Pueblo County has authority to regulate SDS

In court proceedings this week, Colorado Springs argued that Pueblo County lacks so-called “1041” authority to regulate the proposed Southern Delivery System (SDS) - a billion-dollar project that would deliver enormous quantities of water from Lake Pueblo for use in Colorado Springs. The term “1041” stands for the state statute giving local governments power to regulate land uses within their boundaries for projects like mines, dams and water pipelines. Pueblo County is right to assert its “1041” authority as a means of limiting the potentially serious natural resource impacts of SDS.

As Colorado Springs has planned it, SDS would remove more than 78 million gallons of water daily from Lake Pueblo and carry it 43 miles north to Colorado Springs through a 5-foot diameter pipeline.

The pipeline would disrupt public roads, private property and countless ephemeral streams, and powering the project would require a host of infrastructure, including a 14,000 square-foot pump house, an electrical substation and 8-foot by 8-foot by 7-foot concrete boxes every 2,000 feet along the pipeline.

After being used in Colorado Springs, the wastewater from SDS would discharge to Fountain Creek, which for years has suffered flooding, water quality and other environmental consequences of being used as a wastewater receptacle. Already 37 percent of the flow of Fountain Creek is wastewater discharge, and under Colorado Springs’ plan, SDS would double the amount of wastewater return flow in the creek.

And then there’s the Arkansas River Legacy Project. The city of Pueblo and the Army Corps of Engineers spent millions of dollars to restore the nine-mile section of the Arkansas River from Pueblo Reservoir to Fountain Creek.

The Legacy Project has brought invaluable recreational and environmental benefits to Pueblo and its citizens and has resulted in an urban waterway that’s now healthy enough to support a population of trout. The SDS project could undermine these gains because it would take its water upstream from the stretch of river that was restored.

Colorado Springs has taken laudable steps forward in terms of per capita water usage, but the city’s modest reductions in per capita usage are insufficient to compensate for its alarming growth in population.

Moderating Colorado Springs’ growing water demands and its impacts on Colorado’s water resources requires aggressive and innovative water supply approaches. For example, Colorado Springs could reuse the water it brings to the Front Range from the West Slope, thereby reducing its demands for additional diversions from the Arkansas River.

Yet, even in the face of projections that its population will nearly double in 20 years, Colorado Springs leaders have displayed an unwillingness to get serious about a water reuse project.

The tension between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over water resources is long-standing, and in pursuing SDS as it is currently contemplated, the Springs is reaching out to its neighbors to the south not with an olive branch but with a club.

Until the time there is peace on the Arkansas River, Pueblo County is right to assert its “1041” land use authority as a way to limit the environmental damage from projects like SDS.

Drew Peternell is the director and counsel of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project.