Colorado Springs' Southern Delivery System the long-awaited water pipeline meant to sustain our growth might be a reality in five years.
The city's proposal would pump water north from Pueblo Reservoir, sending treated wastewater back down Fountain Creek. The pipeline would bring between 70 and 75 million gallons of water a day to Colorado Springs and its neighbors, meeting a third of Colorado Springs' projected yearly water needs.
"We built that vessel," says City Councilor Margaret Radford of Pueblo Reservoir. "Our citizens paid three-quarters of the cost of the reservoir. And I want to come out of it [with water]."
While city leaders remain all but wedded to SDS, the plan, along with six alternatives, is under review by the federal government. The Bureau of Reclamation is completing an environmental-impact study of each water pipeline option, and likely won't finish until next year, when it will make a recommendation to the city.
"When I ran in 2003, we were supposed to be under construction by 2008," says Vice Mayor Larry Small. "We won't get the studies back until then."
Assuming those studies come back without a hitch, Colorado Springs Utilities general manager Gary Bostrom promises the project will go forward quickly.
"We will be online by 2012," he says.
At least one person has raised questions about the federal process. Local developer Mark Morley claims that his own water-delivery plan, which would also create renewable hydroelectric power, was elbowed out of the running by stubborn city officials.
For the past several years, Morley has agitated for a proposal that would pump water from the Arkansas River to Colorado Springs along state Highway 115, using an expanded Brush Hollow Reservoir as a storage facility. Morley owns land around Brush Hollow; he estimates that he would stand to gain $87 million from such a project over time.
Morley maintains his proposal is cheaper, and more efficient, than the city's plan. He also says that city leaders have never given him fair consideration.
Two years ago, Colorado Springs Utilities gave the Highway 115 plan to the Bureau of Reclamation for further study. But Morley claims that the city's submission included faulty details, and that it was only brought forth to discredit him, once and for all.
"The Springs provided additional information and provided misinformation," says Morley. "They knew the Bureau would kill it, and they want to do SDS."
The Bureau did strike down the Morley plan, in part because the Brush Hollow expansion would inundate 55 acres of wetlands. That conclusion, says Morley, was based on maps that didn't accurately represent his project.
"Yes, we will destroy some wetlands, but we will mitigate those wetlands," he says.
Utilities' Bostrom, meanwhile, maintains he can't speak about what was provided to the Bureau.
"I don't know enough to comment," he says.
Forward either way
The Bureau also cited other problems with the Morley plan. Brush Hollow Reservoir, which is south of Colorado Springs in Fremont County, is farther away from the city than Pueblo Reservoir.
"I know that the final decision had more to do with [Brush Hollow's] role as a storage facility than wetlands," says Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson Kara Lamb. "If this was going to be your end of the line, you need it closer to your water users."
"If you build Brush Hollow, you'd have to build a bigger pipe," he says. "It's not wetlands that makes or breaks this issue. It's location."
Morley says he will go forward with his plan even without the city's partnership, by leasing or selling water storage space to other communities and developments.
"I don't need them to be a part of it," he says. "If Springs doesn't want to be a part of it, I'm fine with it."
Morley says he has completed two reservoir studies for Brush Hollow and is now undertaking design studies. He anticipates the reservoir will be completed in 2013, just a year after the city's projected end date on SDS. The hydroelectric power component would be complete in 2014.
At least one city leader is skeptical that Morley will go through with his proposal.
"I have heard that. But I have heard a lot of words come out of [the Morleys'] mouths and haven't seen a lot of action, other than funding candidates," says Radford, referring to the Morley family's financial support of several city council hopefuls in April's election. For instance, the Morleys gave thousands of dollars to incumbent councilor Tom Gallagher, a former Morley family employee who has come under criticism for broaching the Highway 115 plan with council.
"Speaking, just me," Radford adds, "this has been about putting their vessel and their land to use."