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Jun 13, 2012 9:04 PM by Andy Koen

Stormwater showdown: Mayor and utility at odds over paying for improvements

It was a storm that exposed the weaknesses of an aging stormwater system. Dozens of cars were stuck and submerged in several feet of water and hail near the Citadel Mall last week, the result of storm drains overwhelmed by the deluge.

The city has a $500 million backlog of stormwater improvement projects on it's to-do list and mayor Steve Bach wants to start chipping away at it.

"It's just something we're going to have to deal with, we can't keep kicking the can down the road," Bach said.

He estimates the city can commit around $14.5 million to stormwater improvements next year from cost efficiencies and projected budget surpluses. He is asking Colorado Springs Utilities to chip-in another $12 million to help begin repairing high priority projects.

A utilities spokesperson says the request is unrealistic. In a written statement to News 5, Steve Berry points out that CSU has already spent hundreds of millions on waste water and stormwater improvements.

Since the year 2000, the utility has spent $165 million in wastewater improvements, sediment control and wetlands restoration. In many of the projects, drop structures were installed in creeks to help divert water when there's a storm.

CSU will also spend another $50 million in direct stormwater projects tied to the Southern Delivery System, they have allocated $2.2 million to Pueblo County for sediment management in Fountain Creek, and $300,000 to the Fountain Creek Watershed District for a flood control study.

On top of that, Berry said Utilities may have their hands tied legally because stormwater drainage is not a direct service to rate payers. The mayor disagrees.

"Let's keep in mind something here, we own Colorado Springs Utilities, we the citizens," Bach said. "They are not an independent entity. So, I think it's incumbent upon them to search far and wide to see what they can contribute."

CSU publicly supports a regional approach to stormwater improvements. It's an idea championed by El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen.

"Stormwater and drainage, while they're not something that people think about very often, they do not recognize municipal boundaries," she said. "This is a very, very regional issue."

Bach says he would support a regional plan as well, so long as it doesn't open the door to create another taxing entity.

"If when we say a regional approach we mean that we will come up with a joint plan, the county and all the municipalities, I'm very much in favor of that," Bach said. "If that on the other hand is code for raising taxes I will not support that."

The El Paso County Board of Commissioners will hold a stormwater work session Thursday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. It will be held at the Centennial Hall Auditorium at 200 S. Cascade Ave. in downtown. No votes or decision are expected.

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