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Range war: Springs vs. Pueblo 

Sometimes neighbors become angry with each other and continue feuding long after both sides forget the original disagreement.

That's how it looks today between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, the Front Range's version of the Hatfields and McCoys, as the two determined rivals have staked out their positions on water in the region.

We know people are tired of reading about water, but this is more about the two cities, reminiscent of the captivating, long-ago TV miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man.

Clearly, the Springs and Pueblo aren't bosom buddies. They're as different as right and left, white-collar and blue-collar, evangelism and Catholicism, SUVs and sedans. They've enjoyed healthy competition for years on high school playing fields, but the sportsmanship ends there.

Never mind that both communities could benefit, immensely, from cultivating a brotherly, win-win relationship. Never mind the potential of a Springs-Pueblo political alliance dealing with Denver and points north.

Instead, regarding water, the Springs looks down on Pueblo, shrugging off the flood of 1999 and reacting slowly to growth that has doubled Fountain Creek's flow to Pueblo and the Arkansas River. We import water, by the millions of gallons, from the Western Slope. Much of our used and treated wastewater goes into the creek.

We've also sent Pueblo our waste spills, our mistakes and, on occasion, our feces. Finally, Pueblo has decided not to take it anymore.

That's the easy version of how the feud developed. That's why Pueblo is fighting a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to the Springs. It's why Pueblo's gone to court, hoping to force Colorado Springs into damming the creek. Our city insists spending $50 million in two years to control our waste is sufficient.

Away from the angst, a task force is building relationships that could lead to more cooperation. That effort has made progress with basic ground rules, and both sides are treating each other with more respect. Yet in other gatherings, some on both ends aren't following those rules. It might be a serious mistake.

Our unwillingness to understand Pueblo's point of view has led to court cases, and even dueling bills in Congress. The result is a stalemate. And if our leaders cannot work together, or even make it through a public forum without becoming arrogant and strident, stagnation will remain in force.

Nobody seems to realize Colorado Springs could be in significant legal and political jeopardy. Pueblo has some powerful warriors, including U.S. Rep. John Salazar, District Attorney Bill Thiebaut (who spent 16 years in the Colorado Legislature), state Sen. Abel Tapia (chair of the Legislature's influential Joint Budget Committee), Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner and others.

They're firing back now. They're expressing themselves convincingly in such settings as congressional hearings, courtrooms and public forums.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs seems intent on treating Pueblo as a nuisance, a pest that won't go away. That's why, at a June 5 forum here, someone alleged Colorado Springs had lost its soul. Meanwhile, Pueblo is working to enhance its image, proudly using terms such as "renaissance" and "blue-collar version of Santa Fe."

Colorado Springs must come to its senses, clean up its act (not just water, but its behavior) and consider solutions acceptable to all. We must talk about reusing more water, building a dam (or dams), possibly not using all the water we have rights to (saving for later) and turning Fountain Creek into the "crown jewel" that Sen. Ken Salazar and others propose.

We can take that proactive path or wait until courts decide. There's a distinct possibility Pueblo will win its "clean water" case. That's the true jeopardy: Judges may dictate our future, tell us how to spend our money, fine us for our waste spills, and we won't have enough allies to find solutions in Congress or state government.

We also must realize we can't simply overpower Pueblo. If we don't create an agreeable solution for moving water in and out of Colorado Springs, nothing will happen and the Springs will lose.

Sallie Clark, one of the El Paso County commissioners helping develop a regional task force, recently condensed the controversy into one sentence.

"We owe Pueblo a clean Fountain Creek," she said.

Not pristine, just clean. Not most of the time, but forever. If that could become Colorado Springs' single mission statement, we might even settle this feud.

Otherwise, don't be surprised if Pueblo wins the War on the Range.

routon@csindy.com

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