Work has begun on city's stormwater plan

By: Steve Bach, Colorado Springs Mayor
May 5, 2013 Updated: May 5, 2013 at 9:15 am
photo - Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach photographed in his office at the City Administration Building Thursday, December 20, 2012. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach photographed in his office at the City Administration Building Thursday, December 20, 2012. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Colorado Springs is working diligently to manage our stormwater responsibility. This year the city, Colorado Springs Utilities, Pikes Peak Highway and the Colorado Springs Airport combined are spending $46 million on stormwater projects, including $8.8 million in emergency Waldo Canyon fire flood mitigation funding by a City Council-approved special drawdown from our current, all-time high cash reserves.

The city's stormwater challenge is a joint responsibility of the municipal government and our municipally owned utility, Utilities with our utility having a role for two reasons: (1) Utilities committed in the agreements with Pueblo and Pueblo County on the Southern Delivery System that the city will be in compliance with the our stormwater responsibilities before Utilities begins pumping SDS water in 2016; and (2) Utilities brings transmountain diversion water into the basin, adding to its responsibility.

With 76 percent of all the stormwater issues in the region within Colorado Springs, we must take a leadership role in driving an action plan to protect the community and minimize our impact on downstream neighbors. City staff previously estimated our backlogged stormwater improvement needs at $500 million, but the Regional Stormwater Task Force commissioned by City Council and El Paso County Commissioners has increased the estimate to $687 million.

Given the huge cost of stormwater requirements we are facing which have accumulated over decades and the shifting cost estimate, I've asked our Public Works Department to obtain an expert, second opinion by an independent engineering firm on the scope and priorities of our needs. The results of that study are expected by summer's end. Also, we've invited the county and outlying municipalities to use the same firm, for a fresh look at their needs.

Work has begun on stormwater projects critical to our city. These include Mirage Channel, Camp Creek and North and South Douglas Creek, which are our most immediate needs. At the same time, Colorado Springs will continue collaborating closely with the county and outlying municipalities to coordinate sequencing of other stormwater projects, and take advantage of joint construction wherever possible.

Different jurisdictions will likely use varying funding mechanisms in completing their stormwater projects. Since we own the lion's share of the issue in the region, the city must maintain direct control of our stormwater program, including funding and implementation rather than delegating that responsibility to a third party.

While we pursue our immediate priorities and await the outside expert, second opinion on the total needs, the Executive Branch staff is continuing to search for additional internal efficiencies to redeploy more dollars into stormwater projects. Utilities, which is led by City Council acting as the Utility Board, will hopefully find more efficiencies - without raising its rates or increasing its budget.

City staff is also developing a forecast of future years' funding flows, including increased sales and use tax collections estimates resulting from an improving economy. If it becomes evident that despite our best efforts those sources of funds fall short of our needs, I'll consider asking the voters in 2014 to approve new funding for stormwater.

We'll need the remainder of 2013 to fully understand our stormwater challenge, to thoughtfully develop the best stormwater structure and to discuss all options with the community. In light of past unsuccessful stormwater efforts, we must get it right this time.

If I come to you in 2014 to ask for additional funding, I'll only do so if: (1) the voters have an opportunity to vote again in a few years on continuing the funding; and (2) all construction and maintenance is outsourced to the private sector, and local vendors receive preference. Using the private sector for these projects would generate many new jobs, helping our fellow citizens gain employment and driving a resurgent economy - good for everyone.

Stormwater flooding is a serious risk to our community and the entire region. I'll report in the fall to the community our progress and recommended next steps. Also please visit my website ( for a breakdown of the $46 million we are spending this year.

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