The Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District — it’s an impressive name for an agency with equally impressive responsibilities.
The district’s job is to prepare flood restoration master plans for the entire Fountain Creek drainage from Woodland Park to Pueblo, put together complex funding packages to accomplish the work and coordinate a coalition of 17 local governments. When the Southern Delivery System is operational in 2016, the district will be responsible for disbursing $50 million from Colorado Springs Utilities for Fountain Creek projects that directly benefit Pueblo.
That funding was mandated by agreements between CSU, Pueblo and Pueblo County that permitted the construction of the SDS pipeline through Pueblo County.
But the Fountain Creek district isn’t just another bloated bureaucracy, a building full of planners, public relations people, engineers and retired politicians churning out reports that no one reads.
While the agency has a grant writer, an engineer, a public relations expert and a retired politician — it’s all done by a single person.
“This is a one-man government agency,” said Executive Director Larry Small. “I’m the only paid employee.”
Small retired after a long career as a senior manager with Lockheed Martin. He also served three terms on the Colorado Springs City Council, including four years as vice mayor.
“I was on the [Fountain Creek] District Board of Directors from when it was formed in 2006,” Small said. “Then I was term-limited out of City Council in 2009 and the district executive director was leaving. The board asked me if I’d take the job. I said yes, I felt that I could make a contribution.”
Small writes all the grants, does the accounting, provides his own office space, builds and maintains its website and keeps multiple balls in the air.
“They pay me $30,000 annually,” Small said, “and I probably spend $1,000 a month of that on the district.”
Thanks to the fires and floods of the past three years, the Fountain Creek Watershed district’s mission has become critically important. And Small’s responsibilities were magnified when El Paso County voters nixed a fee-based regional storm water authority last November.
To Small, it all points to the need for cooperation.
“We started in 2006 with an idea,” he said. “We needed regional cooperation between all the governments and stakeholders in the drainage. We need to make our streams an asset, not a liability.”
The district has struggled with funding from its beginning. In 2013, the four “funding members” of the coalition (Pueblo, Colorado Springs, El Paso County and Pueblo County) each put up $10,000; Fountain contributed $5,000 and smaller entities provided a total of $1,400.
“We need to make our streams an asset, not a liability.”
– Larry Small
Small forged alliances with member governments to take up some funding slack to provide much-needed services. El Paso County contributes legal services, but the district has no staff to analyze and comment upon land-use applications that might affect the watershed.
Despite its financial barriers, Small has managed to corral more than $1 million in state-administered grants to master-plan the Monument Creek watershed and the Upper Fountain/Cheyenne Creek watershed. When combined with the Fountain Creek master plan, the entire drainage will have a master plan to guide the government agencies responsible. The overall plan will identify, prioritize and estimate costs of the projects needed to remake our regional waterways.
The aim, says Small: to make local waterways stable, resilient and sustainable.
State grants pay off
And the grants will make that happen.
“These DOLA (Colorado Department of Local Affairs) grants aren’t like FEMA grants,” Small said. “FEMA limits you to restoring the area to the prior condition. DOLA grants go beyond that.”
A recently approved pilot grant program will fund an innovative Cheyenne Boulevard drainage improvement project. In public meetings after the 2013 floods, residents of the area noted that many properties were more affected by storm flows from street runoff than from stream flooding.
The project seeks to minimize flood damage by creating bioswales on both sides of Cheyenne Boulevard between Sumner Street and May Street. This low-impact demonstration program will serve as a model for projects throughout the region.
Last week, the Colorado Springs City Council committed an additional $150,000 in master plan funding for the project.
Flooding and drainage control has more support from the city, as well, Small said.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has said that the 2016 city budget will allocate $19 million to stormwater funding, provided that voters approve a new .62 percent road repair/maintenance sales tax. That won’t do much to fix our regional stormwater deficit, which may be as much as $1 billion.
Yet Small is doing his share, and more. He learned hydrology, stream biology and grant writing the hard way — he taught himself.
“I’m an engineer,” he pointed out, “and I’ve always written reports and done technical analysis, so I knew the basics. Then it was just research, a lot of research, and asking questions. Once we get the grants, we contract them out. Matrix Design Group did the last one (Upper Fountain Creek/Cheyenne Creek Flood Restoration Master Plan). It’s more than 400 pages.”
When complete, the combined plans will serve as regional action templates for many years, allowing the Fountain Creek Watershed District’s 17-member coalition to speak with a single voice.
“It’s much easier to get grants when you don’t have competing jurisdictions fighting for the same pool of money,” said Small.
“The funders know that this application represents the whole region. We didn’t know it, but we created the model. Now, the state insists that other counties create similar coalitions. Douglas, JeffCo, Weld, Boulder — they’ve all adopted our model.”
Asked whether he intends to hang on until disbursements from CSU begin in in 2016, Small chuckled.
“That’s up to the board,” he said, “but I enjoy it. Joyce and I both work. I just hate to sit around and do nothing. I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”