Colorado Supreme Court declines to hear appeal of water project

April 28, 2014 Updated: April 28, 2014 at 5:34 pm

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday ended a four-year battle over the environmental impact of the Southern Delivery System - a 53-mile water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.

The court denied a petition challenging the Colorado Springs Utilities pipeline project. The petitioners - the Pueblo County District Attorney Jeff Chostner and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition - argued that the SDS project would lead to damaging water flows back to Pueblo and worsen flooding and contamination in Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River. The petitioners also argued that the state's Water Quality Commission had not run enough analysis and questioned the methodology used to make the conclusions.

Monday's Supreme Court denial of the petition means the Colorado Court of Appeals July ruling stands and Colorado Springs Utilities can complete its work on the pipeline as planned.

"We believed all along in the state's approval of the SDS water quality certification and are pleased that today's Supreme Court decision finally brings this issue to closure," said John Fredell, SDS program manager.

In July, the Colorado Court of Appeals said Colorado Springs Utilities had done all the necessary work to ensure that SDS would not wreck water quality in Fountain Creek. The court had reversed a Pueblo County judge's ruling against a state water quality certification for Colorado Springs' SDS pipeline project. The Water Quality Commission gave the SDS its stamp of approval after more than a year of study. The commission's approval was challenged by former Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environment and Labor Coalition.

However, the appellate court cited a number of reports and analyses and found that all the proper tests were completed and that there was substantial evidence that showed SDS will not violate water quality standards in Fountain Creek.

In August, Chostner requested that the Colorado Supreme Court review the appeals court decision.

"Obviously I am very, very disappointed with it," Chostner said of the Supreme Court denial. "We are taking a look at our legal options as to how we can respond to it."

SDS has been embroiled in controversy, piles of federal, state and local regulations and litigation for years. The project was launched to bring more water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security Water District and Pueblo West for future population growth. The first stretch of pipe was built in 2010 and the pipeline is expected to be completed by 2016. Utilities officials say the estimated cost of the phase 1 of the project - 53 miles of pipeline, three pump stations and a new water treatment plant capable of delivering up to 50 million gallons of water per day - is $841 million, about $150 million less than projected.

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