Pueblo County, water district join EPA stormwater suit against Colorado Springs

February 16, 2017 Updated: February 17, 2017 at 3:51 pm
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photo - FILE - Jon Bowman, left, and his brother Matt Bowman from A-1 Barricade and Sign, Inc. install an erosion barrier along Fountain Creek Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, as part of the three million dollar Stormwater Enterprise project. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
FILE - Jon Bowman, left, and his brother Matt Bowman from A-1 Barricade and Sign, Inc. install an erosion barrier along Fountain Creek Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, as part of the three million dollar Stormwater Enterprise project. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Two new plaintiffs have joined the stormwater lawsuit filed against Colorado Springs by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Health Department.

Pueblo County commissioners and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District can intervene in the suit, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled Thursday.

A year ago, Pueblo County commissioners signed off on an intergovernmental stormwater agreement with Colorado Springs, ensuring that the city will spend $460 million over 20 years to provide 71 stormwater projects aimed at minimizing Fountain Creek's effects on downstream communities.

The creek flows downstream carrying excess sedimentation, E. coli contamination and other pollution, claims the Lower Ark, which represents the largely agricultural areas of Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.

Pueblo County officials have echoed those concerns.

And the EPA, after conducting audits in 2013 and 2015 of the city's stormwater system, found that the creek and its tributaries were eroded and widened, their waters combining with surface runoff to create excessive sedimentation and substandard water quality.

Federal officials upbraided the city for not demanding enough infrastructure from developers and for not maintaining the culverts and creeks snaking through the city.

The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on the EPA's behalf, and by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is a serious concern for Mayor John Suthers, who has made the city's long-neglected stormwater infrastructure a top priority.

In addition to the agreement with Pueblo County, he has more than doubled the stormwater division's staff, added a new manager and overseen the Nov. 2 release of an inch-thick Stormwater Program Implementation Plan.

The EPA and state filed suit one week later, on Nov. 9.

Suthers could not be reached for comment Thursday night, but he has said the plaintiffs are "dwelling in the past."

"We feel very strongly the EPA and state health need to get down to El Paso County and see how many problems we've already fixed," Suthers told The Gazette.

The Lower Ark had given notice in November 2014 that it would sue the city for violating its MS4 permit, which allows for the separate municipal storm sewer system. But the district was precluded from filing its suit because its claims were basically the same as the EPA's, district lawyer Peter Nichols said.

Nichols said the Lower Ark was concerned that the city would pressure the EPA and state to drop the suit - "and water quality wouldn't be improved in Fountain Creek."

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