The increases, each amounting to 12 percent, will take effect during 2011 and 2012. Planned increases through 2016 will almost double existing rates.
The lone opposing vote came from Councilman Tom Gallagher who said that the decision to build SDS was based on “bad information, like the Charge of the Light Brigade.” Gallagher called upon council to consider what he called “new information” that had been withheld from council.
“We have not rushed this project,” said Utilities CFO Bill Cherrier. “It has been under way for more than 15 years. I’m concerned that if we don’t start this project now, we will miss this window of opportunity.”
Cherrier pointed out that water rates doubled during the 1960s, when the city constructed the Homestake system on the Western Slope.
“We held the line on water rates for many years afterwards,” he said, “and our supplies were adequate until the drought (of 2002). We have adequate supplies now, but we know that won’t always be the case.”
Cherrier also noted that, thanks to historically low interest rates, Utilities could save as much as $49 million over the life of the project by issuing bonds this year.
The Southern Delivery System is a regional water delivery system that will, when built, bring water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West via a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.
The SDS plan was first conceived during the late 1980s, and since 1996 Colorado Springs Utilities has spent nearly $100 million on the project, including more than $17 million to pay for an extensive Environmental Impact Study, as required by law.
CSU decided to go forward with SDS for several reasons, according to senior utility officials.
In fact, as Cherrier pointed out during today’s council meeting, SDS may have been the city’s only practical way for the city to obtain new water resources. Utilities failed to win approval of two transmountain water diversion projects during the 1980s and 1990s owing to fierce opposition from residents of Summit and Chaffee counties.
Despite initial opposition, Pueblo County Commissioners unanimously approved SDS’s construction permit last year, removing a roadblock to its realization.
The project, originally scheduled for completion during 2012, is now slated to be finished by 2016.