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Let’s fix stormwater now

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Most people don’t spend much time thinking about stormwater unless a sudden downpour floods the streets. Not me. When there is a sudden downpour, I worry.

My first week on Colorado Springs City Council in 1999, 8 inches of rain fell in a 72-hour period — flooding thousands of homes and overwhelming our storm drainage and sewer systems. Some 220 local homes (without flood insurance) suffered flooding and raw sewage backups. A few weeks later, I was apologizing to hundreds of angry ranchers in La Junta and Rocky Ford, whose fields were covered in toilet paper and fecal matter. I’ve been involved ever since.

Whether you worry about stormwater like me or not, our neglect has had serious consequences and costs to our city — our roads and bridges are eroding; our waterways, parks and trails are damaged; and our downstream neighbors have suffered from huge erosion and our pollution for decades.

The Independent’s Pam Zubeck did an excellent job describing the dangers of eroding land, exposed gas and water lines, and other hazards that lurk, invisibly, mere yards from important community assets like Interstate 25 and North Cheyenne Cañon Park, in her article “Colorado Springs’ neglect of its stormwater system leaves huge caverns citywide."

She also mentioned that we are in the middle of a costly lawsuit (up to $100,000 a month in legal fees) from the Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Colorado and Pueblo County for our failure to fund and maintain our stormwater system. It’s no surprise that the first section of that lawsuit chides us for not having “dedicated funding” to fix and maintain our stormwater infrastructure. In fact, we are the only large city in the country without a dedicated funding source for stormwater. Until we invest in fixing it and its upkeep, lawsuits, neglected maintenance and deferred capital projects will only make it more costly in the future. Let’s not kick this down the road any more. The time to act is now.
That’s why I am urging you to vote for 2A in the Nov. 7 election. It’s a reasonable fee: $5 a month for residential utility customers and $30 per acre for commercial and government landowners. These fees will go into a separate account, where they can only be spent on 71 of our most critical projects and their maintenance, and will be overseen by a citizen’s committee.

We have already promised Pueblo County we will fund those 71 projects. In return, they have allowed us to turn on our Southern Delivery System water pipeline — 78 million gallons of mountain stream water a day that will ensure our city has high quality drinking water for the next 50 to 100 years.

Some concerns have been raised about how the fee is calculated, particularly in relation to properties larger than 5 acres. These are parcels that are in a largely natural state, not creating big drainage problems. When they are developed, they will then become subject to some of the most stringent drainage requirements in the country, passed last year by City Council. And yes, the city will pay its fair share as well, just as other government entities, nonprofits and commercial property owners in our city limits. (Editor’s note: While Mayor John Suthers says the city will pay the fees, and will charge other governments as well, he said he could not guarantee that the federal and state government will agree to pay.)

While I can write much more about the dangers of our crumbling infrastructure, there are other benefits to passing 2A as well. Having this dedicated funding source will free up much needed money from the city’s coffers, allowing us to fix our crumbling park system, maintain our urban forests, build vital trail connections and improve public safety, code enforcement and homeless outreach response times.

So please join me and a bipartisan group of city leaders in voting yes on 2A this November. It’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

Richard Skorman is President of Colorado Springs City Council.

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