Let’s admit we’re licked on the water front

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Watching the Broncos stumble haplessly around during last week’s preseason game against the ’Boys was, unless you are a Cowboys fan, a painful experience.
The Donksters, who just last week were anointed as Super Bowl contenders by the Denver media, looked more like pretenders, destined to finish at or near the bottom of the AFC.
The Cowboys took ’em to school and left them battered, bleeding, humiliated and ready to go home and lick their wounds.
Coincidentally, another once-mighty Colorado organization took it in the chops last weekend. And no, it wasn’t the University of Colorado football team, or the Colorado Republican Party or Colorado Subprime Lenders Inc. (an organization which, if it ever existed, no longer does!).
It’s our very own Colorado Springs Utilities, whose leaders found out last Friday that their arch-enemy, Pueblo Chieftain Publisher Bob Rawlings, has outflanked, outsmarted, out-game planned and out-executed them.
Like it or not, Rawlings has won the fight over the Southern Delivery System. For Colorado Springs to develop its water rights on the Arkansas River, it will have to do so according to Rawlings’ vision, not CSU’s.
A little background.
CSU has long believed that it could cut a deal with the various parties involved to enlarge Pueblo Reservoir and build a pipeline from the reservoir to Colorado Springs without a lot of onerous preconditions.
After all, CSU had invested tens of millions of dollars into an upgraded sewer system, all but eliminating the possibility of raw sewage spills into Fountain Creek. And Colorado Springs will invest tens of millions more in controlling stormwater runoff via the newly-created Stormwater Enterprise.
What more could anyone ask for?
A lot, as it turns out.
For years, Rawlings has insisted that any deal has to include two things: a flood control dam on Fountain Creek and wastewater recycling/re-use by Colorado Springs.
For years, CSU has insisted that such ideas are expensive, unnecessary and impractical.
CSU might be right — but it may no longer matter.
When the Business Journal interviewed Gov. Bill Ritter two weeks ago, he made it clear that any new water projects must include new storage, conservation/water sharing measures and recycling/re-use.
Strike one.
And last Friday, Sen. Ken Salazar not only repeated Ritter’s formula, but went a step farther by strongly endorsing a flood control dam on the Fountain between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
Asked who might fund such a project, the senator was appropriately vague, saying only that he expected that there would be a federal component, a state component … and a local component.
Strike two.
And later that day, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which just last year had rejected the idea of a dam on the Fountain, announced that, upon further review, it was changing its position from opposition to possible support.
Strike three. And CSU, it seems, was caught looking.
Oh, our elected/appointed officials made the comments you’d expect. “We continue to believe …” “It’s premature to discuss …” “This is very preliminary and further investigation will certainly …”
But we know what they were saying. Ask Mike Shanahan for a comment after the ’Boys open up a big can of whoopass on his team, and he’ll mumble something about “We’ve got some work to do …”
He means that we got creamed, and he has no idea how to fix things.
Right now, it’s halftime and Rawlings is ahead, 31-0.
What should we do? Just pull the starters, roll over and wait for the game to end? Shouldn’t we get off the mat and fight the good fight? We can’t let some smart, cranky 85-year-old man beat us, can we??!!
But this is a game that isn’t a game — and there are no rules. Maybe we should just shake hands with Rawlings, walk off the field and do what he wants — because that way we win, he wins and, most of all, the future of both Pueblo and Colorado Springs is assured for generations.
To build SDS, a dam on the Fountain and the complex infrastructure required for extensive wastewater recycling will be expensive and difficult. But at this moment in history, the city can partner with both the state and federal government to get the job done. Local ratepayers will have to shoulder much of the burden, but in 20 years it will seem an incredible bargain.
In a single, comprehensive project, Colorado Springs will acquire enough water to support the city’s growth and prosperity for generations to come. Virtually alone among western cities, the Springs will have an abundant, diversified, secure and renewable source of water.
And instead of fighting over a putrid, foul-smelling, flood-prone watercourse, Pueblo and Colorado Springs will be linked by 40 miles of greenway nurtured by a gentle, meandering stream.
The cities would move from angry enmity to active cooperation, to the enduring benefit of both.
We would have, in very real terms, won the Super Bowl.
And all we have to do is rollover, play dead and admit that Rawlings was right all along.
Sure, it’ll be painful — but what politician has ever been troubled by changing his or her mind, and then denying it?
I can hear Mayor Lionel Rivera now: “Previous proposals for a dam on the Fountain were seriously flawed, but now that the corps has agreed to use colored concrete on the dam face, we feel that …”
Of course, we can cling stubbornly to our present position. No dam, no recycling … and no SDS.
That doesn’t work, does it? Best to admit error, and realize that Rawlings has just given us the winning Powerball ticket — so let’s go on down to Pueblo and cash it in.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5204.