Some elected officials and others who participated in a ratepayer-funded, two-day tour of Colorado Springs’ widespread water system earlier this month have been getting heartburn from the public.
Luckily for them, Colorado Springs Utilities put extra strength Tums in their tour bags.
The antacid tablets were among the items the city-owned utility purchased for the invitation-only water tour from Colorado Springs to Leadville and an overnight stay in Salida, according to 53 pages of receipts obtained Friday by The Gazette under an open-records request.
Other purchases included:
• $140 for 100 zippered pencil cases
• $47 for prizes for a water tour quiz
• $286 to rent two fans to keep participants cool during a lunchtime barbeque at what Utilities calls an SDS warehouse
Utilities defended the trip, saying the water tour gave participants an up-close look at the city’s water system that couldn’t be replicated with charts and graphs or in one day.
“Colorado Springs is not like cities such as Denver or Pueblo, which have local, in-town major waterways. Our community’s vast, complex water system includes 25 reservoirs and dams, more than 200 miles of pipes, four major pump stations, and facilities and infrastructure in 11 counties,” Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier said in an email.
“The water tour gives leaders and officials first-hand knowledge of the massive work, equipment, facilities and people it takes to deliver water to Colorado Springs, as well as the ongoing construction of the Southern Delivery System,” she said. “It would be difficult to give people this level of information and insight in such an important investment using another forum. And despite all the talk of pipes and wires, a business, even in utilities, is about building relationships.”
The water tour started about 25 years ago, Lehermeier said.
The most recent tour cost $20,200, not $25,000 as originally reported by Utilities.
The tour costs do not include staff time or the 3.8 hours that outside counsel David Robbins billed to prepare and deliver remarks on the tour about Colorado River issues, Colorado water law, water rights, and state water quality and quantity issues. Robbins, considered one of the best water attorneys in the state, charges $240 per hour.
It cost $4,345 to put up Robbins and other participants at the Hampton Inn in Salida. More than 70 elected officials and others, including people from Pueblo and Aurora, went on the tour, but not everybody stayed overnight. Some tour participants attend only the first or second day, Lehermeier said.
Dinner cost $2,356. While alcohol was available, both bars were cash bars. “No alcohol was provided by us,” Lehermeier said.
Lehermeier said one of the participants, state Rep. Janak Joshi of Colorado Springs, who had been on the tour in the past, requested an invoice to pay for his portion of the trip.
Joshi is reimbursing ratepayers $161, including $79 for lodging, $52 for meals and $30 for transportation.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Bernie Herpin has taken flak for going on the water tour, having attended at least twice before; El Paso County Treasurer Bob Balink sent Herpin an email that was later made public, chastising him for participating.
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