Initiative could have far-reaching consequences for water supply

Filed under: Contributed Columns |

If approved, a pending initiative on this November’s city ballot could impact the residents of our community much more than you may realize. I’d like to provide our customers with more facts about the potential consequences of this initiative before you decide.
The initiative states that “Excluding hospital charges, all city enterprises shall bill and collect charges for voluntary customer charges only.” Despite its vague language, it appears that the intent of this amendment is to do away with the Stormwater Enterprise.
As a utility, we are intrinsically tied to stormwater on two key fronts: securing our long-term water supply and protecting our wastewater and other infrastructure.
As many of you know, we are in the midst of an intensive environmental review of the Southern Delivery System, a regional project which will deliver the water we need for our future. Our preferred alternative for SDS would transport Arkansas River water from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs and its regional partners.
If the pipeline goes through Pueblo County, the project must be approved by the Pueblo County Commissioners who are concerned about downstream flooding and water quality in Fountain Creek. Without the Stormwater Enterprise, we could be forced to construct a more expensive alternative.
Beyond water supply, a commitment to stormwater management is equally critical to protecting the life, health and safety of our customers, the environment and the integrity of our wastewater system.
Over the past several years, Colorado Springs Utilities has invested more than $120 million in improvements to our wastewater system to significantly reduce the risk for spills. While these investments are producing positive results and have positioned us as a national leader in spill prevention, they are most effective and sustainable when done in partnership with a thorough stormwater management effort.
Because of the topography of Colorado Springs, our wastewater pipes and other infrastructure must cross or travel along the many creeks in our city. Without responsible stormwater management, the many investments we’ve made to protect our systems could be jeopardized by a major storm. Unrestrained, rushing water through local waterways carries debris which has the potential to damage our wastewater pipes and other infrastructure.
From the 1999 floods that wiped out large portions of our wastewater system to the June 2005 hail storm that severely damaged two wastewater pipes, history tells us that stormwater solutions are critically important to protecting our system.
Since the Stormwater Enterprise was established by the city, they have moved quickly to identify critical projects needed along local waterways, and we’ve already seen significant progress being made.
Our community should be commended for taking responsibility for that which we own — whether it’s a wastewater pipe or a creek that catches and transports the city’s water runoff.
I encourage you to learn more about the issues. The city’s Stormwater Enterprise will help insure the investments we’ve made in our wastewater system and other infrastructure protect the life, health and safety of our customers, and respect our downstream neighbors. In addition, it will send the right message to communities in the region as we work to meet our customers’ future water needs.
Jerry Forte is chief executive officer of Colorado Springs Utilities.