Thursday, September 13, 2018

EPA Stormwater Lawsuit Against Colorado Springs Begins

Trial proceedings for the lawsuit against Colorado Springs
filed by the EPA began last week. Colorado Springs allegedly
neglected its stormwater system, leading to pollution of the Arkansas River.

Last week, opening arguments began for the lawsuit filed against the city of Colorado Springs by the EPA. The lawsuit alleges that due to gross neglect of its stormwater system, Colorado Springs allowed over 295,000 tons of runoff waste to flow into the Arkansas River.

Filed back in November 2016, the plaintiffs include the EPA as well as communities south of Colorado Springs, such as Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley. The lawsuit hinges on three specific areas in Colorado where failure to upkeep the city's stormwater sewer system resulted in pollution. Inadequate maintenance allowed trash and sediment to accumulate in waterways and degrade several tributaries along the Arkansas River. As a result, creeks along the river grew out of control during storms, leading to flooding and erosion.

With the natural course of the river altered, some communities further south of Colorado Springs found their waterways contaminated. Allegedly, the runoff flowing downstream was allowed to accumulate in these areas and cause pollution.

"As the runoff flows over land or impervious surfaces (paved streets, parking lots, and building rooftops), it accumulates debris, chemicals, sediment or other pollutants that can adversely affect water quality, erode stream banks, destroy needed habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and make it more difficult and expensive for downstream users to effectively use the water," the plaintiffs said in an official complaint.

The City of Colorado Springs failed its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) inspection in both 2013 and 2015. Repeated violations including lack of stormwater controls, improper drainage and "many deficiencies in the City's review, approval, oversight, and enforcement of construction" prompted the EPA to take legal action.

Colorado Springs and CDPHE contend that the failures are a result of inadequate funding to its stormwater program. Recently, Mayor John Suthers implemented a city stormwater fee to generate more funding. Colorado Springs city officials also reached a deal with Pueblo County to spend $460 million on stormwater projects over the next twenty years; however, these actions have not led to a settlement of the lawsuit.

"I'm very disappointed with the approach the plaintiffs have taken in this case. The city of Colorado Springs has done absolutely everything its power to implement the best stormwater system in the state, to include voter endorsement of a monthly residential and non-residential stormwater fee. I had hoped that these would be the results that the plaintiffs would want to see, rather than expensive and unproductive litigation," Mayor John Suthers said in a recent press release.

For citizens of Colorado Springs, the outcome of the lawsuit is significant. If Colorado Springs is found at fault, then the city could be fined millions of dollars or face a court order to spend more on restoration projects. The money must come from somewhere- whether it's taking away from other areas such as roads and parks, or more fees such as the stormwater fee program.

However, the stakes are just as dire for residents in communities south of the Arkansas River. Remediating poor water quality can be expensive, but increased levels of E. coli, erosion and flooding are extremely dangerous to residents. A victory in their favor could help quickly restore affected areas.

The bench trial is expected to end soon this week and presiding Judge Richard P. Matsch will either issue a ruling or take the lawsuit under advisement.

To follow the litigation, visit the Colorado Springs Independent. To learn more about stormwater management, visit Zack Academy.

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