bennet and Gardner, along with US Representative Tipton pen letter requesting the opening of Lake Nighthorse

March 18, 2015
Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Michael Cipriano):

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, penned a letter to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López requesting open access to the Lake Nighthorse Reservoir at the earliest possible date.

The La Plata County reservoir was completed in 2011, but a recreation plan has not yet been agreed on, and the area has remained closed to the public.

Lake Nighthorse is currently being managed by a coalition of partners that helped build the original reservoir.

The Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District commissioned a report that found recreation at Lake Nighthorse could stimulate upwards of $12 million in annual economic benefits for La Plata County.

“Given this momentum, we encourage the Bureau to expedite and prioritize its environmental analysis of the proposal, which would clear the way to open the lake to public access,” the letter reads.”

The letter also says that as of March 6, all members and partners of the Animas-La Plata Project’s Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association have endorsed the assessment of a draft recreational plan for the lake.

Several other entities have also expressed support for recreation at the reservoir, including the Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, and the city of Durango.

“Given this impressive show of support throughout the region, we urge the Bureau to redouble their efforts to analyze and adopt an agreeable plan that will open Lake Nighthorse to recreational access as soon as possible,” the letter reads. “We look forward to your response including a timeline for next steps and to the resolution of this issue.”

Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury said she is looking forward to the city’s residents being able to enjoy the area for swimming, fishing boating and other recreational uses.

“I am pleased to see that all the partners are now on board to initiate a process that we hope will open Lake Nighthorse as soon as possible,” Marbury said. “I appreciate our congressional delegation showing leadership on behalf of Southwest Colorado to support our efforts to open Lake Nighthorse to the public.”

More Animas-La Plata project coverage here and here.


A showdown over how transmountain diversions are calculated is brewing in the Colorado Supreme Court — Chris Woodka

March 3, 2015

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A showdown over how transmountain diversions are calculated is brewing in the Colorado Supreme Court.

At issue is last year’s ruling on a change of use case filed by Aurora in water court in Pueblo.

Division 2 Water Judge Larry C. Schwartz ruled that Aurora is entitled to export an average of 2,416 acre-feet (787 million gallons) annually, even though Aurora waited more than 20 years to change the use of the water from agriculture to municipal.

Aurora shares Busk-Ivanhoe with the Pueblo Board of Water Works on the system that formerly was operated by the High Line Canal. It brings water into Busk Creek above Turquoise Lake from Ivanhoe Lake through the Carleton Tunnel, which once was a train passage and later an automobile route across the Continental Divide.

Pueblo Water has a 1993 decree changing its water rights from its 1971 purchase of its half of Busk-Ivanhoe. Aurora purchased the other half from High Line shareholders beginning in 1986, but did not file for a change of use until 2009.

Western Slope groups and the state Division of Water Resources are arguing that Aurora’s claim to water should be reduced by 27 percent because the city misused the water after purchasing its share of the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

They claim that Schwartz should have counted the 22-year period as zeros when calculating the historic use of water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system. Schwartz determined that the years where the water was used improperly should not count in the calculation, but said the amount of Aurora’s diversion should be recalculated separately from the amount awarded to Pueblo in 1993.

Aurora’s share is slightly less than Pueblo Water’s (2,634 acre-feet average annually) as a result.

Supporting Schwartz’s decision are the state’s largest municipal water providers, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs, Pueblo Water, Northern Water and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, all of which bring water across the Continental Divide.

They argue that water courts serve to prevent injury to other water users, not penalize inappropriate historic uses.

“It’s not very likely to have a direct impact on any of our existing rights,” said Alan Ward, Pueblo Water’s resource manager. “We appreciate the court did not see a need to be punitive. That could be an issue with other water rights in the future.”

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also supports Schwartz’s position because of its own pending change case on the Larkspur Ditch, which it purchased from the Catlin Canal and uses to bring water over from the Gunnison River basin.

Schwartz ruled in favor of Aurora in the case (09CW142) in May, and it was appealed by multiple Western Slope groups in October. Reply briefs in the case are due March 21, after which the court could hear oral arguments.

More water law coverage here


The Colorado River District, et al. appeal May 2014 Aurora Busk-Ivanhoe diversion water court decision

March 2, 2015

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

A water court case in Pueblo over the size of water rights from the upper Fryingpan River delivered through the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel to the East Slope has now blossomed into a Colorado Supreme Court case full of powerful interests opposing each other across the Continental Divide.

A bevy of West Slope entities, including Pitkin, Eagle and Grand counties, the Colorado River District and the Grand Valley Water Users, Association are arguing against a May 2014 water court decision that gave Aurora the right to use 2,416 acre-feet of water from the Fryingpan for municipal purposes in Aurora instead of for irrigation purposes in the Arkansas River valley.

The new decree gives Aurora the right to divert up to 144,960 acre-feet of water over a 60-year period.

The other West Slope entities in the case are the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, the Ute Water Conservancy District and the Basalt Water Conservancy District.

On other side, a list of the most powerful water entities on the East Slope have filed legal briefs supporting Aurora’s positions, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Northern Water Conservancy District and the Southeastern Water Conservancy District.

Pitkin County is specifically arguing that the water court judge should have counted Aurora’s 22 years of undecreed use of the water for municipal purposes — between 1987 and 2009 — when determining the historic lawful use of the water right, and thus, the size of the right’s “transferable yield” from irrigation to municipal use.

Instead, the judge set 1928 to 1986 as the representative sampling of years and excluded the 22 years of Aurora’s admittedly undecreed use.

Expert testimony in the case indicated that if Aurora’s years of undecreed, or “zero,” use were averaged in, the size of the transferable water right would be reduced by 27 percent — which is what Pitkin County believes should happen.

“When water rights have been used unlawfully for more than a quarter of their period of record, a pattern of use derived solely from the other three-quarters of the period of record will not most accurately represent the historical use of the rights at issue,” attorneys for Pitkin County told the Supreme Court.

The Colorado state water engineer and division engineers in water divisions 1, 2 and 5 are also arguing alongside Pitkin County that the judge should have included the 22 years of “zero” use in a representative sampling of years.

“This court should remand the case with instructions to determine the average annual historical use between 1928 and 2009, including zeros for years when Aurora diverted water through the Ivanhoe Tunnel solely for undecreed uses,” attorneys for the state and division engineers wrote.

The various East Slope entities are arguing in the case that the judge did the right thing by not counting Aurora’s 22 years of undecreed municipal use.

“The water court’s quantification of the Busk-Ivanhoe rights followed all of the rules for a change case — it was based on a representative period of lawful decreed use, it was not based upon undecreed use, and it employed several other factors endorsed by this court to determine a representative period,” Aurora’s attorney’s wrote. “The water court correctly determined it need not go any further, rejecting the appellants’ novel legal theory and finding it unnecessary to prevent injury.”

UNDECREED STORAGE

Meanwhile, other West Slope entities, including the River District and Eagle County, are arguing that Judge Larry C. Schwartz erred in his opinion regarding the right to store water on the East Slope without a specific decree to do so.

“The water court misinterpreted the law and erroneously looked beyond the record in the original adjudication to conclude that no storage decree was necessary and then included water stored and water traded to others within the amount of the changed right,” attorneys for the West Slope entities wrote.

But the East Slope entities support the judge’s conclusion regarding storage.

“The water court correctly interpreted prior case law and ruled East Slope storage was within the ‘wide latitude’ accorded importers of transmountain water provided such storage did not result in an expansion of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights,” attorneys for Aurora wrote.

Attorneys for Denver Water also told the court that “it does not matter whether a decree specifically identifies storage in the basin of use of the imported foreign water” because “once imported, the foreign water can be stored wherever.”

Built between the early 1920s and 1936, the Busk-Ivanhoe water system now diverts about 5,000 acre-feet of water a year from Ivanhoe, Pan, Lyle and Hidden Lake creeks, all tributaries of the upper Fryingpan River.

The system gathers water from the high country creeks and stores it briefly in Ivanhoe Reservoir, which sits at 10,900 feet. It then sends the water through a 1.3 mile-long tunnel under the Continental Divide to Busk Creek and on into Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

From there, the water can either end up in the lower Arkansas River basin, or via pumps, end up in the South Platte River basin, where Aurora is located, just east of Denver.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns half of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights, which have a primary 1928 decree date. In 1990, Pueblo received a decree to use its half of the water for municipal purposes, and that decision is not at issue in this case.

Aurora bought 95 percent of its half of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights in 1986, and by 2001 had purchased 100 percent of the right, paying at least $11.25 million, according to testimony in the case.

INTO WATER COURT

Aurora came in from the cold in 2009 and applied in water court to change its half of the Busk-Ivanhoe water to municipal uses.

And it also applied for specific water storage rights, including in a new reservoir to be built on the flanks of Mount Elbert called Box Creek Reservoir.

After a five-day trial in Div. 2 Water Court in Pueblo in July 2013, which resulted in 1,075 pages of transcripts and 6,286 pages of exhibits, Schwartz ruled in May 2014 in Aurora’s favor.

West Slope entities filed appeals in October with the Colorado Supreme Court, which directly hears appeals from the state’s water courts.

Opening briefs in the case were filed by West Slope entities in December, and a round of “answer briefs” and “friend of the court” briefs were filed last week by various entities.

The West Slope entities now have until March 21 to file reply briefs in the case.

Once the case is set, oral arguments will be heard before the Supreme Court justices in Denver.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.


Pueblo Reservoir winter operations update

February 23, 2015
Pueblo dam releases

Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water users are playing the annual guessing game of how much water will be in Lake Pueblo when it comes time to ensure enough space is left for flood protection.

While there could be a slight chance for a spill, the Bureau of Reclamation is working with other water interests to reduce the odds.

“The long-term forecast for this spring is for cooler temps and increased precipitation,” said Roy Vaughan, Reclamation’s local manager for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

Right now the reservoir holds about 247,000 acre-feet, and at the current pace of filling would be at 267,000 acre-feet by April 15 — about 10,000 acre-feet above the limit for flood control.

Of the total, nearly 49,000 acre-feet is in “if-and-when,” or excess capacity, accounts subject to spill if there is too much water in Lake Pueblo. Fry-Ark Project water would be the last to spill.

However, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is again seeking a waiver to hold a little more water until May 1, the deadline for releasing about 14,500 acre-feet of holdover water.

At the same time, flows below Pueblo Dam are increasing to balance the winter water program, Division Engineer Steve Witte said.

“That’s not good news for the work that’s going on along the levee,” Witte said.

Some winter water also is stored in John Martin Reservoir, which is very low, or in reservoirs owned by ditch companies. Winter water storage ends March 15 and is running close to the 20-year average for the first time in years.


A look at the state of the whitewater business along the Arkansas River

February 22, 2015

raftingarkriver

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A nearly 7 percent increase in Arkansas River rafting business last summer bodes well for a further rebound in the industry, yet some fear the river is slowly losing its share of the market. The Arkansas River reported 191,307 boaters last summer, up 6.6 percent from 2013, according to a report issued this week by the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

While the Arkansas River remains the most rafted river in the state by a large margin, it has lost about 3 percent of its market share to other rivers, according to the rafters group.

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

One river showing big gains is Clear Creek west of Denver. Clear Creek reported 72,224 rafters last summer, up from 61,172 in 2013 and 35,422 in 2012.

“Clear Creek has been drawing substantially because of its convenience to Denver,” said the outfitter association’s Joe Greiner of Wilderness Aware Rafting in Buena Vista. “They are taking more (of the) people who used to come to the Arkansas River from Denver.”

The main staging area for Clear Creek rafting is Idaho Springs on Interstate 70.

Greiner said rafting on the Arkansas remains “well off its peak” of just over 252,000 customers in 2001. That peak was followed by an all-time low of 139,178 boaters during the drought year of 2002.

It was a plunge that the local industry hasn’t fully rebounded from. In 2007, the river came close with 239,887 boaters. Then came the Great Recession and a string of summers marred by drought and wildfires.

Rafting is big business.

The $23.7 million in direct 2014 expenditures on Arkansas River rafting multiplies to an overall economic impact of $60.7 million when spending for items like lodging, gas and food is factored into the equation.

Greiner credits strong water flows and the absence of major wildfires as big contributors to the increased business last summer. Last summer’s river-related deaths totaled 11 — three of which were attributed to commercial rafting accidents — but were not seen as scaring away business.

“The public is more educated and not reacting to headlines like they used to. People are taking responsibility for which section of the river they choose based on their physical limitations, river conditions and experience,” Greiner said.

If the Arkansas River is to get back to its past peak season of 250,000 customers, Greiner thinks the Browns Canyon national monument status designation would do the trick. The canyon, located between Salida and Buena Vista, is being considered for the federal status. [ed. President Obama signed the executive order designating Browns Canyon as a nation monument on February 19, 2015.]

“It would put a star on the map and people would plan their trip around that. If they find out the best way to see the national monument is by raft I think it would improve the status of the river,” Greiner said.

Friends of Browns Canyon have lobbied in Washington, D.C. and gotten positive feedback.

“There is a good chance of it,” Greiner said.

Another positive sign for this year’s rafting season is the snowpack.

“It is in pretty good shape although it has been warm and we’ve lost some (snow), if you look at the three critical gauges, they are all above average,” Greiner said.

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org


A look at the art of water board governance from The Greeley Tribune #ColoradoRiver

February 15, 2015

Here’s an in-depth look at the Greeley Water and Sewer Board from Sherrie Peif writing for The Greeley Tribune. Click through to read the whole article and for the sidebar with the details about the current board along with some historic notes:

Most anyone who works closely with the water industry agrees the commodity is taken for granted by consumers, except for in a couple of instances.

“When water doesn’t come out of the faucet,” said Harold Evans with a laugh. “And when they get their bill.”

Evans, the chairman of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, said it is unlikely that most know where their water comes from or how it gets to their faucets.

It is a complicated process involving more than a dozen lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs across Colorado. And in Greeley, seven men oversee it all.

It is so complicated, in fact, that fellow board member Robert Ruyle said it takes several years on the board before a member really understands it.

“Water board members serve 10-15 years before they really know what to do,” Ruyle said. “Even if they come to the board with water experience. Our system is unique, and it takes a while to understand it.”

It is also why, Evans said, the water board needs the absolute power it currently enjoys.

“The primary reason for establishing it this way was to provide for long-term needs in a non-political way,” Evans said.

Not everyone agrees, however, including a former top Greeley official who may take a proposal to the voters to put the power back into the hands of the Greeley City Council.

Many argue the Greeley water board has too much power, and its authority to set rates, development fees and the cost to bring raw water to a new development are all too high and there is no one that can reverse its decisions.

Members of the water board say what most don’t realize is how far ahead of the game Greeley is compared to other communities and water districts in northern Colorado.

And that — they say — is because of the way the Greeley Home Rule Charter is set up, giving board members the power to set rates and fees, acquire water and manage the system that cleans and transports it.

“When you think about what you pay for a cup of coffee, we supply a gallon of safe drinking water for four-tenths of one penny,” Evans said.

Board members all believe they are assuring many more generations to come plenty of the precious resource.

But has the original intention of Greeley’s forefathers outlived its usefulness?

Should voters change the way water has been managed for nearly six decades?

It all depends on who you ask.

WHICH WAY DID IT GO?

From as far away as Lake Granby on the Western Slope, into the Colorado-Big Thompson system, and eventually the South Platte River; or from as far away as Cameron Pass and the Poudre River, spring snow melt from the mountains flows through 500 miles of pipeline into two water treatment plants and into homes and business in Greeley.

It didn’t take long after Greeley was founded in 1869 for its forefathers to realize they needed to secure the rights to the water coming out of the mountains.

W.D. Farr, known to many as Mr. Water, and former Greeley Tribune publisher Charles Hansen are credited for bringing water from the Colorado River across the Continental Divide and to the Front Range. The Greeley water system is among the most elaborate and most rich in the nation, everyone close to the situation says.

Many say that’s thanks to the authority granted the Greeley Water Board when it was formed in the 1958 charter to manage the system.

Norman Dean, who was a member of the charter committee and one of those responsible for the Water Board’s authority, said it was a battle over who to put in charge.

“It was a very contentious subject,” Dean said. “Some guys wanted it to be a department of the city.”

But in the end, a University of Northern Colorado professor convinced the majority, including Dean, that it needed to be separate.

“Water and sewer generates a lot of money,” Dean said. “He did not want it to flow into the general fund for city council to use it as they wanted.”

Technically, it is a department of the city, but it is run by the water board.

The other option, said Leonard Wiest, former Greeley city manager who is now a consultant, would be to make the board an advisory board. Let them continue to do what they do, but leave the final decision to the Greeley City Council.

“We get a chance to vote on the city council,” Wiest said. “If we don’t like what they do, we can vote them out. The only thing the council can do right now to the water board is cut the budget. But they never do that either.”

The seven members of the water board are appointed by city council to serve a five-year term and cannot be recalled by voters. At the end of that term, they must be reappointed to serve again. However, no one can recall a time when the council did not reappoint someone.

“If at anytime they came to one of us and said, ‘We don’t think you’re doing your job,’ we would step down,” Evans said. “We may make decisions that some may not like, but we have to do what is best for the whole big picture.”

Additionally, there are no limits to the number of terms a water board member can serve. New members are recommended to the city council by the current board, leaving some to refer to it as a “good ol’ boys club.”

Many members have served for decades. Dean, who served 15 years on the board from 1989-1994, said that, too, was thought out by the charter committee.

“It seemed a shame to put term limits on them,” Dean said. “They finally get to understand it all and then they have to leave the board.”

The board controls a $26 million budget. Although city council ultimately has to approve any loans the water board requests, the water board has the authority to borrow money and sell bonds without going to voters, Wiest said.

“It’s taxation without representation,” Wiest said. “The water and sewer board is entirely independent. They do whatever they want.”

The board is responsible for setting water and sewer rates, plant investment fees (which are fees paid by a developer when a new home or business is constructed) and cash-in-lieu charges to get water to a new development.

Council can raise the rates and fees, but has no authority to lower the rates below a minimum formula set by the charter, which includes things such as depreciation and maintenance.

City Manager Roy Otto equates it to buying a car. You have to pay a minimum amount for a basic car, but all the bells and whistles are additional. If the water and sewer board wanted to raise the rates above what the formula says is needed to pay the bills, council could deny that.

“I have never since I’ve been city manager had a disagreement over the budget,” Otto said of the recommended budget versus what the council wants. “We all understand the importance of our rate structure. We have a sound system, I would put our system up against any in the area because the charter language considers depreciation and maintenance.”

Developers, however, have recently threatened to stop building in Greeley because development fees, especially for water and sewer, are too high, they say.

Many developers in the area have asked Wiest to lead an effort to ask voters to amend the Home Rule Charter in November, to make it an advisory board.

Wiest isn’t sure yet if he will, but he’s leaning toward leading the effort.

WHO PAYS THE WAY FOR GROWTH?

Greeley City Council has long charged its staff with the directive that growth pays its own way. In other words, fees should be charged to handle improvements or expansions when new developments come in.

Water and sewer is no different. New developments require the developer to supply the water rights to service the area, and new residential and commercial development must pay plant investment fees to help with maintenance and expansion to the system when it is needed because of growth.

However, the fees set by the water board are the source of disagreement.

At several recent meetings held by the city to discuss increased development fees that go in effect March 1, real estate brokers and contractors expressed concern that development was about to stop in Greeley because they can’t afford to build here compared to other communities. In particular, many believe the water and sewer fees charged against developers are too excessive.

Their contention is the increased fees drive up the cost of new homes in an area continuing to battle with poverty.

A recent attempt to lower those fees failed on a 4-3 city council vote. The argument against lowering the fees is that it puts the burden of paying for growth in the water system on the current users.

“It’s a philosophical belief,” Evans said. “Because on the other hand, you can say new development benefits everyone.”

Wiest said the water and sewer board are more concerned about someone who may move here in 50 years than they are those who live here now.

“The growth factor flies in our face,” Wiest said. “The person who moves here in 50 years will still have to bring their own water. But we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for water for the future.”

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Water board members say they are only trying to continue the logic of Farr, which has made Greeley the envy of many in Colorado for its long-term planning and vision in acquiring water rights.

“When you think about the previous boards and what they’ve done, we have the chance to stand on the shoulders of giants,” Evans said.

He added the land around northern Colorado is drying up, and people need to remember where they live.

“We are an arid landscape, but we want to look like the Midwest,” Evans said. “We have had water restrictions in place since 1905 for a reason.”

Ruyle agreed, adding it is getting more and more difficult every day to acquire water.

“It is a challenge to be able to acquire enough raw water to supply new growth for the city,” Ruyle said. “It is a limited resource in the area we live.”

In fact, 80 percent to 85 percent of the water used in Colorado is still used for agricultural purposes. That is a real challenge, both men said, because changing water use from ag to domestic in water court is a complicated process.

So what happens when Greeley’s economy moves away from agriculture? Evans asked.

“It is predicted we will have more than double our population by 2050,” Evans said. “Where is the water going to come from? What is it going to look like in 2050? Who knows? We’ll figure it out, but it’s going to look different.

“But we are fortunate to have the system we have. It allows us to do things others can’t do. When 2100 rolls around, I hope people look back on us and say, ‘Those guys in 2015 did a great job for us.’ ”

More Greeley coverage here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,182 other followers

%d bloggers like this: