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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

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Water Education Colorado

Colorado Springs’ Southern Delivery System

By Dan MacArthur

Colorado Springs is staking its bets on its proposed Southern Delivery System as the best way of supporting continued growth and addressing potential urban water shortages by as early as the end of the decade. But the city still must withstand environmental scrutiny and overcome a major permitting obstacle that could further delay its ambitious schedule.

The Southern Delivery System is a regional project that would use storage space in Pueblo Reservoir to deliver water owned by the communities of Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security to the growing Pikes Peak region.

The $539 million first phase of the project would involve construction of a 43-mile-long, 66-inch diameter pipeline drawing water from the Arkansas River, at or downstream of Pueblo Reservoir, and running north to Colorado Springs. This would also include three or four pump stations, and one water treatment plant. Several possible pipeline alignments are being studied.

As part of the projected $400 million second phase, two new reservoirs would be constructed: Jimmy Camp Creek Reservoir near Colorado Springs and Williams Creek Reservoir near the town of Fountain. A water treatment plant in the area would also have to be expanded.

Long stalled by opposition from Pueblo, the Southern Delivery System moved closer to becoming a reality in early 2004 when Colorado Springs reached an agreement with the Pueblo City Council and the city’s Board of Water Works that ended years of conflict. In exchange for dropping their opposition to the pipeline, Colorado Springs agreed to dedicate a share of its Arkansas River water rights sufficient to maintain more consistent flows through downtown Pueblo.

Despite that agreement, however, Colorado Springs still faces fierce opposition from an unconvinced contingent of critics. They continue to contend that Colorado Springs has not seriously considered alternatives that are less costly and environmentally damaging. Critics cite concerns that the project would unacceptably reduce the quantity and quality of the Arkansas River through Pueblo—instead diverting relatively clean water above the city and returning sediment- and pollutant-laden water to the river via discharges into Fountain Creek from Colorado Springs’ wastewater treatment plant.

Colorado Springs Utilities Regional Project Manager Gary Bostrom acknowledges that water quality issues still must be evaluated and will be addressed in the Environmental Impact Statement and a study of the Fountain Creek watershed scheduled for completion in 2007. He and others, however, express open exasperation at what they regard as baseless and false fear-mongering aimed at unraveling the fabric of recently negotiated regional cooperation.

Fueled by an unrelenting series of fiery editorials in The Pueblo Chieftain newspaper, opponents have pressed the county commissioners to block the required permits for the project by strengthening the county’s land-use regulations, also known as “1041 powers.”  And by all indications, making it through this local permitting will still be a difficult process.

Although not directly a part of the Southern Delivery System, Colorado Springs also is pushing for eventual expansion of Pueblo Reservoir, which is part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project belonging to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. For the last 25 years, Colorado Springs and its neighbors have been purchasing and receiving so-called “Fry-Ark” water for domestic use throughout El Paso County.

While construction of the Southern Delivery System does not depend on Pueblo Reservoir expansion, it would enable Colorado Springs to maximize use of the pipeline, better regulate flows, and store non-project water it owns. In addition, Bostrom notes that the agreement to maintain Arkansas River flows through Pueblo also is predicated on future expansion of Pueblo Reservoir.

But before any expansion could go forward, Colorado Springs must gain congressional approval for an extensive study of the proposal. Last-minute opposition derailed an effort to secure that authorization just before the last session ended in 2004. Future efforts to authorize the expansion may suffer setbacks, given the stated opposition of U.S. Sen.-elect Ken Salazar and his brother, John Salazar, who in November was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and will represent the Western Slope in Washington.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement studying Phase I and II of the Southern Delivery System is set for completion in late 2005 with the final expected in mid-2006. Construction of the system is proposed to begin in 2009.

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