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Walsenburg water issues, FACT -vs- FICTION part 1

by Edi Sheldon
WALSENBURG — Water, sewer, and the new rates! These are the topics of conversation around town. Rumors fly in all directions.
One false rumor says that the new Northlands sewer line is the cause of the steeply increasing water and sewer rates in town. In truth, the taxpayer’s money is not being spent on the Northlands sewer line. There is no connection between the Northlands sewer line and the increased rates for water and sewer in town.
It has been said more than once that the new Northlands sewer line is unnecessary and the city of Walsenburg shouldn’t be spending money on it.
Once again, the rumor is false. The State of Colorado has required the City of Walsenburg to construct the Northlands sewer line. Various federal and state grants are paying for it and the residents of Northlands are repaying the loans.
In 2005, the mayor and city council were handed a letter from the State of Colorado. It stated that the State Water Quality Control Dept., (WQCD), was seriously concerned about the city continuing to sell water to the Northlands without addressing the issue of the proper return of flows to the Cucharas River. State officials wanted to know what was being done to address this issue. They further stipulated that if the city did not satisfactorily correct the problem, water sales outside the city might get shut down and possible fines might be imposed.
The letter was temporarily put on hold until the matter could be properly investigated. Follow up began less than a month later, when the city council scheduled a meeting that included a representative from the CWQCD, representatives from the Department of Local Affairs, (DoLA), and members of the city water department.
At this meeting the mayor and city council learned that the ruling by the State Water Court, (The Ackerman Decree) had been in place for some time and Walsenburg was not observing the rule of return imposed by the decree. “All return flows had to be returned to the river above the next headgate for irrigation which was not happening with return flows going down the Toltec Arroyo.”
Several necessary steps were required for everyone to be able to file applications. The residents of Northlands had to apply to the city of Walsenburg for annexation and a special district needed to be formed to allow for improvements to the newly annexed area. Residents of Walsenburg approved the annexation in a general election and a General Improvement District (G.I.D.) was formed including members of City Council and residents of the Northlands.
At another meeting with DoLA, and the State Office of Economic Development, the city council asked about the possibility of getting a loan or grant to assist in building a sewer line to return flows to the new sewer treatment plant that was being planned for construction. The Council also contacted Southern Colorado Council of Governments (C.O.G.) about the possibility of getting some additional assistance with writing grants.
In the interim, an election saw a change in governors and agency and city personnel, but the process of collecting the necessary information continued. The city, with assistance from SCCOG, also applied for grant and loan money from the US Dept of Agriculture, (USDA). Eventually the city was notified that USDA had agreed to furnish over $5 million in grants and loans to continue the sewer project. Notification had also been received that the Colorado Dept. of Economic Development and Department of Local Affairs had awarded Walsenburg $699,000 for the sewer line project.
The General Improvement District formed by the city and residents of Northlands, devised a suitable repayment plan for repaying the loans and carrying the cost of the sewer line project, all of which will be born by the residents of the Northlands. The city is now waiting to advertise for a construction contract, and construction is scheduled to begin in early 2014.
The Northlands sewer line project will produce four essential improvements: (1) eliminate the nauseating stench of the sewer pond that currently serves two businesses on the west side of I-25; (2) provide sanitary sewer returns for existing businesses and any new entrepreneurships and residences slated to build north of the current city; (3) create jobs and badly needed economic activity for local residents; and (4) increase the efficiency of the sewer plant that was constructed in 2012. Last, but by no means least, an expected increase in sales tax revenues will enable the city to continue to repay its indebtedness and allow for more improvements within city limits.
Walsenburg has suffered traumatically from the economic downturn. The prison closure depleted over $300,000 from the city’s revenue stream for water and sewer services. The loss of the prison, the Walsenburg Care Center, Quest Manufacturing, and over a dozen family-owned businesses has yanked more than 350 jobs and over 25% of the city’s population from our local community. We have lost around 1,000 people in the last three years. Those of us still living here must be proactive if we want our city to return to economic good health.
Because the Northlands sewer line project provides improved infrastructure, it will attract new businesses and expand job opportunities for local residents. Therefore, it will not harm our fair city, but will improve it.