Not surprisingly, the federal government sued the city of Colorado Springs on Nov. 9 over the city's repeated violations of the Clean Water Act and the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. The allegations arise from the city's failure to deal with drainage and failure to comply with its permit to discharge stormwater into the municipal storm sewer system, which ultimately flows into the Arkansas River.
The suit comes despite Mayor John Suthers orchestrating a deal with Pueblo County earlier this year to fix the city's storm drainage system, costing taxpayers and Colorado Springs Utilities ratepayers $460 million in the next 20 years.
Suthers took office in June 2015, following years of violations in controlling stormwater. Suthers lamented to other media the City Council's move to abolish the city's Stormwater Enterprise in 2009. But Council did so after voters approved Issue 300 that fall, which aimed to dismantle the enterprise. (At the time, the city attorney's office felt the language in Issue 300 failed to force the shutdown of the enterprise, but City Council defunded it anyway, citing voter intent.)
The EPA, however, cites the city's soft treatment of developers — along with its lack of a stormwater program — for the violations. In early 2013, the EPA issued a scathing report outlining violations and followed up in August 2015 with an equally critical report.
Specifically, the lawsuit notes the city backed off of requiring detention ponds and other flood-control measures in Cottonwood Creek that would have cost $11.4 million, and instead reduced developers' fees. But that violates the city's discharge permit, the lawsuit states. It also notes drainage violations at First & Main adjacent to Powers Boulevard and Flying Horse Pond Filing 26 on the city's far north side. In addition, the city allowed seven residential developments to be built without requiring stormwater controls, in violation of its discharge permit and its own requirements, the lawsuit says. Moreover, the city didn't enforce its rules when developers violated the city's stormwater requirements, according to the suit.
"Unless enjoined, the city's violations will continue," the lawsuit states, noting it is seeking unspecified civil penalties.
"On Wednesday, the city was served with a broad and unspecific filing from the EPA, citing Colorado Springs for deficiencies in its stormwater system since the dissolution of the stormwater enterprise in 2009," Suthers said in a statement. "While we recognize that stormwater was underfunded during that time, this was extremely frustrating, considering the commitment the mayor and city council have already made to massive stormwater improvements over the next 20 years."
Suthers also noted it makes more sense to use city money to fix the problem than pay to litigate the lawsuit or remit fines. "We will ask the federal judge to look at our efforts and our commitments toward real progress and hope that a more constructive resolution can be reached," he said.