Beware of Pueblo’s rising ire

As our elected leaders continue finding new ways to avoid cooperating on important issues, there’s a growing sense that perhaps doing nothing beats making a serious mistake.

So, once again, we’re hearing rumbles that the stormwater fee for El Paso County property owners might not make it onto the November ballot, after all. Never mind that the Stormwater Task Force, a comprehensive two-year effort, produced specific, prioritized infrastructure needs. And never mind that, earlier this year, a majority of the Colorado Springs City Council as well as the Board of County Commissioners indicated support for a regional stormwater solution.

But with City Council and Mayor Steve Bach unable to agree on how the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority would be governed, the proposal now is endangered.

That sends a dangerously negative signal to our neighbors to the south. Pueblo went along initially with the Southern Delivery System delivering water by pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. But Pueblo’s leaders worry about water coming back their way via Fountain Creek. They also ignore the boasts from here about how much money Colorado Springs has spent on stormwater, because much of that has come from federal funds and grants.

Putting off a ballot issue sends a dangerously negative signal to our neighbors to the south.

Pueblo has kept its distance, knowing the task force was utilizing engineers and other experts. But with the countywide ballot issue in trouble, rest assured the rumblings will grow louder. In fact, they already have — for a different reason. About two weeks ago, storms between Pueblo and Colorado Springs produced flooding on ranches and other property. Quickly, the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper (a longtime adversarial voice on water issues between the cities) jumped into action.

In a July 30 editorial, the Chieftain quoted rancher Gary Walker and described damage “along a scar left by the burial of the 66-inch diameter Southern Delivery System pipeline. About seven miles of pipe jut directly across a portion of Walker’s land, which is adjacent to Fort Carson and stretches to Interstate 25. Walker has repeatedly advised Colorado Springs Utilities they should follow more accurately the natural contours of the land.

“Instead, Utilities opted to lay the pipeline in a straight, 17-mile shot across Pueblo West and Walker Ranches from Pueblo Dam to the El Paso County line. The pipeline crosses natural arroyos that eroded after the line was installed.”

The Chieftain shared other concerns from people living along the pipeline’s path in Pueblo West, “ranging from flooded basements to weed infestations.”

That created concern for two of Pueblo County’s three commissioners (a majority), both ex-state legislators who understand how to wield political influence. Again from the editorial, “Sal Pace questioned whether the damage violates the Utilities’ 1041 permit from Pueblo County. And Commissioner Liane ‘Buffie’ McFadyen pointed out that the natural landscape should have already put Colorado Springs Utilities on the alert” because the “pipe could work out of the ground” even before water flows through it. 

Pueblo County, at Pace’s behest, is evaluating damage, and the Chieftain urged commissioners “to be aggressive in their review of a possible 1041 permit violation. Colorado Springs and Utilities have long bullied Pueblo County … over the pipeline. But the flooding concerns … emphasize that superior size does not mean superior intentions.”

That’s ominous enough. Add in a possible stormwater funding postponement, and you have a recipe for trouble.