CSU forges partnership to build water project
The Colorado Springs Utilities’ (CSU) Water Resources Department found itself caught between a rock and a hard place in 1992; it had to choose between meeting the requests of its citizens or the mandates of federal regulations.
The June 29, 1993, deadline for the newly mandated Surface Water Treatment Rule (SWTR) — requiring all drinking water from surface water sources to be filtered as part of the water treatment process — was quickly approaching.
But the department’s proposal to build a new treatment plant to serve the southwest region of the city, approximately 5 percent of its city-wide customers, met heavy opposition by the very people it would serve. Area residents did not want the facility in their scenic mountain neighborhood. While the treatment plant proposal was denied, the federal requirements were still in place, so a second alternative was proposed.
Introduced in March 1993, the Southwest Water Project, a $30-million, two-way pipeline project, includes the installation of about 17 miles of water pipes (8.5 miles per pipe). The raw water pipe will transport 12 mgd of raw water from the city’s southwest surface water sources to one of the department’s five treatment plants for treatment and filtration. The treated water pipe will return up to 24 mgd of treated and filtered water to the southwest area of the city.
The Southwest Water Project was approved and is currently under construction. But its approval and current success didn’t come without the aid of a number of partnerships and a new took at doing business with the community.
“We knew going into the Southwest Water Project that there was quite a bit of tension between us, a government entity, and the citizens,” says Linda Firth, water programs coordinator for CSU’s Water Resources Department.
“We had to make the project work, but shoving it down the throats of our citizens wasn’t the way to do it. Our first goal was to reestablish trust and work with the community, not against it.”
Along with approximately 20 organizations, various city and utility departments, the state, private businesses and competitive engineering firms, hundreds of citizens joined forces to make this project happen. “Partnering is common today in construction, but not in design and planning,” says Bob Robler, project manager for Water Resources. “It’s new ground for us, and it’s been quite successful.”
Robler and his peers began their efforts by listening. Before they could even begin design work and engineering, they had to learn what it was the public wanted and didn’t want and what steps were necessary to make this project work for both CSU and the community.
“It’s required a lot of knocking on doors, attending neighborhood organization meetings, hosting open houses and getting as many public comments as we could,” recalls Curtis Mitchell, resource engineer for CSU’s Water Resources Department. “There’s been a lot of question asking and working together to develop solutions to benefit all involved.”
Input from the community helped the department determine the best route for the pipeline. The result is a technically sound route and one that also minimizes the impact to neighborhoods. And because of the community’s involvement and support, the extensive right-of-way acquisitions–were completed with few hassles.
Perhaps one of the greatest successes that resulted from the community’s partnership, however, was the partnership between the Colorado Department of Transportation, CSU’s Water Resources Department, neighborhoods and local private businesses. Citizens in Colorado Springs have long awaited the expansion of a section of the interstate that runs through Colorado Springs. But federal highway cutbacks had forced the state to scrap widening the interstate until after 2005.
With this postponement came a delay in obtaining rights-of-way for more than 200 properties spanning the section of the inectstate, which in turn affected plans to improve landscaping and construct noise barriers for nearby residents.
“The interstate corridor was a heavily favored route for the pipeline,” says Firth. “As we learned more about the interstate corridor and the limbo its residents were in, it made sense for us to seriously consider partnering with the state and area residents.”
CSU offered to loan the state $10 million to accelerate the acquisition of the right-of-way properties, and the two mutually agreed that CSU could obtain a utilities corridor in the right-of-way for the pipeline and other utilities facilities.
Furthermore, as part of the partnership, the city also included in its proposal the go-ahead for the long-requested neighborhood landscaping and sound buffers. Residents played a significant role in the design of the landscaping treatments, the reconfiguration of streets, noise control methods and much more.
“This partnership lessens the overall impact on westside neighborhoods and allows the pipeline to be built in an area already targeted for change,” says Firth.
Additionally, remaining residents benefit from the greenway project and other neighborhood improvements. And, with the shortage of low-income housing in Colorado Springs, the city’s Community Services Department, as well as a number of private lenders, joined in to purchase — for $500 — 10 of the homes auctioned by the state during the acquisition process.
The homes were then relocated to a Colorado Springs neighborhood to be renovated and sold at cost to low- and moderate-income families. The 10 private lenders agreed to provide low-interest loans for these first-time homeowners.
“People are generally happy with what we’ve done,” Robler says. “We’re hoping to maintain that feeling during construction as we try to save trees, minimize traffic interruptions and work closely with residents and business owners. If we have to run an errand or two for a customer who can’t get to his/her car due to construction, we’ll do that.”
Additional partners in the project include other Colorado Springs Utilities’ departments, which will make improvements and repairs to their area facilities during construction to minimize future inconveniences to neighbors. The treated water pipeline’s construction is scheduled to begin this summer and be in operation by October 1996. The second phase of the pipeline — primarily the raw water pipeline — is scheduled for completion in November 1997.
This article was written by Monica Whiting, Public Communications Specialist, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Springs, Colo.