By Robert Boczkiewicz
The Pueblo Chieftain
DENVER — After years of hard feelings in Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas River valley about Colorado Springs’ degradation of Fountain Creek and the river, a resolution is on the horizon.
That city, government clean water agencies, Pueblo County and a lower valley water conservancy district have decided how to solve their dispute in order to improve the quality of water flowing in the creek from the city into Pueblo County and eastward down the river.
On Thursday, they submitted a 169-page proposed agreement, known as a “Consent Decree,” to Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado.
The plan would require Colorado Springs to spend millions of dollars to improve its storm water sewer system in order to better control pollution discharges and excessive flows into the creek.
The plan is the result of a lawsuit filed in 2016 against the city by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. The lawsuit alleged that the city was violating federal and state clean water laws.
Colorado Springs’ storm water caused considerable damage through the years to the creek and river.
Pueblo County, through its board of commissioners, and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District — which had dogs in the fight — joined the lawsuit.
The district consists of Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent and Prowers counties.
The Pueblo Chieftain has asked the chair of the Pueblo County board for comment about the plan and is awaiting a response.
Meanwhile, Jay Winner, general manager of the water conservancy district, told The Chieftain the plan will benefit both Pueblo and the lower valley.
“This will be of great help in the lower part of the basin improving water quality,” Winner,said. “Water quality is the next great paradigm shift throughout the world.”
After a bench trial last year in at the court in Denver, a judge decided Colorado Springs indeed had violated clean water laws.
All of the litigants — the five parties to the case –negotiated for the past year what the city would do to remedy the violations.
The discharges damaged the creek bed and caused flooding, as well as creating a public health risk. Key agricultural regions of the lower valley have been affected by the polluted water and excessive volume.
The plan requires Colorado Springs to perform $11 million of mitigation to offset the environmental harm caused by its alleged violations, and pay the United States a $1 million civil penalty.
In addition, instead of receiving a civil penalty payment, the state “agrees that the city shall satisfy the state civil penalty through performance of a State approved supplemental environmental project valued at $1 million, to be performed” by the water conservancy district, according to a document filed Thursday in court.
If the judge approves the terms of the settlement, it would become a court order.
Winner pointed to several…