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Fountain creep

Bill Alt's land keeps flooding and Colorado Springs keeps stalling



A white plastic canister the size of a kiddie pool sits on Bill Alt's land. It's been there since early August, he says, when his property flooded 4 inches with the latest spillover from Fountain Creek.

It was a minor inundation, but it brought the usual refuse: a discarded Mountain Dew can, broken tree limbs, silt and now, the tank. He'd like to take a chainsaw to it, but federal officials have told him not to the brownish water at the bottom could be toxic.

But it's really no matter to Alt. It's been years since he could farm here.

Floods have always washed through Eden, a tiny town just north of Pueblo. But they have worsened in the past several decades in tandem, Alt says, with growth in Colorado Springs.

It was the 1999 flood, a four-day-long deluge that churned through his property in 7-foot waves, that sealed his decision to give up the land that could no longer sustain a harvest. He put 102 of his 120 acres into an easement with the federal government.

"When I am gone, no one can get hold of this property," he says. "It is my legacy."

Slow going

Alt, who is 70, will likely be gone by the time Colorado Springs updates its stormwater infrastructure; the endeavor could take 60 years to complete. On Aug. 22, for the second time in five months, the Colorado Springs City Council delayed a key vote that would have nudged the process along by creating a rate structure for the Stormwater Enterprise. The city-run, taxpayer-supported business will eventually funnel dollars toward a $295 million backlog in replacing deteriorated drains and pipes.

Council pushed the vote to Oct. 10, citing anxieties of homeowners, businesses and nonprofits that will be hit with the long-term fee. City staff have come up with three rate proposals, each of which factors in the square footage of impervious surface for each property owner in the city (see "The plans," below). But there are no guarantees that Council will approve any proposal, or that the city will begin billing on its target date, Jan. 1.

"The goal is a rational system," says Councilwoman Margaret Radford. "I'm not saying [the timeline] won't get pushed back again."

Fountain creek floods have severely eroded the land and - washed up debris near Bill Alts home in Eden. - NAOMI ZEVELOFF
  • Naomi Zeveloff
  • Fountain creek floods have severely eroded the land and washed up debris near Bill Alts home in Eden.

The enterprise had originally planned to address the $66.5 million backlog in critical projects within a five-year period. But since a large chunk of the enterprise revenue will go to system maintenance and other costs, it is possible that 10 years might be needed to complete those projects.

'Before I die off'

Fountain Creek which in Eden, looks more like a river propelled Alt through a post-military career as president of the Turkey Creek Conservation District and as a member of the Colorado State Conservation Board. As Colorado Springs exploded with subdivisions and parking lots, more and more stormwater rolled off the pavement to create a rushing stream where there used to be a trickle in the summer months.

Alt says he has been asked to testify in a lawsuit, put forth by Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the Sierra Club last year, claiming that Colorado Springs violated the federal Clean Water Act with its repeated sewage spills totaling 317,000 gallons over the past seven years. The suit remains in the discovery phase; Alt, for his part, says he will point to the swirling foam of detergent in the irrigation ditches and the sour smell of the river.

But the flooding, which at times has come just yards from his front door, vexes him the most.

"The river is getting closer and closer, and I am getting older and older," says Alt. "It is kind of a race between whether I am going to be down there, or if it is going to get me before I get down there, before I leave, before I die off."

The plans

On Oct. 10, Colorado Springs City Council will consider three rate structure plans to charge property owners monthly in order to fund the Stormwater Enterprise.

Plan 1: Brought before Council in April, it would charge a property owner based on the square footage of a property's impervious surface. At $0.00264 per foot, the rate would bring in around $19 million per year.

Plan 2: Created by Vice Mayor Larry Small, it would charge a property owner based on density, which is the amount of impervious surface divided by the total size of the property. Homeowners, businesses and nonprofits would be charged through a tiered approach. Initial estimates show that this system would earn nearly $22 million per year.

Plan 3: A hybrid of the first two. Property owners would be charged based on density, but square footage would be factored in again. This plan would collect nearly $13 million per year.

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