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Two towns eagerly await Southern Delivery System; some in Pueblo skeptical

April 18, 2016 Updated: April 19, 2016 at 5:53 am
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photo - Project managers walk the grounds at the Southern Delivery System water treatment plant on Aug. 6.  Photo Logan Riely, The Gazette
Project managers walk the grounds at the Southern Delivery System water treatment plant on Aug. 6. Photo Logan Riely, The Gazette 

A tainted aquifer and busted water pipe are two more reasons the Southern Delivery System needs to be turned on April 27 as planned, water officials told Pueblo County commissioners Monday.

Security has had to close seven of its more than 25 wells because of contamination in the Widefield aquifer, said Roy E. Heald, general manager of the Security Water District.

Perfluorinated compounds, PFCs that could harm human health, were found in the aquifer in February by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Security has resorted to dilution, but the dilution must be stepped up as summer approaches, Heald said.

"So it's critical to have the Southern Delivery System turned on this month as scheduled," he said.

Pueblo West is relying on SDS water. Colorado Springs Utilities sprang to the rescue when a major Pueblo West water pipeline burst in February. Utilities bailed the town out last July, too, after a smaller water line broke.

"This (break) may require us to stay on that (SDS) line for a very long time," warned Jerry Martin, president of the Pueblo West Water Board.

He, too, urged commissioners to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Colorado Springs so the $825 million water project can start pumping 5 million gallons of water a day from the Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Security, Fountain and Colorado Springs.

The county threatened last year to revoke the project's 1041 permit, which it issued to Utilities in April 2009.

Back then, Colorado Springs still was using a stormwater enterprise fund to ameliorate problems on Fountain Creek that wreak havoc on downstream users. The then-City Council eradicated the fund that November, though, infuriating Pueblo County officials who had relied on those stormwater efforts when they signed over the permit.

That permit wasn't the only worry facing newly seated Mayor John Suthers last year, though.

In October, the U.S. Department of Justice warned Colorado Springs that the EPA might file a lawsuit because of the city's failure to properly provide, maintain and inspect stormwater controls. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment then echoed that threat.

The city and Utilities have been negotiating for 10 months with Pueblo County, as the city has beefed up its stormwater program to fix the problems and fend off the threats of lawsuits.

Colorado Springs proposed a pact last week that would provide $460 million in stormwater projects, maintenance and operations through the year 2035, money that would be spent over and above grants or other funds.

So the county commissioners' public hearing Monday was set to hear residents' opinions on the agreement.

Also urging approval was Larry Small, director of the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

Calling it the best stormwater management plan he's seen in 43 years, Small said: "This is better than efforts we were taking as a community to incrementally deal with (stormwater). This is better because it has measurable objectives. It has clearly defined projects, clearly defined funding and a clear funding source."

And the key element is a requirement that the city and county jointly reassess the projects and process every year, ensuring communication, collaboration and cooperation, he said.

But some Pueblo residents remained skeptical.

"What choices do you have if Colorado Springs reneges? You can go to court. They have more lawyers than they can use," said resident Bill Alt.

"The stormwater agreement manual says people with detention ponds must abide by these rules. They've had rules for years, and they haven't been abided by. Are there any penalties for someone who violates it?"

Commission water attorney Ray Petros cited four conditions that ensure compliance: Utilities' guarantee to provide the money if the city fails to do so, contractural enforcement that can be upheld by Pueblo County District Court, potential permit suspension if obligations aren't met, and the EPA and state health lawsuit threats that underscore the city's need to comply.

"So we think it's enforceable," Petros said.

John Singletary said he's comfortable with the pact.

"Did we get everything we want? Probably not. But finally we can find a way that Colorado Springs, El Paso County and Pueblo County can work together," Singletary said. "When I was on the Lower Arkansas (Water Conservancy District), it meant a lot to me to protect people downstream. I feel very comfortable with how this is drawn up."

The Colorado Springs City Council is expected to sign the accord during a special meeting Wednesday, and Pueblo County's Board of County Commissioners is to vote Monday - two days before the SDS is scheduled to start operating.

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