Deep reading 

Voluminous documents mark new phase of city's progress toward Southern Delivery System

click to enlarge This map shows the preferred SDS plan, a pipeline from - Pueblo Reservoir. - COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Colorado Springs Utilities
  • This map shows the preferred SDS plan, a pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.

If contemplating water flows and pollution levels in southeastern Colorado waterways keeps you up at night, it's a good time to curl up with some riveting federal documents.

Anticipating the release next week of the environmental impact statement for Colorado Springs' proposed new water pipeline from the Arkansas River, the Bureau of Reclamation has released supporting paperwork (available at sdseis.com).

Six reports on hydrology and general water issues fill more than 2,200 pages. Three papers on pollution and water quality add up to 540 pages. If you're into "aquatic resources," or the living stuff in rivers, you can flip through a 307-page effects analysis or a 277-page technical report. Hundreds more pages of reading bliss await those anxious to learn about impacts to plants, wildlife and wetlands.

"I have not reviewed them yet," Jay Winner said soon after the Southern Delivery System documents' release. Winner, executive director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, expects to start plowing through them during spare weekend hours.

John Fredell, the city's SDS project director, and other Colorado Springs Utilities officials seem pleased with the reports. Smiling and relaxed this week during a presentation on the project, Fredell said there are no "show-stoppers" among any of seven alternatives the city is considering to transport Arkansas River water to this area.

Utilities officials say the city will need a water-transport system within about five years to cope with anticipated growth.

The preferred plan, a pipeline out of Pueblo Reservoir carrying some 80 million gallons a day, would cost around $1.1 billion. In this scenario, most families could expect water rates to more than double by 2015, with a typical $26 monthly bill increasing to around $66. That's about 65 percent more than what the rate probably would be otherwise.

But SDS routes the pipeline through Pueblo County, where construction could be stymied by regulations imposed by county commissioners reluctant to see more Colorado Springs' water coming back to them as treated effluent in Fountain Creek.

The top alternative would pump water from the Arkansas River near Florence along a pipeline paralleling Colorado Highway 115, bypassing Pueblo County but also bumping the price tag to nearly $1.3 billion. That would push future rates higher.

The EIS will help decide which plan moves forward. A draft is due Feb. 29, and will be followed by a 60-day public comment period. Then further revisions would be made.

One concern for the Sierra Club's Ross Vincent has been excluded already. The Bureau of Reclamation explained, in a December report, why recycling wastewater and running it back through Colorado Springs' faucets is a poor choice in terms of expense and public health. Vincent says the reasoning will be crucial, with decisions that appear arbitrary or unwarranted possibly leading to lawsuits and delays.

But, if history's any guide, SDS and Fountain Creek matters make good fodder for lawsuits. Now, with thousands more pages about SDS on the table, Vincent says he expects a "long, tough road" ahead.



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