Report: El Paso County needs nearly $200 million in stormwater work

By Debbie Kelley Updated: January 2, 2014 at 5:29 am • Published: December 31, 2013 | 5:55 pm 0

Nearly $200 million worth of stormwater system work is needed in unincorporated El Paso County - almost double the amount that county officials had estimated, according to an independent assessment released Tuesday.

The study emphasizes the need for teamwork in solving watershed issues, said Andre Brackin, county engineer.

"We're only scratching the surface here," Brackin said. "We've ignored drainage for decades, and now we're dealing with multiple projects costing millions. The city and the county don't do drainage maintenance very well. That's the bigger issue. We need a regional approach of working together."

Englewood, Colo.-headquartered engineering firm CH2MHill examined 275 substandard bridges, culverts, water channels, storm drains and runoff storage facilities from a list the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force compiled based on input from county staff.

El Paso County Commissioners received an executive summary of the findings on Tuesday. A final report will be issued Jan. 7.

The company did a similar study of 288 stormwater projects within the City of Colorado Springs boundaries after Mayor Steve Bach questioned the city and county's estimated costs of repair.

CH2MHill validated 216 projects the county put forth. Several of the initial 275 projects were removed because they were duplicated on the city's list, completed or not important enough. Other projects were added.

Ten have been identified as high priority, meaning there are pressing public health or safety issues or structural deficiencies.

On that list:

- Security Creek Channel, which runs for one mile along U.S. 85-87 between Security and Widefield. The channel is not sufficient to contain a 100-year flood.

- Fishers Canyon Channel, west of Interstate 25 near B Street. Banks are eroding, and water threatens residents.

- Siferd Boulevard Culvert in the Park Vista area near Austin Bluffs and North Academy boulevards. Water flows across the roadway because there is no dedicated crossing for it.

The updated cost for the 216 projects is $190.6 million, up from the $102.9 million the county had calculated for 268 projects.

Of the total projects, 146 are within the Fountain Creek Watershed, which has regional impacts, said Mark Rosser, senior project manager with CH2MHill. Many extend into both city and county jurisdictions, he said, including Fountain Creek near the U.S. 24 bypass, Fountain Creek near the Spring Creek Confluence and Fountain Creek at Circle Drive.

The needs assessment does not take into account the areas of the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, which experienced flooding this year as a result of the fires.

Commissioners said they thought the information was "a good start" toward figuring out how to best handle increasing problems with stormwater control.

"Stormwater is just not sexy," said Commissioner Amy Lathen. "People wonder why we're talking about drainage because they don't have a problem at their home. The whole idea is to control the energy of that water flowing through our region."

It's important for people who live on higher ground to understand the consequences of not dealing with stormwater issues, said Commissioner Darryl Glenn, and that there is a return on the investment.

"When you're trying to convince people upstream why they need to buy into this, if you're not tying in the importance, it's going to fall on deaf ears," he said.

Colorado Springs City Councilman Val Snider, a member of the regional stormwater task force who attended Tuesday's commissioners' meeting, said regional needs have been discussed all along.

"It's good to have things validated, and this shows great examples of the ways the city and county can address regional stormwater needs on a regional basis," he said. "We need to combine the two studies and figure out the best way to plan to address those needs. Once we get that in line, we can figure out the funding."

The task force was formed in 2012 out of a group of engineers, business leaders, community activists and elected city and county officials to find a way to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of backlogged projects.

The task force intends to release a final recommendation in February on how the community should proceed.

Several funding mechanisms have been proposed, including a plan by Bach to extend existing bond debt for another 20 years, which would not raise taxes or fees and would pay for flood control projects and road and bridge repairs.

Bach will meet with city and county leaders, task force members and mayors of neighboring towns on Jan. 16 to discuss options.

Another idea is to form a regional stormwater authority similar to the voter-approved Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, which uses tax money to fund road and bridge maintenance and construction.

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