Don't thank Colorado Springs Utilities -- thank the West Nile virus.
Concern about the mosquito -borne disease has helped persuade CSU to pay part of the cost to preserve a trickle of water in Ruxton Creek in Manitou Springs. But the utility company, owned by the City of Colorado Springs, says the agreement is only temporary, and it insists it shouldn't have to help pay to save the creek in the long run.
"The costs associated with that should not be subsidized by the Colorado Springs utility ratepayers," insisted Lisa Mills, a CSU spokeswoman.
The City of Manitou Springs and CSU have wrestled over the creek since it began running dry last year (see "Held for Ransom," June 20, 2002, available online at www.csindy.com). The creek runs through Manitou Springs, but CSU owns the rights to its water.
Although the utility collects water from the creek through a pipeline upstream of Manitou, overflow has historically ensured that there's some water in the creek as it meanders through Manitou's downtown. But with the recent drought, CSU has managed to capture almost all of the water, causing the creek to occasionally run dry. And even if the drought ends, the creek's future is still in question, because the utility plans to expand its pipeline.
Seeking to avoid the loss of its scenic waterway, Manitou initially proposed that the utility company guarantee a creek flow of just 1 cubic foot of water per second. CSU would still capture the water at a pumping station downstream of Manitou, though this would result in extra pumping costs.
But despite proclaiming its commitment to "environmental stewardship," the utility has long refused to pay such pumping costs.
Nonetheless, concerns that the creek was being reduced to puddles of stagnant water -- a likely breeding ground for West Nile virus -- recently swayed the utility to strike a deal with Manitou. Under the agreement, the two parties will split the estimated pumping cost of allowing a flow of just 0.25 cubic feet -- a mere 1.87 gallons -- per second. The cost comes out to $1,240 for each party.
The agreement only runs through Oct. 31, after which mosquito activity is expected to subside for the season. And Mills, the CSU spokeswoman, is adamant that the utility's ratepayers shouldn't have to fork over a penny to save the creek in the long run.
"They've paid for those senior water rights," Mills said. "They expect to turn on their faucets and have water."
-- Terje Langeland