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Flushed downriver 

Sierra Club agrees to join sewage lawsuit against Springs

click to enlarge Ross Vincent, of the Pueblo-area Sangre de Cristo - chapter of the Sierra Club. - STEVE BIGLEY
  • Steve Bigley
  • Ross Vincent, of the Pueblo-area Sangre de Cristo chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club, one of the largest environmental organizations in the United States, has agreed to join Pueblo's district attorney in suing Colorado Springs over illegal sewage spills.

"They have agreed that there are serious issues that need to be addressed," says Ross Vincent, spokesman for the Sierra Club's Pueblo-area chapter, about the national organization's greenlighting a lawsuit.

The Sierra Club has yet to formally sue.

In October, Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut filed a lawsuit in a Denver federal court charging Colorado Springs and its publicly owned utility with continued violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Since 1999, more than 73 million gallons of untreated wastewater have spilled into Fountain Creek, flowing south toward Pueblo -- the vast majority from a flood that washed out a sewage treatment plant six years ago.

This year, floods, vandalism and accidents have led to the release of more than 345,000 gallons of wastewater into the creek. Most recently, 1,000 gallons spilled on Nov. 2.

These spills have sparked two major pollution fines and enforcement orders from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment since 2003. In October, the department levied an $110,000 penalty and ordered sewage system repairs that, according to CSU, would cost $40 million over the next seven years.

But the state hasn't gone far enough, Vincent says.

"It has to be more expensive to violate the law than to do the right thing," he says, adding that citizens don't have a voice when enforcement agreements are crafted between CSU and the state.

CSU spokesman Steve Berry declines to discuss the lawsuits but maintains that the utility is doing what it can to protect downstream communities. He adds that CSU plans to spend more than $250 million over the next 20 years to fix its sewage system.

Meanwhile, he says, "we hope to have a dialogue without a lawsuit hanging over our heads."

-- Dan Wilcock


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