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Pueblo County approves $460M stormwater deal with Colorado Springs, clearing way for SDS operations to begin

April 25, 2016 Updated: April 25, 2016 at 10:21 pm

Pueblo County commissioners approved a stormwater projects pact with Colorado Springs on Monday morning, ending a long-running battle between the governments and obligating the city to spend more than $460 million over the next 20 years.

Commissioners Terry Hart and Sal Pace, with Chairwoman Liane "Buffie" McFadyen, approved the intergovernmental agreement unanimously.

County officials long have complained about runoff from Fountain Creek burdening their downstream residents, ranchers and businesses. They had a priceless bargaining chip, too, in the 1041 permit the county issued to Colorado Springs Utilities in 2009 to allow construction of the Southern Delivery System water project.

The $825 million SDS, set to serve Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security, now will be able to begin operations Wednesday as planned.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, leading SDS officials and others had ventured to Pueblo repeatedly over the past 10 months to negotiate the contract.

They're hoping the agreement and the city's reconstituted Stormwater Division also will prevent a lawsuit threatened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Department of Justice.

"The agreement between Pueblo and Colorado Springs will provide long-lasting and important benefits to both communities," Suthers said in an email from Greece. "For Colorado Springs, the activation of the SDS will fuel our city's growth and development for many years and represents an extremely innovative solution to the challenges presented by our city's steady growth.

"I'm very pleased that, with the support of our City Council and Colorado Springs Utilities, we have been able to address our stormwater challenges in a meaningful and mutually beneficial manner."

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart agreed on the mutual benefits. He said Merv Bennett, president of the Colorado Springs City Council, on Monday morning addressed the commonalities the two cities share.

"Maybe this will be the start of a more cooperative arrangement," Hart said. "We were asking for more, the Springs was asking for less. It's never exactly what you want. But this is a very fair, good path forward to allow us to tackle these (stormwater) problems.

"It provides dedicated funding and a clear mechanism for enforcement, so no one has to rely on trust or promises. ... the beautiful part of this agreement is that it is flexible."

Provisions in the new pact include:

- Completion of 71 stormwater projects by 2035 at an estimated cost of $460 million. Engineers for both sides chose the projects and will review them each year. The money will flow in five-year increments, at a rate of $100 million the first five years followed by $110 million, $120 million and $130 million.

- Failure to complete the projects will result in a five-year extension of the agreement. Utilities will have to cough up the cash if the city is unable to do so.

- Utilities was to pay $50 million over five years to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District. It will start those payments early, providing $125,000 for district expenses plus $9.57 million toward studies on how to ameliorate sediment build-up and improve water quality, among other things.

- Another contribution by Utilities is $3 million over three years to help the City of Pueblo repair and improve its levee system, removing sediment, debris and foliage as needed. Pueblo must pay the approximately $1.8 million it didn't spend after Utilities provided it $2.2 million to work on the levees in anticipation of the SDS and its increased water flows.

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