Friday, June 17, 2016

SDS: Water for generations to come

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 12:28 PM

click to enlarge Council President Merv Bennett noted that 11 Councils kept SDS on track through the years. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • Council President Merv Bennett noted that 11 Councils kept SDS on track through the years.

Some 400 to 500 people gathered at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, 977 N. Marksheffel Road, Friday morning to dedicate the Southern Delivery System pipeline project.

The project, 20 years in the making, represents the service, safety, commitment and excellence brought to bear by hundreds, even thousands, of people, said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte.

He noted that the project adds another noteworthy item to Colorado Springs' water history, which began in the late 1800s when city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer built the El Paso County Canal from Fountain Creek on what is now 33rd Street, Forte said.

SDS, he noted, will provide water for generations to come.

SDS first appeared in the city's water master plan in 1996 and was geared to supply water to the 20,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch, which had been annexed into the city in 1988. Only a fraction of that property is built out, but SDS now is viewed as a crucial component of the city's existing system to ensure redundancy. Most of the city's water comes from transmountain systems built in the 1950s and 1980s. SDS brings water from Pueblo Reservoir.

Although Rep. Doug Lamborn heralded the project for not requiring federal money, the Pueblo Dam and reservoir project was part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas project built in the 1960s and 1970s by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, along with a special district that collected property tax money in the region. SDS, obviously, wouldn't have been possible without that reservoir on the Arkansas River.

City Council President Merv Bennett demonstrated the span of time needed to plan and build SDS by noting 11 Councils have played key roles in the project. He recognized El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a former Council member, who he said laid the groundwork for relationships with Pueblo officials; former Mayor Lionel Rivera, who oversaw the project as both mayor and a Council member; Randy Thurston, former Pueblo City Council member; former Vice Mayor Larry Small, who now runs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which grew from SDS negotiations; and Margaret Radford, former Council member who now works for an SDS contractor, MWH Global.
click to enlarge Former Mayor Lionel Rivera, center, with Councilor Don Knight, left, and Council President Merv Bennett, right.
  • Former Mayor Lionel Rivera, center, with Councilor Don Knight, left, and Council President Merv Bennett, right.
CSU Chair Andy Pico boasted that the project was originally envisioned to cause water rates to increase by 121 percent, but it has required increases to rates of only 52 percent. The $825 million project came in $160 million under budget.

Mayor John Suthers also spoke. His role might have been one of the most pivotal, because he sorted out a mess created by his predecessor, Steve Bach, in terms of the city's stormwater situation, which had become a nearly insurmountable barrier to the project.

First, Suthers had to deal with federal and state clean-water regulators who have accused the city of failing to comply with the Clean Water Act for years before Suthers took office in June 2015. Those negotiations are ongoing. Second, Suthers had to find a quick solution to stormwater improvements to satisfy Pueblo County commissioners, who threatened to reopen the city's SDS construction permit. (Bach opposed a ballot measure in 2014 that would have funded stormwater work.)

Suthers finessed a deal in which the city agreed to spend $460 million in the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain the city's drainage facilities. Pueblo officials accepted the deal, clearing the way for water to begin flowing through the SDS pipeline in late April, as scheduled. (Bach was invited to, but did not attend, Friday's SDS dedication.)

Suthers said the city would have remained a tourist town of 20,000 but for its water resources. "Our future is bright, and we are poised for continued success," he said.

click to enlarge Sen. Cory Gardner showed up unexpectedly.
  • Sen. Cory Gardner showed up unexpectedly.
In a surprise development, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., showed up and lauded the city for the project. "It can't be said enough how important water infrastructure is to the state of Colorado," he said. "It's our past. It's our present, and it's our future. It's my hope this [project] can be replicated throughout Colorado, because water will continue to drive our success."

Others who spoke included CSU's Chief Water Officer Dan Higgins, and the project director since 2007, attorney John Fredell, who became the face of SDS in the past decade through contracting, negotiations with neighbors, legal wrangling and interviews with the media. About 470 permits were required for the project.
click to enlarge SDS Project Director John Fredell drew a standing ovation when he stepped to the mike. He led the project since 2007.
  • SDS Project Director John Fredell drew a standing ovation when he stepped to the mike. He led the project since 2007.
As Forte said, "We never would have reached this point today without one person," that being Fredell.

When Fredell stepped to the dais, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that included elected officials, contractors, project partners, officials from surrounding towns and Pueblo, Utilities employees and citizens.

Fredell, in turn, thanked Forte for his "trust and vision and leading every step of the way."

After the speeches, the crowd was invited to open gift boxes at each chair which contained a commemorative coin and a little glass of SDS water, used to toast the project.
click to enlarge All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water.
  • All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water.
click to enlarge A toast: To SDS, serving citizens for generations into the future.
  • A toast: To SDS, serving citizens for generations into the future.


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