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Colorado Springs Agrees to Improve Stormwater Management in Settlement with the United States

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado, to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act with respect to the City’s storm sewer system.

The settlement also includes the State of Colorado as a co-plaintiff, and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Pueblo as plaintiff-intervenors.  The improvements made by the city under this settlement will result in significant reductions in the discharge of pollutants, such as sediment, oil and grease, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, and bacteria, into Fountain Creek and its tributaries in Colorado Springs.  Communities downstream of Colorado Springs will also see significant water quality improvements from the settlement.

The Department of Justice, the EPA and the State of Colorado alleged claims against the City of Colorado Springs in an amended complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on Jan. 26, 2017.  The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, and the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Pueblo were joined as plaintiffs on Feb. 16, 2017.  The amended complaint generally alleged that the City of Colorado Springs violated its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for its municipal stormwater management program by failing to require the installation and maintenance of stormwater management structures at residential and commercial developments.  The complaint also alleged that the city failed to enforce requirements to prevent polluted stormwater from running off active construction sites.

The city has since taken significant steps to improve its stormwater management program.  The proposed settlement requires the city to take additional actions, including developing standard operating procedures and increased staff training for critical elements of its stormwater management program.  In addition, under the settlement the city will capture the volume of stormwater that was required to be captured under the city’s NPDES permit using an innovative approach that identifies capacity needs and the appropriate locations for adding capacity on a watershed basis.  The proposed settlement also requires the city to mitigate the damage to Fountain Creek and its tributaries through stream restoration projects.  These projects could include habitat restoration, channel restoration, constructed wetlands and similar projects intended to reduce stormwater pollutants entering Fountain Creek or its tributaries.  The city will spend a total of $11 million on this mitigation.  Finally, the City of Colorado Springs will pay a $1 million federal civil penalty.  In lieu of paying a civil penalty to the state, the city will perform state-approved supplemental environmental projects valued at $1 million that will improve water quality in the Arkansas River, into which Fountain Creek flows south of the city.

“It is important to maintain the integrity of the Clean Water Act’s storm water program requirements,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “Through this settlement the City of Colorado Springs will ensure that the citizens of the City of Colorado Springs have a clean and safe storm water program and that downstream communities will be protected.”  

“The EPA appreciates the hard work and cooperation from all the parties, including the City of Colorado Springs, to reach this comprehensive agreement that will avoid further litigation and hasten the actions needed to improve water quality in Fountain Creek and its tributaries,” said EPA Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.  “This innovative settlement, developed through creative problem solving by engineers and scientists with the EPA, the state and the city, will provide the city with the flexibility it needs to attack the problems that have plagued its storm sewer system for two decades in a way that minimizes the burden on its rate payers.”

The City of Colorado Springs’ storm sewer system serves a population of more than 460,000 people and comprises approximately 250 miles of storm water ditches and channels, with more than 690 major outfalls, throughout the City of Colorado Springs.  The City of Colorado Springs’ storm sewer system discharges to Monument Creek, Fountain Creek, Camp Creek, Cheyenne Creek, Shooks Run, and other waters within the Arkansas River watershed.  The EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, working in partnership, discovered the violations through inspections and follow up investigations of the City of Colorado Springs’ storm sewer program.

Stormwater pollution from municipal storm sewers can be a major contributor to poor water quality in receiving waters.  Sediment from stormwater can degrade the quality of water for drinking, wildlife, and the aquatic and riparian ecosystems.  Other pollutants, such as oil and grease, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, and bacteria, also can be entrained in stormwater and discharged by municipal storm sewers into receiving waters, where they degrade water quality.

The proposed settlement, lodged today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

For more information on the settlement and for information on how to submit a comment, visit https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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