At the risk of parroting officials who waxed poetically, Friday’s kick-off event in for the beginning of construction for the Southern Delivery System water project really was historic.
Whether you are an SDS supporter or critic, it’s undeniable the project has survived unlike many others, overcoming political and bureaucratic hurdles.
Most of the big water projects proposed during the last 30 years in Colorado have one thing in common — they never got built. This one has a long way to go, and there are sure to be a few bumps in the road, which happens with big construction projects.
But construction has officially begun. That cannot be said of Denver’s ill-fated Two Forks Dam, or of Homestake II, the project once planned by Colorado Springs and Aurora, or the Union Park project, which was to have diverted water from the Gunnison River Basin to the Denver area.
The era of big water projects ended when federal subsidies ended and when environmentalists began defeating projects that called for new dams. In the era that followed, intra-state political fights became the new obstacles for water projects to hurdle.
Political opposition from Pueblo was the toughest part, and it took Springs officials a long time to see that.
The feds aren’t paying for SDS. There’s no new dam, no endangered species issue. We’re not taking West Slope water. That’s the formula for success.
Beginning construction on a huge water project is something that has not happened in Colorado for a long time, and it won’t happen again soon. From that purely objective point of view, the kickoff for SDS is historically notable.
“A tremendous example of perseverance and ingenuity,” said Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, who set an unofficial record for brevity, as his remarks lasted less than a minute.
Newly elected, Bach had nothing to do with the 23-year process that brought SDS to this point. City Hall still has work to do, as several acknowledged, and officials still will play a role until water begins flowing to city taps in the spring of 2016.
Water rates will continue to rise to pay for SDS and it’s possible that each time rates go up, City Hall may have to defend it anew. That will be easier if the future of the Banning Lewis Ranch comes into focus, but for now Houston-based Ultra Resources will control 18,000 acres inside the city limits, where oil and natural gas drilling could occur.
Banning Lewis is the city’s biggest undeveloped parcel and the likely destination for SDS water. If the property remains vacant, the city still could selling some water outside the city limits, if such opportunities arise.
Meanwhile, SDS is the only major water project going forward in Colorado.
Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and read his blog updates at gazette.com