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Colorado Springs Utilities is selling our water 

click to enlarge PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
Even as it searches for additional water rights, Colorado Springs Utilities is marketing and selling water to those outside the city limits.

That might sound counterintuitive, but those sales generally span short periods and involve surplus water in wet years that otherwise would be “spilled” down waterways.

While adding revenue that benefits Utilities’ service-area customers, the sales also represent the city’s good-neighbor policy, Utilities officials say.

“We will continue to develop future water supply while providing other benefits to the region including environmental, recreation, agriculture and economic development,” says Utilities spokesperson Natalie Eckhart.

Utilities has filled lakes — such as Quail Lake, Monument Lake and Lake Chipita — and sent water to John Martin Reservoir near Lamar under an agreement with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Ditch companies buy surplus water for crops in the Arkansas Valley, and tourist attractions rely on Utilities for water.

But exactly who is getting how much is impossible to verify in some cases, because Utilities censored buyers’ names, amounts sold and, frequently, the delivery period from the 112 outside water sales contracts obtained by the Independent through a records request.

The contracts that weren’t censored represent longer-term sales approved by the Utilities Board. Short-term deals — the censored contracts — require quick action before the water slips away; they don’t require board approval, Eckhart says.

Utilities officials note outside contracts are contingent on water availability and contain drought provisions.

That means if the city runs short, they can cut off outsiders to meet city customers’ demands. City Councils in the past have opposed making long-term deals for large amounts of water, fearing the day the city would be vilified for shutting off the spigot.

It’s worth noting that Utilities has no such long-term contracts to entire subdivisions, although that could change as the Utilities Board revisits what its policies should be for such out-of-city services.

Charges for the existing contracts generally mirror going rates, plus a 1.5 multiplier for outside users.

A sampling:

• Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company — 600 acre feet (AF) of water. (An acre foot is 326,000 gallons, or enough for two to three households per year.) The 10-year contract began in 1995 and was renewed twice for 10 years each. It expires April 30, 2025, and Eckhart says the contract won’t be renewed. The city charged $281 per acre foot in 1995, which had risen to $914 by 2018. The water is delivered from the Bighorn or Wilson Reservoir on the south slope of Pikes Peak to the East Fork of West Beaver Creek. Since 2014, Utilities has sold water to the mine twice, in 2014 and 2018, for a total of $348,487. The mine is responsible for disposing of used water in compliance with regulatory requirements.


• Seven Falls — 15 AF. The three-year contract began Jan. 1, 2016, and “automatically” renews for seven three-year terms. The water is used to replace or augment depletions to the Fountain Creek Basin resulting from evaporation and spray losses, and “customer’s pumping of water from three existing wells...” to provide water for guests. The city charged $392 per acre foot in 2016. The Broadmoor-owned tourist attraction also pays an annual $1,000 administrative fee.


• Ranch at Emerald Valley — 15 AF. The three-year deal started in 2013 and renews “automatically” for seven three-year terms. The Broadmoor owns the ranch, located 9 miles southwest of the resort, which needs water for domestic use, irrigation, pond evaporation, on-site storage refill and watering animals. The charge was $392 per acre foot in 2013. No administrative fee is assessed.


• Security Water District — 2,800 AF. The one-year contract began in March 2017 and is renewable at the Utilities CEO’s discretion, but not beyond Dec. 31, 2020. The water serves 7,670 hookups previously reliant on groundwater contaminated by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a toxic group of man-made chemicals used in military firefighting foam that officials suspect percolated into groundwater from Peterson Air Force Base). Water is piped from Pueblo Reservoir. Besides the going rate for outside service, the contract imposes a $33,330 annual “system usage fee.”


• Cherokee Metropolitan District — The volume is redacted from the one-month contract in August 2008, which charged $50 per acre foot. Cherokee also had a 2007 deal with Utilities due to shortages resulting from a water rights dispute and other factors. The district has since purchased additional water rights and built a pipeline.

From 2009 to 2018, Utilities collected $22,865,386 from outside water sales. Through June of this year, the most recent available, it brought in $725,554.

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