By KELSEY MAXWELL
In the most recent local city election, Colorado Springs residents approved ballot measure 2A, resulting in a tax increase to fund storm water maintenance projects in the Fountain Creek watershed. The ballot measure was approved by 53 percent of voters, a resounding success for a city historically unfriendly to taxation.
As part of the approved ballot measure, Colorado Springs homeowners will pay $5 per month and non-residential property owners will pay $30 per month per acre they own, providing the city with $17 million annually to repair its storm water drainage problem. Residents, municipalities, and the city of Pueblo, downstream from Colorado Springs, have all lobbied for this change.
Improper storm water management can be a major public health problem, as well as an environmental issue. Runoff from urban areas carries toxins that can compromise water quality for both humans and aquatic wildlife. Additionally, excessive erosion destroys surrounding riparian environments, which leads to severe damage to creek structure, as well as elimination of critical habitat for migrating birds.
Sediment disturbance from highly erosive storm events sends murky water downstream that is inadequate for agricultural use, which can strain local farmers. As rivers are dynamic systems with constantly reshaping channels, urban planners face serious issues in trying to maintain urban water channels while preserving the surrounding infrastructure.
Richard Mulledy, Colorado Springs Water Resources Engineering Division Manager, has been quoted by The Gazette saying, “Fountain Creek is one of the most unstable, flashy creeks in all the nation. It’s a unique animal.” During high intensity storm events that occur mostly in the summer months, Fountain Creek can swell to 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep, with a flow reaching about 20,000 cubic feet per second.
Student researcher Beau Burns ’19 explained that the destructive nature of high-water events in the Fountain Creek watershed are magnified by the fact that there is too much water being discharged into these river channels. When extra water is discharged into the Fountain Creek watershed without proper management practices, the City of Colorado Springs and downstream neighbors are faced with major infrastructural problems.
Years of mismanagement of the Fountain Creek Watershed led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to sue Colorado Springs city government for negligence. Much of the degradation experienced by Pueblo and downstream residents can be attributed to a City Council decision in 2009 to eliminate the Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise Fund, which collected $15 million a year to implement projects.
However, this year Mayor John Suthers, who entered office in 2015, prioritized the development of 71 different storm water projects, marking storm water an issue that could no longer be ignored. With the 2A tax increase, the Colorado Springs government will be able to pursue these storm water projects as well as allocate city funding to the police and firefighter forces that manage fires, great contributors to erosion affecting the watershed.
Overall, the funding increase from increased taxes to address storm water management has been received positively by the community. Ian Johnson, Director of the Office of Sustainability, believes that the ballot measure “shows that we’re headed towards a better situation and, maybe more importantly, that Colorado Springs residents are beginning to see that oversight and fees are necessary and even a good thing…accepting those necessities as part of living in a developed area.”
Burns echoed Johnson’s optimism, saying he believes that this measure can be the city’s first step towards improved environmental stewardship.