City makes the best of water rules

ALAMOSA—Alamosa plans to order water with a twist of lemon, since it has to make lemonade anyway.

Like all other larger well owners in the San Luis Valley, the City of Alamosa has to comply with groundwater regulations filed by the Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer and pending court approval.

Those regulations require well owners to make up for the injuries they are causing senior surface water rights. The regulations also require measures to help replenish the basin’s aquifer levels.

The City of Alamosa staff and council have been working on means to comply with the new rules including acquisition of water to offset the city’s well pumping.

The city is setting up financing to cover those costs, which the city has capped at $4.3 million. The city will basically use a portion of its ranch property as collateral to finance the city’s water compliance efforts.

The “twist of lemon” the city council is currently considering is a list of projects that could be completed if the city does not need the entire $4.3 million for water compliance.

Currently before the council, with public hearing and approval anticipated during the April 5 city council meeting, is an ordinance amendment that would allow the city to use funds for other appropriate projects if the total was not needed for the water compliance itself.

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks explained that the city allowed flexibility in authorizing up to $4.3 million to include the East Alamosa Water & Sanitation District, if it wished to participate in the city’s plan.

If East Alamosa opts to develop its own augmentation plan, or other costs for the city’s water plan are not as high as expected, the city will have leeway in the $4.3 million for other projects, Brooks added. The city would also have the option of paying the money back earlier, she said.

The city staff and council identified some projects they felt were appropriate to use this money for, if it was not all needed for the water augmentation plan.

These include: water and sewer mains; sanitary lift stations; and levee rehabilitation to meet FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and CWCB (Colorado Water Conservation Board) requirements.

Including these projects in the financing ordinance does not mean they will be completed, but it gives the city more options with the financing, Brooks explained.

“It allows flexibility,” she said.

She said the identified projects need addressed. For example, some of the pumps on sanitary lift stations are 30 years old — “essentially at the end of their life” — and if they were to be replaced, it would increase efficiency, use less electricity and require less staff time.

Likewise, there are sewer and water lines that need to be replaced. Last year lines even collapsed in a couple of areas, Brooks said.

The city also has to recertify the levee and cannot use enterprise funds for that, Brooks said.

Councilors agreed it was a good idea to have some flexibility.
“It leaves the door open … in case we need it,” said Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley. “It doesn’t cost anything extra than what we are already doing.”

Councilor Kristina Daniel said including extra projects in the ordinance doesn’t mean they will automatically go forward if the money is there. The council would have to approve each project.
Councilman Charles Griego also clarified that the city could not use these funds for other city projects, just the areas specified in the ordinance.

“If they do not fall into categories that are approved, that’s correct,” City Attorney Erich Schwiesow confirmed.

Schwiesow said the point was not to create a pot of money the city could use.

The council unanimously approved on first reading the ordinance amendment and scheduled the second reading and public hearing during the city’s 7 p.m. meeting on April 5.