Viewpoint: Out of sight, top of mind – why water infrastructure is a good investment now
No matter where you live, funding water infrastructure projects is never easy. Water pipes and treatment plants are “out of sight, out of mind,” escaping the public’s attention until mains break and service shuts down.
Now, at a time when residents are wary of tax and rate increases, and governments are doing more with less, officials might feel pressured to postpone major infrastructure projects and hold off investing until growth returns. But, being a responsible public steward means not waiting until the well is dry before planning for and investing in water infrastructure. That is why, after two decades of study, Colorado Springs’ City Council voted 8-1 to approve the initial rate increases necessary to fund an $880-million water supply project.
Local civic groups and informed residents support the Southern Delivery System (SDS) which, when completed, will bring 96 million gallons of water a day to Colorado Springs and its regional partners, enough to meet customer demands for several decades. Support for SDS might seem paradoxical in Colorado Springs, one of the most fiscally conservative cities in the country. Indeed, our property taxes are among the lowest in Colorado, and we take a no-nonsense, results-oriented approach to city government.
Yet, although water bills are expected to double by 2017 as we invest in this project, our City Council voted for it because they see water’s importance for our city’s future economic prosperity. We believe an investment in water is one of the best ways to guarantee that Colorado Springs will have jobs and a good quality of life to encourage our children and grandchildren to raise their families here.
Colorado Springs’s population is expected to increase from nearly 400,000 people now to more than 500,000 residents by 2030. At the same time, Colorado Springs is home to a major Army post, two Air Force bases, a national security installation and a military service academy. Last year, the military installations provided a total local economic impact of more than $5 billion, about one third of our economy. A dependable water supply is critical to supporting the businesses and organizations that make up our economy today and to attracting new businesses to our community.
Despite its name, Colorado Springs is not located near a major water source, like a river. A majority of the city’s water travels many miles to reach our community at the base of Pikes Peak. Originating from snowmelt high in the Rocky Mountains, our water moves through a complex water storage, transport and treatment system that spans nine counties across our state.
Twenty years ago, city leaders began planning our next major water project to ensure a dependable, uninterrupted water supply well into the future. We have spent the last several years evaluating the most cost-effective and environmentally responsible solution and obtaining the major permits required.
Now with approvals from federal, state and local regulatory agencies, we are poised to begin construction on SDS, which will deliver our water from Pueblo Reservoir located more than 50 miles south of Colorado Springs. Three pump stations will move raw water through a large-diameter underground pipeline to a new water treatment plant just north of town, and from there, into our distribution system.
Construction of the first phase of the project will take approximately five-and-a-half years to complete and is expected to create hundreds of jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy. Equally as important, there are cost-savings associated with construction today: interest rates are at historic lows, and goods and services are competitively priced and readily available.
The economic slump won’t last forever. The communities that prepare now for the recovery will be better positioned for future economic growth, and as Colorado’s second largest city, we are building the SDS project to ensure that we are ahead of the curve.
For more information about SDS, visit www.SDSWater.org.
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Lionel Rivera has served as the mayor of Colorado Springs since 2003 and is the chairman of the Colorado Springs Utilities Board. He is the vice chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Energy Committee and is a founder and past president of the Colorado Springs Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.