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Watered down 

Colorado Springs and Pueblo say they want consensus, but meetings hint at a long, arduous battle ahead

click to enlarge About 150 people jammed into Colorado Colleges - Palmer Hall on Tuesday to hear verbal missives from - Pueblo and Colorado Springs players in the SDS water - saga. - JON KELLEY
  • Jon Kelley
  • About 150 people jammed into Colorado Colleges Palmer Hall on Tuesday to hear verbal missives from Pueblo and Colorado Springs players in the SDS water saga.

Colorado Springs has lost its soul. At least that's what Pueblo leaders contended at a forum Tuesday evening at Colorado College.

The meeting, sponsored by the Pueblo Chieftain, aimed to posit Pueblo's point of view on a litany of water-related issues. But it ended with representatives from both communities clashing over the angry thread that connects them: Fountain Creek.

While some Colorado Springs officials made overtures toward consensus-building, many in attendance did nothing to quell that soulless image.

Pueblo leaders were met with hisses. One panelist, Pueblo City Councilor Barbara Vidmar, said she received warnings by telephone that Colorado Springs Utilities would appear in full force, ready to "tear [her] apart." At least 30 Utilities employees showed up, some toting information on Colorado Springs' efforts to clean the creek.

Pueblo's contingent, on the other hand, made it clear that it's simply not backing down not on the sewage spills that have sullied Fountain Creek for years, and not on their opposition to Colorado Springs' proposed Southern Delivery System, the plan to pump water from Pueblo Reservoir north to Colorado Springs to fuel the city's growth for years to come.

"While your community avoids a tax increase, you have levied those costs on the communities to the south and the east," said Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner, who sat on the panel. "This is a moral issue. The wealthy man should not transgress upon his neighbors."

What the Springs can do

Pueblo leaders asked the central question regarding Colorado Springs' approach to water: Why not do more? According to water attorney Ray Petros, a Pueblo native now living in Denver and another Tuesday panelist, El Paso County imports 85 percent of its water but only reuses a quarter of the reusable water available to it.

"Because Colorado Springs is importing so much water," he said, "our belief is that it should be the absolute leader in conservation in the state."

Petros authored a proposal to create a Fountain Creek reservoir that would enable flood control and water reuse for Colorado Springs. The dam would serve as an alternative to SDS. Colorado Springs Utilities says the plan was already thrown out by the federal government's Bureau of Reclamation, which is reviewing SDS and six alternatives.

The same do-more attitude applies to the waterway, the panelists said.

"It has to do with raw sewage flowing down Fountain Creek, coming out of your jurisdiction into our jurisdiction," said Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut, who filed a lawsuit in 2005 claiming that Colorado Springs violated the federal Clean Water Act when it saw 73 million gallons of wastewater leak into the creek. "You can't seem to do anything about it. You could be doing better in time.

"Raw sewage still goes down Fountain Creek into our community. Your community needs to tax themselves. You are going to have to pay the piper to get this stuff done quicker. Frankly, we've run out of time."

Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera turned the question back to Pueblo, asking what the municipality does for its downstream neighbors.

"If you are going to chastise us, you need to have the same standard for yourselves," Rivera said.

But he ceded little in terms of Colorado Springs' own responsibility, and the forum ended without a clear understanding of what comes next.

Competing bills

Rivera took a similar tack at another water panel last Friday.

A congressional hearing hosted in Pueblo by the Water and Power Subcommittee centered on the Frying Pan-Arkansas project which includes Pueblo Reservoir 45 years after its inception. U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn and John Salazar, as well as several other Colorado representatives, questioned local players about their sense of the water project today, and whether it allowed for large municipalities like Colorado Springs and Aurora to slurp water out of the basin, a move that some claim would dry up small farmers.

"The Fry-Ark always included a pipeline to Colorado Springs," said Rivera, who sat on one of three panels before the congressional group. "Colorado Springs has equal right."

Rivera defended the SDS project by saying Colorado Springs entered into agreements with other localities to move the plan forward. He supports a Lamborn bill that favors Colorado Springs' use of the Pueblo Reservoir for its future water needs.

Salazar has sponsored a competing bill, which demands a study of the economic impacts of SDS by looking at past projects and their effects on farmers. Like the Pueblo panelists at Colorado College, he made it clear that he would not acquiesce to Colorado Springs.

"It's immoral for large cities to rob from small towns for the sake of growth," said Salazar. "It's critical that people understand what happens when you take water out of a basin."

naomi@csindy.com

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