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Long-awaited water project ready to pump water throughout southern Colorado

April 27, 2016 Updated: April 27, 2016 at 7:56 pm
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Steven Lynn with Western States Reclamation grades an area near storage lagoons at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant Friday, April 22, 2016. The Southern Delivery System (SDS) will start operations April 27 and begin to deliver water to customers April 28. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

The $825 million Southern Delivery System's treatment plant was ready to serve drinking water Wednesday, as a project 20 years in the making finally made its debut.

The distribution system will be turned on Thursday to deliver water to Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain, and water will begin reaching those customers Friday. The SDS already supplies water to Pueblo West, which needed early assistance after a major water pipe in its system broke.

"Things are going great, just like we've always planned," SDS Project Manager John Fredell said Wednesday. "We've worked on a lot of these issues a long time to get ready."

The project hit a snag last year when Pueblo County, which had issued the essential SDS 1041 permit, began seriously pressuring Colorado Springs leaders.

The county insisted on more city stormwater projects to protect downstream residents from excessive flows, sediment buildup and water quality degradation in Fountain Creek.

The City Council signed an intergovernmental agreement April 20. It promises, among other things, to spend $460 million on 71 mutually beneficial stormwater projects over the next 20 years, with Colorado Springs Utilities guaranteeing any funds the city can't provide.

Pueblo County commissioners approved that pact Monday, enabling SDS to kick off its operations on Wednesday, the target date set years ago.

Steven Lynn with Western States Reclamation grades an area near storage lagoons at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant Friday, April 22, 2016. The Southern Delivery System (SDS) will start operations April 27 and begin to deliver water to customers April 28. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

"It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully," Fredell acknowledged. "But I really did not fear that it wasn't going to happen. It was just a matter of timing."

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has spent much of his first year in office negotiating with Pueblo County and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the city's long-time stormwater program deficiencies.

Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities, called it "a great day."

"I look back at all the things we've seen our team experience," Higgins said. "We've been through so much together. It's just a fantastic experience for everybody that's been involved."

As usual, Fredell credits his project team for a job well done.

"I'm telling you, without all these great people putting out every ounce of energy they have, we couldn't have done it," Fredell said. "And to me that's just so cool, to bring all these people together and they're all pulling in the same direction.

"To me, that's the coolest thing. I feel like the whole team, we have stronger friendships now than when we started. How many teams can say that? To me, that's absolutely incredible."

The project team determined in July 2009 that the SDS would start operating in April 2016.

"I'll feel better Friday," admitted Kim Mutchler, who has worked on SDS for Utilities' government and corporate affairs team. "There's a lot going on between now and then.

"I'm happy for these guys who have been on this project for so long. It's just exciting to see (Utilities) board members and previous council members. We had a couple out there yesterday seeing (the plant) for the first time. It's nice to see them excited."

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