Pueblo won’t budge on reservoir issue

Filed under: Uncategorized |

The battle over oil is a relative newcomer as a reason for people to fight, but there have always been water wars.

Already Colorado Springs and Pueblo are at odds over expansion of the Pueblo Reservoir, and that issue is likely to intensify as Colorado Springs looks for more water to green the city’s thirsty subdivisions and golf courses and feed its commercial and manufacturing users.

However, Colorado Springs is just one city among many in the western United States where existing water resources are stretched to their limits. There is little or no leeway for changes in current water allocations, and water shortages will become the region’s next war of incivility.

Colorado Springs will start next year with serious water shortages – and last summer’s Stage Two water restrictions may remain in place. The city council is presently discussing raising water rates to encourage conservation and pay for additional delivery conduits.

Some even believe Colorado Springs has reached a critical mass – the point where the city’s economy cannot be sustained on growth requiring more and more water. Yet, even those most critical of unbridled expansion realize construction is a big part of the city’s economy.

However, certain business expansions requiring large units of water could help pay for additional water delivery systems for the city, said Rocky Scott, president of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation. However, more on that later.

The issue with Pueblo is critical for Colorado Springs, and a resolution favoring the city may result in adequate water supplies for the next 40 years or so. Pueblo officials worry about their city’s future and present needs, and do not want to shortchange its residents.

The cities have argued the issue for years, and in August, Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace wrote to Pueblo Council President Michael Occhiato asking for support of a revised proposal saying it is “a reasonable solution that will meet the needs of your community while at the same time allow others to fully utilize their water rights.”

Under the proposal, Colorado Springs would agree to curtail exchange operations to maintain a minimum flow of 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) below the Pueblo Reservoir; this promises to ensure Pueblo would have sufficient water in the Arkansas River through downtown Pueblo’s River Walk project to allow for “special events,” including, but not limited to, kayaking.

By agreeing to the proposal, said Makepeace, “your community will enjoy the benefits of increased flows in the Arkansas River.”

To move the project forward, Pueblo would need to support House Resolution 3881, which would reauthorize what is called the Fryingpan-Arkansa Project – with amendments referred to in the Makepeace letter. However, the issue looks to be anything but close to a resolution. Occhiato called the Makepeace letter “smoke and mirrors,” and claims the issue is “back to square one.”

The real issue is not only brown grass and dirty cars; it is dollars and jobs. Infighting over water will intensify between cities, and within communities, between farmers and industries that use water, or contribute to the consumption of more water in the building of additional homes.

The water issue is the single most important concern facing the city, said Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Jeff Crank. The Chamber has been studying the issue for some time, Crank said.

Adequate snow this winter will help replenish reservoirs above Colorado Springs and help in the short-term, Crank said, but resolving the Pueblo/Colorado Springs spat is critical to the big picture, he added.

“Most people in the region support H.R. 3881,” Crank said, “including the Pueblo Water Board, which is in complete support.”

Nevertheless, the Pueblo City Council apparently is unsatisfied.

“There has been concern by a few people in Pueblo who want certain concessions,” Crank said. “I think it is fair to say those concessions have been given, but it seems like once we give concessions, there’s more concessions asked for.

“Basically, the Pueblo City Council is not in favor of it, and they have been the folks that put the brakes on it,” Crank said. “We’re trying to work those issues out… but this is such a critical issue and every year that we delay it becomes more of a crisis.”

Without adequate water, growth in Colorado Springs is threatened, he said.

“This is probably the most critical issue that our community faces,” Crank said. “Water is probably the single biggest limiting factor to our growth.”

Officials hope the city’s thirst is temporarily quenched when an expansion to the Otero pipeline on the western slope comes on line next spring. Colorado Springs residents use an average of 83 million gallons of water per day. That improvement increases the city supplies by about 20 million gallons per day.

That improvement is expected to be operational next spring.

Serious as they are, water issues do not necessarily mean the city will not be able to attract new industry, said EDC President Rocky Scott. Scott said the EDC always confers with city utility officials about prospects who would be heavy utility users looking to locate or expand in the region, and if the city believes it cannot deliver needed services, the prospect is not pursued.

“In some cases it is actually helpful to get a heavy user,” Scott said. “You end up getting revenue at the same time you’re not putting an extra burden on the total system.”

That is especially true about electricity, Scott said, and somewhat true about water.

“The bill for the southern delivery system is going to be big,” Scott said. “And if you have some users that will use the water and return it clean… use it over a 24-hour period and ultimately pay a lot into the bond retirement fund through the rates, then all ratepayers benefit.”

An example would be a computer chip making operation, which requires the use of large amounts of water that are ultimately returned to the system fairly clean, Scott said.

Earlier this year, Colorado Springs Councilman James Null addressed the U.S. House of Representatives Water and Power Subcommittee, and said approval of H.R. 3881 is critical to Colorado Springs.

“With this legislation, we can avoid new reservoir construction and water transfers from other basins or from agricultural to municipal use,” said Null.

However, legislators say they will take no action on the bill until Colorado Springs and Pueblo settle their issues.

“I am aware of some concerns being expressed by the City of Pueblo (as compared to the Board of Water Works), but can assure you that the project proponents are actively engaged in talks with the city,” Null told the legislative subcommittee. “This includes an exchange of written proposals designed to alleviate their concerns through a mutually beneficial approach to water management… I believe that such a solution is certainly possible without requiring any amendments to H.R. 3881.”