Special delivery 

Utilities works to build local support for its preferred water-transport plan

Tuesday morning's meeting about the city's proposed Southern Delivery System started on a light note, and more or less stayed there. Jerry Forte drew laughs after he was introduced as the "esteemed" chief executive officer of Colorado Springs Utilities.

"We haven't been called that very much," Forte told the group at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast for local residents and business folk. He then launched into the morning's meat and potatoes.

Looking out for the city's long-term water supply, Forte said, is one of the "most critical things we face." A pipeline tapping into Arkansas River water could mean the difference between success and failure coping with the city's growth.

"It's really about water we already own," Forte said. But ownership has done little to sweeten Pueblo's perception of SDS. Many residents resent giving up clean water out of Pueblo Reservoir and getting back an ever-increasing flow of treated effluent down the tortured banks of Fountain Creek.

Bad feelings aside, the future is an open question. Bruce McCormick, utilities' chief water services officer, quickly sketched details of the leading candidate among seven ideas for building the system.

The preferred plan is laying a 66-inch pipe from the reservoir that could carry nearly 80 million gallons a day to serve the needs of Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security. With a new treatment plant and two planned reservoirs, the total cost in 40 years would reach about $1.07 billion, with $670 million more needed to operate and maintain the system during that time.

A draft environmental impact statement for the project is due early next year, followed by public comment. If all goes well, McCormick said, the system should be in place by 2012.

"We want you to be very confident that we're going to get this project implemented," McCormick said.

Questions for McCormick and other Utilities officials were measured. Nicole Barnes, who recently moved to Pueblo, asked about worries there, mainly increased Fountain Creek flows. McCormick said utilities supports the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force in seeking ways to clean the creek and prevent flooding.

Projects eventually funded by Springs' stormwater enterprise, he said, should help cut the extra runoff from the city's impervious services that ends up in the creek. And runoff from storms has always dwarfed flows from city treatment facilities, he explained, so the extra SDS water should not make much difference. After the meeting, he said return flows in 40 years could reach around only 200 cubic feet per second, compared with storms that can unleash torrents measured in the thousands of cfs.

Such explanations aren't comforting to everyone. The Sierra Club's Ross Vincent, a task force member who was not at Tuesday's breakfast, says storm flows in Fountain Creek are only part of the story. Higher daily flows alter the course of the creek and change the lay of the land when floodwaters come tumbling down.

As for Utilities' preferred SDS option, Vincent is reserving judgment until seeing the impact statement. Other ways Colorado Springs might pursue Arkansas River water could be more destructive, he says.

Conservation was not a major breakfast topic. One diner asked McCormick if businesses could do anything to help the SDS besides offering "generic support."

"When there's a draft EIS, it's very important we get strong support," McCormick said, adding a prediction: "There will be opposing comments as well."



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