Colorado’s biggest water project in decades under construction
The Denver Post
PUEBLO – As much as 100 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water trapped in a reservoir for southern Colorado and downriver states is about to take a left turn – to Colorado’s biggest water project in decades.
Construction crews recently began work on the $2.3 billion Southern Delivery System. It is designed to pump water uphill and north from Pueblo Reservoir – through a 62-mile pipeline – to sustain Colorado Springs, which owns the rights to the river water, and other growing Front Range cities.
The cities embarked on this project because water supplies have emerged as a constraint on population growth.
CH2MHill project engineers and construction chiefs at Pueblo Reservoir last week re-channelled the river below the 240-foot-high dam using sandbags. They’re adjusting dam valves to dry an area so that digging crews can start laying the pipeline without relying on expensive underwater divers.
Three 15,000-horsepower pumps are to propel the water through a pressurized 66-inch-diameter steel pipeline. Moving water to the planned end points – two 30,000 acre-foot reservoirs to be built east of Colorado Springs – requires an elevation gain of 1,600 feet.
The pipeline will snake from Pueblo Reservoir under a subdivision where six homes in a 50-foot-wide corridor will be removed. It must carry water under four highways, including Interstate 25, a heron nesting area, Fountain Creek, railroad tracks and several cattle ranches and crop fields. Access across 175 parcels has been arranged with property owners receiving about $5.3 million in compensation. Deals granting access across 125 other parcels aren’t yet done, with Colorado Springs authorities filing eminent domain paperwork in 23 cases.
Colorado Springs Utilities’ planning and permitting manager Keith Riley is negotiating with ranchers.
“We do not have an open checkbook,” Riley said. “A lot of the ranchers around here don’t like the growth and development going on around them … I listen for a long time, let them air it out … Then I try to, diplomatically, bring it back to reality.”
About 80 percent of Colorado’s
5 million population is concentrated along the Front Range, with only 20 percent of the state’s water resources naturally available there.
Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security stand to gain 42,000 acre-feet of water a year – about twice the amount of water in Chatfield Reservoir, boosting Colorado Springs’ water supplies by a third.
An acre-foot contains 325,851 gallons, about enough to sustain a family of four for one year.
The Pueblo Reservoir, built in 1975, holds 357,000 acre-feet of water, and the diversion is expected to lower the average water level by about six feet.
Until now, the water was used primarily by residents of Pueblo and Arkansas Valley farmers and ranchers, as well as Kansas and other downriver states under court-enforced interstate agreements.
Pueblo County commissioners, who initially opposed the project, accepted it in return for a $50 million contribution to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, and promises by Colorado Springs to invest $75 million to improve its ailing wastewater system. State wildlife officials also will get $10.5 million for fish hatcheries to offset fish losses caused by the lower water level in the reservoir.
Southern Colorado leaders also specified that all diverted water must be returned to the river via Fountain Creek. So, Colorado Springs will discharge treated wastewater down the creek, and will undertake a project to prevent erosion along the creek and in nearby wetlands.
“There’s enough water leaving the basin. Aurora’s been taking a lot of it. No more water leaves the basin,” Commissioner John Cordova said.
Meanwhile, the $50 million for cleaning and restoration of Fountain Creek could enable new recreation, reservoirs and fishing, Cordova said.
“We could have trout,” he said.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Reclamation officials have signed off. There are no major environmental impacts “that the EPA has the authority to address,” EPA regional National Environmental Policy Act coordinator Larry Svoboda said. Colorado Springs Utilities officials “made some significant improvements.”
For example, Colorado Springs is committed to reworking Fountain Creek and surrounding wetlands to ensure that, with increased treated wastewater flowing down the creek, erosion won’t damage property. State wildlife officials insisted on $10.5 million for hatcheries to offset fish losses due to the decreased water in the reservoir.
Environmental groups “are generally satisfied,” as long as Colorado Springs live up to its commitments to ensure appropriate water levels in the Arkansas River above and below the reservoir, Trout Unlimited water project director Drew Peternell said.
Huge amounts of energy required to pump water uphill, however, looms as “a greenhouse gas issue,” Peternell said. “We’d encourage them to consider renewable sources” of electricity, he said.
It falls to Front Range residents to pay for the project. Colorado Springs water bills are scheduled to increase by 12 percent a year until 2016 to cover $880 million in first phase costs. Beyond that, officials still are working out the money matters.
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