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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

City and EPA say they're working on "a global settlement" to end the stormwater lawsuit

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2019 at 12:58 PM

click to enlarge An example of the city's stewardship of drainage canals, viewed in 2017. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • An example of the city's stewardship of drainage canals, viewed in 2017.
Look for the city of Colorado Springs and environmental regulators to reach a "global settlement that encompasses an agreement on relief for all violations" in the Environmental Protection Agency's 2016 lawsuit against the city for failing to comply with Clean Water Act regulations.

That "global settlement" also could come with higher stormwater fees, because the stormwater fee measure voters approved in November 2017 contains a clause allowing the city raise the fees to satisfy a court judgment.

On Aug. 19, parties to the case filed a statement in federal court saying they've "made significant progress toward settlement" but not revealing the details.

Rather, the statement said, "For the past nine months, the Parties have been working toward a global settlement that encompasses an agreement on relief for all violations alleged [in the lawsuit].... and are continuing their work."

Considering the statement says a settlement could cover all violations, it wouldn't be surprising to see Colorado Springs agree to spend more to correct its long-neglected stormwater system.

On July 24, the court granted a motion to vacate further litigation deadlines and stayed the lawsuit until Nov. 22.
click to enlarge A stretch of drainage way running through the city, as seen in 2017.
  • A stretch of drainage way running through the city, as seen in 2017.
A status conference was to take place Aug. 20 in U.S. District Court, Denver.

The EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sued the city in November 2016, alleging violations of the city's Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, which befouled creeks and, ultimately, the Arkansas River.

Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District later joined as plaintiffs.

A trial in September 2018 ended with a ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, now deceased, that the city did violate the permit by improperly waiving permanent stormwater best management practices (BMP), failing to oversee and enforce temporary BMP requirements, and improperly approving the design and installation of and failing to ensure the long-term operation and maintenance of a detention basin. The allegations were specific to certain sites. (Senior U.S. District Judge John L. Kane apparently has replaced Matsch in the case.)

The city's stormwater ballot measure, which imposed residences $5 per month via their utilities billings and non-residential properties $30 per developed acre starting in July 2018, included this provision:

"... such fees may be thereafter increased by City Council by resolution only to the extent required to comply with a valid court order, federal or state permits, federal or state laws, and intergovernmental agreements [IGA] of the city entered into before June 1, 2016." (The only IGA that qualifies in that provision is the April 2016 agreement with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on the city's stormwater drainage system.)

Read the Aug. 19 court filing here.

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