Colorado Springs and Pueblo have tentatively agreed on a plan to mitigate stormwater flows on Fountain Creek.
It took 18 months of negotiating by Mayor John Suthers, the Springs City Council and Colorado Springs Utilities, but the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners released a statement this morning saying a deal had been reached.
Under the terms of the tentative intergovernmental agreement — still to be voted on by City Council — Colorado Springs will sped at least $460 million for the next 20 years (an average of $23 million a year) to complete a list of 71 stormwater control projects and to provide maintenance money for the Colorado Springs’s stormwater infrastructure and enforcement of its new drainage regulations.
“When Colorado Springs was issued the 1041 permit they committed to do their part to improve Fountain Creek,” said Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen in a press release. “After years of Colorado Springs’ failure to honor that commitment, we finally have a deal the citizens of Pueblo County can rely upon. After months of wrangling we now have guaranteed projects, guaranteed funding and a mechanism for enforceability to back up the guarantees.”
After investigations by Pueblo County and the County’s hiring of Wright Water Engineers Inc., who quantified Colorado Springs’ impacts on Fountain Creek and identified mitigation opportunities, significant commitments have been made by Colorado Springs for the benefit of Pueblo and downstream users.
“This is not a problem that those of us in this room created,” Mayor John Suthers told City Council Monday. “We inherited it. We have to deal with this, regardless of public support.”
Outlining the history of the issue, which dates from City Council’s 2009 decision to defund the city Stormwater Enterprise, Suthers warned Council that possible lawsuits involving Pueblo and the Environmental Protection Agency could have severe negative consequences for the city.
“I don’t think we can do better in litigation,” said Suthers, noting that the litigation would put the Southern Delivery System at risk and expose the city to severe sanctions from the federal government. “(The proposed IGA) is the right thing to do, and it’s what we should do.”
Suthers also touched on the apparent failure of the city to comply with federal stormwater regulations, putting the city’s NS4 stormwater discharge permits in jeopardy.
“A Department of Justice audit of our stormwater program found it grossly and inadequately funded,” he said. The DOJ also faulted the city for not inspecting and properly evaluating developer-funded infrastructure that was then turned over to the city for maintenance.”
“What we’re doing essentially is reinstating the stormwater enterprise,” Suthers said. “It’ll be funded from the city’s general fund. We can include grant matching funds in the annual totals, but not the grants themselves. We’re free to create a different funding source, though – for example, a local or a regional stormwater enterprise
The proposed IGA also guarantees Pueblo County a significant role in the timing, prioritization, selection and verification of the dedicated stormwater mitigation projects, as well as establishing a strong mechanism for enforcement if Colorado Springs defaults on the IGA.
“This IGA requires Colorado Springs to commit much more than SWENT for stormwater mitigation to address the past practices of overlooking the stormwater problems and to address future issues; much more than the previous $15.2 million,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace.
If the approved stormwater projects are not completed by 2035, the agreement renews for an additional period not to exceed five years at an additional $26 million a year to complete the projects, the release said. The agreement also calls for an additional $3 million to be contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities to protect the levees on Fountain Creek within Pueblo city limits, money in addition to the $2.2 million previously contributed under Pueblo County’s 1041 Permit for the Southern Delivery System. Another $125,000 will be contributed to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District to help fund operations and studies including studying a potential dam.
The proposed IGA also accelerates the payment of the $50 million for Fountain Creek mitigation required by the County’s 1041 Permit. The first payment to the Fountain Creek Watershed of about $9.6 million will be due within 30 days of the execution of the IGA, with subsequent payments of about $10 million each year thereafter. The funds can be used to construct flood control dams and other sediment and erosion controls on Fountain Creek below Colorado Springs for the benefit of Pueblo County residents and landowners.
“These immediate payments to the district are desperately needed to study the possibility of, and to potentially construct, a dam on Fountain Creek — this is our opportunity to comprehensively evaluate all options to protect the citizens of Pueblo,” said Commissioner Terry Hart. “We’ve been able to bring Colorado Springs to the table and we’ve gotten hard-won, hard-fought commitments on their part to improve Fountain Creek. These total commitments by Colorado Springs to Pueblo County for environmental mitigation are now in excess of $605 million. We’ve more than tripled the explicit financial commitments of the 1041 permit.”
For the Springs part, Suthers said that finding solutions to stormwater issues was a top priority.
“Sustainable stormwater funding and management is not option,” he said. “It is something we must do to protect our waterways, serve our downstream neighbors and meet the legal requirements of a federal permit.”
Suthers also said that it was “gratifying to find a solution.”
“This will go a long way in improving conditions on Fountain Creek and other water tributaries and we believe it will also be a very positive step toward the resolution of issues raised by the EPA and the Department of Justice.”
The money will be spent this way, according to Colorado Springs: $100 million in the first five years, $110 million in the second five years; $120 million in the next five yeas and $130 million in the last five years.
Both the Colorado Springs City Council and the Pueblo Board of Commissioners will vote on the proposed agreement during April’s sessions.
Once it’s approved, the engineering representatives of Pueblo County and Colorado Springs will meet yearly to update the list of stormwater projects. Colorado Springs will file an annual stormwater spending report with Pueblo County.