Vision quest 

A year later, nagging uncertainty tempers Fountain Creek task force's optimism

click to enlarge Fountain Creeks flows have continued to slice away - large chunks of land from downstream farms.
  • Fountain Creeks flows have continued to slice away large chunks of land from downstream farms.

Over recent months, while the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force discussed ways to control erosion and water pollution along the troubled waterway, Bill Alt watched the storm-fed creek "cut a big hole" from a neighbor's property.

Talking about the problem is fine, Alt says, but the view along the creek after a rain-soaked summer is disturbingly unchanged.

"I frankly haven't seen a lot of progress," says Alt, president of the Turkey Creek Conservation District.

A year ago this month, the Vision Task Force started devising plans to clean up and control the unruly creek, which dumps El Paso County stormwater and sediment on neighbors to the south.

The group has not finalized a list of projects that might change the outlook of Alt and other landowners. But that doesn't mean nothing's been done, some participants say.

"The best thing has been getting all the stakeholders together," says El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark.

Those stakeholders include community leaders from El Paso and Pueblo counties, property owners and residents interested in the waterway's health and beauty. Clark says the group is "pretty enthused" as the process moves forward and various studies near completion.

Notably, the group has heard preliminary recommendations from the Army Corps of Engineers about steps needed to control erosion and to keep sediment in the creek from gumming up the waterway.

When that study is finished and a plan is finalized about how to fix the creek, Clark says, the group will be able to look at ways to fund projects.

High levels of bacterial contamination in the creek prompted two 2005 lawsuits alleging that sewage leaks from Colorado Springs Utilities violated the Federal Clean Water Act. While the suit filed by Pueblo County District Attorney Bill Thiebaut was recently dismissed, the Sierra Club's suit is still pending with a trial date now set for January.

The Sierra Club's Ross Vincent, part of the task Force, says the contamination concerns that prompted the suit continue to loom large. And he admits the group has "gotten bogged down with the minuscule."

Still, Vincent says, the task force is making progress.

"It has people talking to each other that otherwise would only be communicating through the media," he says.

Most people came into the process with a narrow view of the problem, Vincent says, with ranchers worried about erosion, local governments concerned with flooding and environmentalists keeping an eye on water quality.

Now, Vincent says, the group is "trying to find solutions that solve all of the problems but avoid making any of them worse" and to do it before interest in the project wanes.

Alt believes funding such solutions will pose the biggest challenges.

"It's the tar baby nobody wants to put their arms around," he says.

Continued growth in Colorado Springs, which will likely be fed by water piped from Pueblo Reservoir via the planned Southern Delivery System, will only complicate the problem, ultimately adding to the water sent down south, he says.

"Nature never meant for the Fountain to carry that kind of load."



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