Updated: April 6, 2012 at 12:00 am
PUEBLO WEST – Keith Riley watched in awe Thursday as a front-end loader crawled along a bumpy dirt road balancing a 32,000-pound, 50-foot-long section of steel pipe in front.
“That’s tricky driving right there,” said Riley, deputy program director for the Southern Delivery System water pipeline, which has been under major construction for nearly a year.
Getting to this point has been a delicate balancing act, too.
Colorado Springs Utilities, a four-service utility company owned by the city, first identified the need for another water delivery system in 1996.
After settling on SDS, Utilities embarked on a massive planning effort followed by environmental reviews and then a painstaking permitting process, which is Colorado Springs is mindful about. Dust control, for example, is requiring Utilities’ contractors to spray up to 100,000 gallons of water on the ground daily.
A condition of one of those permits, granted by Pueblo County in April 2009, required Utilities to take “substantial steps” by this month in constructing SDS.
Riley said he is confident that Utilities is in compliance.
“I do believe we have substantially met that requirement,” he said as construction crews worked on the elaborate Pueblo Dam pipeline connection, which is expected to be completed by June.
“This is a major project here, a multimillion-dollar project, and you can see that there’s quite a bit of construction that’s been completed so far,” he said.
Almost one-third of the 62-mile pipeline is already underground. Crews have installed nearly eight miles of pipeline in El Paso County and nearly nine in Pueblo County.
“We’ve also taken care of one major mitigation step that’s required in the 1041 permit as well, and that’s to provide ($2.2 million in) funds to Pueblo to help mitigate some of the sedimentation that’s occurred in the levee system on Fountain Creek,” Riley said. “The combination of all the efforts that we’ve made to date really shows we’ve taken substantial steps towards completion of the project in Pueblo County.”
Under the 1041 permit, Utilities agreed to implement a monitoring program to track, among other things, erosion in Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River. The monitoring will assist in the selection of mitigation measures, the permit states.
Pueblo’s three county commissioners either didn’t return messages seeking comment or could not be reached Thursday or Friday in response to questions about the SDS permit.
Land acquisition – primarily property easements – is almost complete, too.
SDS spokeswoman Janet Rummel said Utilities has acquired two-thirds of the property needed, including the entire stretch of the pipeline through Pueblo County. One of the more vocal holdouts, Gary Walker, allowed Utilities to begin construction but wants a court to determine the value of the property easements.
SDS, which will pump water uphill, is scheduled to be in operation by 2016. The historic water project, which will also serve neighboring Fountain, Security and Pueblo West, is expected to quench Colorado Springs’ thirst for decades to come and provide redundancies to the existing system.
The first phase, including construction and financing, will cost ratepayers $2.3 billion. The previous City Council approved two of six 12 percent water rate hikes to pay for SDS. A future council or councils will have to approve the remaining four.
Funding isn’t the only outstanding issue.
Stormwater – or the lack of a tool to pay for the city’s stormwater needs – is once again becoming a political football, and Utilities is in the middle.
The city had implemented a stormwater fee to deal with runoff as well as to boost Colorado Springs’ chances to obtain the so-called 1041 permit from Pueblo County. The permit states that Colorado Springs “must maintain stormwater controls and other regulations intended to ensure that Fountain Creek peak flows resulting from new development served by SDS project within the Fountain Creek basin are no greater than existing conditions.”
In December 2010, the city ended the Stormwater Enterprise following the passage of ballot Issue 300, leaving the city without a funding mechanism.
Last month, City Attorney Chris Melcher, who joined Mayor Steve Bach’s administration in September, said city officials should come up with millions of dollars needed to operate and maintain the stormwater system.
Melcher said Utilities should help find a solution, especially because SDS depends on it.
“Utilities right now has a shared interest with the city for a number of reasons, but particularly because their SDS project is contingent on a permit that requires the city, which includes Utilities, the entire city, to have a functioning stormwater system,” Melcher said.
Rummel described the stormwater requirements of the 1041 permit differently.
The final environmental impact statement “concluded that even when SDS is fully operational, SDS return flows will have a negligible impact on the peak flows in Fountain Creek,” Rummel said.
“Essentially, even when SDS is fully operational, it has very little impact on storm flows,” she said.
The other key point is that the 1041 requirement applies only when SDS becomes operational, she said.
“If we were to see an increase in flows on Fountain Creek and it was determined that that was a result of the operations of SDS, then we would have to take steps to mitigate those impacts,” she said. “But the permit doesn’t require us to act until we see a change after SDS is operational.”
Utilities says it supports responsible stormwater management but that focusing on stormwater control in Colorado Springs alone will not address all the problems on Fountain Creek.
“Many of the issues are associated with growth in outlying areas that need to be addressed as part of a broader solution,” Rummel said.
Rummel said Utilities has overcome multiple hurdles in the past because SDS is vital to Colorado Springs’ future.
“We just keep focus on what we needed to do to provide water to our community for the future,” Rummel said.
“It’s very important to make sure that we have a stable water supply for our community for the next several decades, and SDS is going to ensure that that happens."
Contact Daniel Chacón: 476-1623
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