Residential water rates in Colorado Springs will more than double by 2015 to pay for a city project to pipe water from Pueblo Reservoir, according to a Bureau of Reclamation study.
Colorado Springs’ partners in the pipeline project, Fountain and Security, would see their rates rise 63 percent and 171 percent, respectively. The forecast is in documents the bureau released recently ahead of the Southern Delivery System’s long-awaited draft Environmental Impact Statement. The project would increase the city’s water supply by a third, meeting demand until at least 2046. “This project is very important for the future of our community,” Utilities project director John Fredell said. “If we’re going to continue the quality of life and the strong economy, we have got to have a dependable water supply.” Because the city wants to store water it already owns in Pueblo Reservoir, the project needs approval from the bureau, which operates the reservoir. The city wants a 40-year storage contract, and the federal contract process requires an environmental impact analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. A draft of that study, started five years ago, will be released Feb. 29. Perhaps as important as the rate information is the lack of red flags in the bureau’s analysis, contained in 2,300 pages of technical records. Bureau scientists combed through seven alternatives and gauged their impact on soil, wetlands, aquatic life, water quality and wildlife and didn’t note any major obstacles, Colorado Springs Utilities officials said. “My take after reading all these technical reports is that I didn’t see anything that was unacceptable or surprising or shocking,” Keith Riley, Utilities’ project planning and permitting manager, said Thursday. Springs Utilities plans to mitigate destruction of wetlands by building new, larger wetlands in the Fountain Creek corridor, Riley said. If Utilities officials’ take is correct, it would mean the way is clear to build any of the seven alternatives the bureau studied. That’s important because opposition in Pueblo could force the city to abandon its preferred approach and build a pipeline that avoids Pueblo County, drawing water from the Arkansas River in Fremont County instead. Some Pueblo residents oppose the Southern Delivery System, saying it would funnel more water into the already polluted and eroded Fountain Creek, which joins the Arkansas east of Pueblo. The Springs’ first choice is to pump water from the reservoir across Pueblo County to a plant on the city’s northeast side. It’s the cheapest option, at $1.1 billion; other choices would cost up to $1.2 billion. Under the preferred option, the bureau’s report said residential water rates in Colorado Springs would increase 126 percent to $693 annually, or $57.75 a month, by 2015 — up from $307, or $26 a month. Rates would surge to $933 annually, or $77.75 per month, by 2025. Utilities officials said rates then would level off and perhaps decline as construction work wrapped up. The bureau’s report doesn’t include commercial and industrial rates forecasts. “It’s a fairly significant increase, but we note that’s through 2015,” said Bill Cherrier, Utilities financial services general manager. “It’s coming in over time so it’s gradual, rather than a steep shock.” Cherrier said the rate increase isn’t all attributable to the pipeline project — only about $3.25 per month. The rest will pay for operations and maintenance citywide, he said. Fredell said when the city built the Homestake Project to tap Western Slope water, rates doubled from 1966-76. Utilities’ favored option requires construction within Pueblo County, and Pueblo County commissioners must approve the project under locally adopted rules. Springs Utilities fears that the rules, dubbed 1041 regulations after the House Bill that enabled them years ago, will be used to block the project. The city has appealed a Pueblo County District Court decision that said Utilities must abide by 1041 rules. Under the Fremont County alternative, rates would go up by 155 percent by 2015, to $783 annually, or $65.25 a month. By 2025, rates would hit $917 annually, or $76.40 a month. Utilities officials said Springs residential rates today are among the lowest in the state. Only Denver and Pueblo are lower, and both are on a major waterway. Fountain Utilities Director Larry Patterson said that despite rate increases, Southern Delivery is a good deal: “We are growing at such a rate due to Fort Carson expansion that SDS remains one of the more economic options for us.” The Draft Environmental Impact Statement’s release will be followed by a 60-day comment period during which bureau officials will host public meetings in six locations. The final environmental impact statement is expected in late 2008, and a record of decision, in early 2009. Utilities plans to begin construction in 2009 and is talking with pipe manufacturers. The line would deliver its first water in mid-2012, Fredell said. In 2017, the new northeast treatment plant would be expanded and Jimmy Camp Creek Reservoir on the city’s northeast side would be built. So far, the city has spent $71.4 million on SDS. To read the technical reports, go to www.sdseis.com.