There were smiling faces, tasty baked goods and glossy posters explaining the possible paths for Colorado Springs' proposed water diversion project.
Scientists and other experts talked with residents about questions and concerns, and court reporters were available to take their formal comments on the Southern Delivery System. The meetings six in all, from Buena Vista to La Junta to Colorado Springs seemed both pleasant and congenial.
Yet a few residents still felt they were being, well, diverted.
"It was the worst public presentation I'd ever seen," says Walter Lawson, a community activist in Colorado Springs.
Lawson attended meetings in Pueblo and Colorado Springs, and his main concern is that the price tags were either missing or hard to find in descriptions of seven possible networks of pipelines and pump houses.
"They'll take any project and try to make it look good," Lawson says. "They never tell you the true product cost."
Those costs with grand totals for building, operating and maintenance rising toward $2 billion even for the cheapest can be found by flipping to page 31 of the Bureau of Reclamation's 594-page draft Environmental Impact Statement, if you're so inclined.
Lawson, however, suggests the true costs could rise far higher and should be front and center in any discussion of the proposal. Springs residents, he argues, should be made aware of a crucial fact: In paying for the project for years, they'll be subsidizing the city's growth.
"It's all about selling houses," Lawson says.
Utilities officials, of course, disagree, arguing that growth is already happening and that much of it will come from within as residents fruitfully multiply. So they've moved beyond the ifs of building a pipeline to questions of how.
At the request of Colorado Springs and its diminutive partners in the project Fountain, Security and Pueblo West Reclamation evaluated six pipeline plans against a "no action alternative." But this alternative actually involves considerable action, making use of an extensive system of pipes, pumps and wells. It just meets projected water needs without storing excess capacity water in Pueblo Reservoir, thereby keeping the federal government from becoming involved.
One complaint raised by the Sierra Club's Jim Lockhart as he reviews Reclamation's document: Authors compare the six alternatives to the "no action" plan, but not to options that were excluded earlier in the process. Recycling wastewater, for instance, has been discussed, but Reclamation released a report last year dismissing it as a poor choice in terms of expense and public health.
Lockhart and others preparing to share their thoughts did get a break earlier this week, when the agency announced the public comment period will be extended 45 days to June 13.
Anti-growth advocate Dave Gardner, for one, should be somewhat relieved. He was struggling to read the report and thousands of pages of supporting documents all while completing work on an anti-growth documentary film.
He says the massive water project seems a throwback to a bygone era when people didn't think about limits to the West's water supply.
"Just because somebody did it in the past," he says, "doesn't mean we should keep doing it."
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