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Enforcement

Colorado Springs Settlement Information Sheet

COLORADO SPRINGS — 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.

Overview of Company 

The Defendant, Colorado Springs, is a city of approximately 460,000 people in central Colorado, about 70 miles south of Denver. The alleged violations relate to the City’s mismanagement of its storm sewer system since 2002. Colorado Springs’ storm sewer system covers an area of almost 200 square miles and consists of 389 miles of storm sewer mains; 118 miles of privately owned sewer lines; 250 miles of ditches/channels; 13,243 inlets; 1,459 manholes; 72 ponds; 693 major outfalls; and 1,316 minor outfalls. The storm sewer discharges to Fountain Creek and several of its tributaries. Fountain Creek flows north to south, bisecting Colorado Springs and eventually flowing into the Arkansas River near Pueblo, Colorado, which is about 40 miles south of Colorado Springs. Major tributaries of Fountain Creek in Colorado Springs include Monument Creek, Camp Creek, Cheyenne Creek, Shooks Run, Sand Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and Pine Creek.

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Violations

The City’s stormwater management program must comply with the Clean Water Act and applicable regulations, as well as the equivalent State of Colorado water act and regulations. In addition, the City’s stormwater management program is governed by the conditions and limitations in its discharge permit issued by the State. The requirements in the applicable laws and the City’s discharge permit are intended to reduce pollution in stormwater to the maximum extent practical through specific measures such as permanent structural controls at sources that discharge stormwater into the storm sewer system, including municipal operations, active construction sites, new residential and commercial real estate developments, and industrial sites.

The EPA and the State conducted inspections of the City’s stormwater management program in 2013 and again in 2015. Based on these inspections as well as a follow up investigation, the EPA and the State determined that there were widespread violations of the City’s discharge permit resulting in discharges of pollutants into Fountain Creek and its tributaries in Colorado Springs in violation of the Clean Water Act and other appliable laws.

The Department of Justice, on behalf of 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 January 26, 2017. The complaint generally alleged that the City of Colorado Springs failed to adequately fund its stormwater management program and allowed storm sewers and City facilities intended to prevent stormwater pollution, such as regional stormwater detention ponds, to fall into disrepair.  The complaint also alleged that the City failed to require developers to install permanent stormwater management structures, such as extended detention basins, at large residential developments and failed to ensure these structures were properly built and maintained when they were installed. Finally, the complaint alleged that the City failed to enforce requirements that construction site operators implement appropriate measures to prevent polluted stormwater from running off active construction sites.

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Injunctive Relief

The settlement requires the City to take actions such as developing standard operating procedures and increased staff training for critical elements of its stormwater management program. The settlement also includes a key requirement that the City restore the pollution reduction capacity of its storm sewer system that was lost when the City failed to require developers to install permanent stormwater management structures at large residential developments and when it failed to require that such structures be properly built and maintained when they were installed. The City will meet this requirement by inspecting existing structures to ensure they are working properly, by installing new stormwater management structures, and by upgrading existing stormwater management structures to increase the ability of those structures to capture and remove stormwater pollution.

Finally, the settlement requires the City to mitigate the damage caused to Fountain Creek and its tributaries by paying for a study to determine where those streams have been most impacted by stormwater pollution and what can be done to improve water quality. The City will then propose stream restoration projects for review and approval by the plaintiffs based on the recommendations in the study. These projects could include habitat restoration, channel restoration, constructed wetlands and similar projects intended to attenuate stormwater pollutants entering Fountain Creek or its tributaries.

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Pollutant Impacts

Water quality and the aquatic and riparian habitats in and near Fountain Creek and its tributaries have been in decline for several decades. The most significant water quality problems resulting from the City’s mismanagement of its storm sewer system appear to be sedimentation, E. coli, and scouring of riverbeds and banks. Sediment from stormwater is the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. Sediment from stormwater can degrads the quality of water for drinking, wildlife, and the aquatic and riparian ecosystems. Cloudy water from sediment can block sunlight needed by natural vegetation and make it harder for fish and other animals that hunt in the water to see their prey. In addition, sediment can smother smaller aquatic organisms, as well as eggs and larvae of fish and other naturally occuring animals.

E. coli is a bacterium whose presence indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes. Microbes in these wastes can cause short-term effects for people, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, and people with severely compromised immune systems. Microbes in these wastes may also adversely affect the native aquatic animals in streams, rivers, and lakes, as well as animals that use these waters for drinking and food. Both Fountain Creek and its largest tributary, Monument Creek, are listed by the State of Colorado Springs as impaired for E. coli.

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Health Effects and Environmental Benefits

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. This settlement will protect these waters as sources of recreation, irrigation and drinking water for many years to come.

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Civil Penalty

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.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comment is available at Department of Justice.

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Contact

Laurianne M. Jackson
Senior Assistant Regional Counsel
Regulatory Enforcement Section
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street (R8 ORC-R)
Denver, CO 80202-1129
Phone: 303/312-6950
jackson.laurianne@epa.gov

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