Commission to decide on appeal that could stall water pipeline

December 13, 2010

Even as Colorado Springs Utilities begins construction on the massive Southern Delivery System water pipeline, another permitting hurdle has emerged.

An environmental labor coalition and Pueblo County District Attorney Bill Thiebaut, who have raised concerns about the 62-mile pipeline in the past, are appealing a critical water quality certification obtained by Utilities in April.

Utilities contends it has a “strong position” and that the appeal doesn’t put SDS at risk.

The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission will consider the appeal of the so-called 401 certification at a hearing in Denver that starts at 8 a.m. today. The meeting is at 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South.

The commission, which is the administrative agency responsible for developing specific state water quality policies, is expected to make a decision today.

The state Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division issued the 401 certification. It was a prerequisite to the 404 permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the last major approval Utilities needed for SDS, a pipeline from the Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs that also will serve Pueblo West, Fountain and Security.

“We have asked in our papers that the commission set aside the certification or remand it, which means send it back to the Water Quality Control Division for further review based on the various issues we’ve raised,” Susan Eckert, a Littleton-based attorney representing the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition, said Monday.

The coalition, which describes itself as a non-profit dedicated to the protection of the environment and worker interests in the Rocky Mountain region, filed the appeal along with Thiebaut in June.

Among their assertions is that SDS, as presently configured, will not comply with all applicable state water quality requirements.

Utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel said SDS has “extensive mitigation requirements” that “fully address” the issues cited in the appeal.

“The water quality issues raised have been thoroughly evaluated and addressed during exhaustive environmental reviews of the SDS project by numerous agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Pueblo County,” she said.

In a pre-hearing statement, Utilities said the environmental labor coalition and Thiebaut ignored the more than five years of environmental study by the Bureau of Reclamation and other government agencies and “more than $70 million in mitigation commitments aimed at minimizing any potential environmental impact.”

Utilities accused the coalition and Thiebaut of relying on “unsupported hyperbole.”

“Petitioners have fallen far short of their burden to establish that the 401 certification was improperly granted to the SDS,” according to the pre-hearing statement.

Steve Gunderson, director of the state’s Water Quality Control Division, said his office stands by the 401 certification.

“We end up doing quite a few of these 401 certifications over a year,” he said. “Most of them are pretty innocuous, but these big water projects are of great interest.”

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