Decades of water diversions bring water to Colorado Springs from other watersheds, so that rates of over four times the historical average now run downstream in Fountain Creek. Added to this are the vast areas of impervious surface built as the city developed in a classical pattern of urban sprawl that speed runoff and result in degraded water quality and stronger erosion downstream. The EPA sued Colorado Springs in 1978 and 1989 for water quality violations. By 1997, federal mandates required the EPA to regulate stormwater runoff. Colorado Springs created a Stormwater Enterprise in 2005 with a fee on landowners based on the percentage of property covered with impervious surface. Activists challenged this fee as a new “Rain Tax” not approved by local taxpayers and therefore unconstitutional according to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The courts agreed. The city then put to the voters a proposal to fund the Stormwater Enterprise, but this proposal was rejected in 2009 and the fee was eliminated. After audits in 2013 and 2015 of the city’s stormwater system, the EPA found that Fountain Creek and its tributaries were eroded, widened, and their waters combined with surface runoff to create excessive sedimentation and substandard water quality. The city again put a vote to the public in 2014 to fund stormwater infrastructure and again it was rejected. Pueblo was long concerned about increased runoff in Fountain Creek and demanded stormwater projects to control flooding. Pueblo threatened to suspend the permit for the new Southern Delivery System (SDS) pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir in April, 2016, unless Colorado Springs made a real commitment to stormwater management. Colorado Springs leaders promised the infrastructure projects, but voters repeatedly denied funding. The EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment filed a lawsuit in November, 2016, accusing the city of violating its federal stormwater permit. Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District joined in the lawsuit as plaintiffs. In 2016, the two cities announced a 20-year, $460 million deal to correct Colorado Springs’ neglected flood control infrastructure. Then, on the third try, voters approved a stormwater fee in 2017 that will add to the pot. However, the lawsuit continued and the courts ruled against Colorado Springs in November, 2018, finding it guilty of violating its stormwater permit. Work continues to try to address the violations.
Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs