The “stormwater wars” have quietly resumed.
In an April 19 letter to Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), the Pueblo County Commissioners took on the Trump Administration’s plans to reduce funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Commissioners expressed their concern over proposed budget cuts at the EPA, noting that “the administration is poised (to eliminate) federal water enforcement actions in states authorized to administer certain Clean Water Act mandates.”
“This concern,” the letter continued, “was sharpened by a February 19, 2017 editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette wherein the editorial board bafflingly likened the one-time accidental release of mine water by an EPA contractor at the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado to the recent EPA litigation enforcing the CWA against Colorado Springs for its decades of failure under the Act. As you know, the EPA and Pueblo County are partners in the litigation to enforce provisions of the CWA that address Colorado Springs’ violations of that federal law. Unfortunately, the Gazette is attempting to influence Administrator (Scott) Pruitt to drop litigation that is meant to protect us. Please don’t let that happen.”
In a letter dated April 10, Congressman Doug Lamborn took the opposite tack. Noting that Colorado Springs has committed to spend $460 million on stormwater projects before 2035, as well as increasing stormwater staff from 28 to 66, building a $3-million retention pond on Sand Creek and increased stormwater spending from $5 million in 2015 to approximately $20-25 million a year, Lamborn called for the EPA to back off.
“Despite the bold efforts undertaken by our local officials to address stormwater issues,” Lamborn wrote, “the EPA seems determined to seek civil penalties that could cost Colorado Springs millions of dollars. This is the kind of lawsuit that gives the EPA its infamous reputation of overreach. Every single dime going to litigate this issue and pay any fines that are imposed should be directed to fixing the problem. … If the goal of the EPA is to ensure that the City of Colorado Springs improves the management of its stormwater, the EPA should work with our local officials to provide technical expertise and funding for infrastructure improvements instead of diverting the city’s limited resources toward fighting this burdensome litigation.”
Lamborn does a nice job of articulating Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers’ position on the issue. The path that he proposes will certainly benefit Colorado Springs and possibly free up funds for remediation, but Pueblo Commissioners may fear that assurances that they’ve received from Colorado Springs may be worthless without the enforcement muscle of the EPA lurking in the shadows.
Will President Trump and Pruitt listen to Pueblo’s entreaties? Probably not. Will Colorado Springs renege on its commitments? Not on Suthers’ watch.
Meanwhile, let’s hope that this summer’s monsoon season doesn’t bring massive flooding to the Fountain Creek watershed.