Work began Friday on one of the state’s biggest and most expensive water projects. The Southern Delivery System is a pipeline that will supply water from Pueblo to the fast-growing Colorado Springs area. But it’s not been universally embraced. A small group of officials and citizens have fought the project, saying it’s too big and too costly. CPR's Ben Markus reports.
Reporter Ben Markus: Most massive water projects take decades to plan and permit. Janet Rummel, a spokesperson for Colorado Springs Utilities, says the Southern Delivery System, or SDS, was no exception.
Janet Rummel: To finally have construction underway is really a major accomplishment.
Reporter: When completed, it will consist of 60 miles of underground pipe, a water treatment plant and a series of pumping stations to move the water up the 1,400-foot elevation to Colorado Springs. Including financing, it will cost more than $2 billion.
Tom Gallagher: I used to joke that it would have been cheaper to put Perrier in the pipes.
Former Springs City Councilman Tom Gallagher is a longtime SDS critic. He claims there were cheaper options that could have worked. He says because of SDS, water rates will increase exponentially.
Gallagher: You’re looking at typical Colorado Spring customers paying between two-and-a-half and three times what they were paying 10 years ago, and the thing isn’t even online.
Reporter: He says given the current political make up of the city, there’s little hope the project can be stopped. The last attempt to halt SDS came during city council elections in April. A group of candidates calling themselves the “Reform Team” made killing the project their platform. Their leader is local firebrand Douglas Bruce.
Douglas Bruce: It’s the largest public works boondoggle in state history.
Reporter: Despite that warning from Bruce, all of his Reform Team candidates lost. Though he still holds out hope future city leadership will eventually cancel the project. Former Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera is one of SDS’s chief supporters. He contends that something’s going to have to supply water to the hundreds of thousands of people expected to move into the area over the next few decades. And Rivera says years of study found SDS to be the best option.
Lionel Rivera: The energy cost and everything associated with building the project comparing it to other was done by the federal government and they found that the Southern Delivery System was the best alternative coming out of Pueblo Reservoir.
Reporter: Adding a wrinkle to the project is who exactly will use SDS’s water. A natural gas company is trying to buy a huge section of the city’s east side for drilling. If that happens critics say SDS could end up supplying water for energy development, not homes. But Rivera argues that supplying natural gas wells could actually make the project more viable.
Rivera: And that really could benefit all the residents here because the more water you sell and revenue you generate that brings the cost down across the board.
Whether homes or gas wells end up on that property Colorado Springs Utilities says it will still need SDS. Again, spokeswoman Janet Rummel.
Rummel: So the growth is going to occur and we need to plan ahead, this project isn’t about the next 10 years, it’s about the next 50 years and beyond.
Reporter: The Southern Delivery System is expected to be completed in five years. It will deliver up to 96 million gallons of water per day.