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Posted: November 01, 2010

Guest column: Economic vitality linked to water

By Lionel Rivera

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Colorado Springs citizens have long known that clean, affordable water is the backbone of a livable and prosperous community.

As one of Colorado's only major cities not located on a river, our fresh water is the product of years of investments made in a complex system of water storage, transport and treatment - to bring water from where it falls to where it's used.

s others have done before us, we must invest in our water infrastructure today to be well positioned to prosper in the future. Colorado Springs is expected to grow from its current population of 400,000 people to 518,000 residents by 2030.

The availability of water is one of the most important factors in recruiting businesses to Colorado Springs. According to Scott Bryan, board chair of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., "Without a secure future water supply, our region will not be able to meet the needs of our employers, and we will become far less attractive to companies looking to relocate or expand in our region."

A dependable water supply is also critical to supporting the businesses and organizations that make up our economy today. Colorado Springs is home to a major army post, two Air Force bases, a national security installation and a service academy. These facilities employ more than 30,000 active duty personnel and 16,500 civilians, providing a total economic impact of $4.58 billion, about one-third of our economy. All of these installations require a reliable water supply for the success of their operations and personnel.

Colorado Springs is like many other U.S. cities that are determining how to fund water infrastructure needs. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projected that the nation's water systems need to invest some $335 billion between 2007 and 2027 to continue to deliver safe drinking water and protect public health. Our pipes, treatment facilities and reservoirs must be maintained and upgraded to meet changing regulations and projected demand.

At a time of economic uncertainty, though, civic leaders and government officials might be pressured to postpone major infrastructure projects - to hold off investing until growth returns.
Being a responsible public steward means you don't wait until you run out of water before you plan for and invest in ways to preserve it. Planning for Colorado Springs' next major water project began 20 years ago to ensure a dependable, uninterrupted water supply. We obtained the water rights we needed and evaluated the most cost-effective and environmentally responsible way to transport the water.

After a decade of planning, permitting and approvals, this year we begin construction on the $880 million Southern Delivery System (SDS) project, a regional delivery system that will transport Arkansas River water stored in the Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West. Construction of the first phase of the project will take five years and generate hundreds of jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy.

In many ways, the economic downturn has made this an opportune time to build SDS. Interest rates on our 40-year bonds are at historic lows. Goods and services are competitively priced. There is a strong pool of highly qualified contractors available and eager to work on the project. In Phase I alone, SDS is estimated to generate 700 jobs at the peak of construction. SDS will infuse cash into the economy in the short term and enable our city to prosper in the long term.

While these external factors are favorable, Colorado Springs Utilities is doing all it can to design and build the project to make it as affordable as possible.

Through an engineering review, the SDS team found nearly $50 million worth of savings, through modifications including reconfiguring and reducing the size of pump stations, pipeline valves and vaults. We have also phased the project construction, allowing us to phase in and level out rate increases in order to reduce impacts to our customers.

The economic slump won't last forever, and the Colorado communities that prepare for the recovery will be better positioned for the future. As the second largest city in Colorado, Colorado Springs is building SDS to ensure we are well positioned for future economic growth.

For more information about SDS, visit www.SDSWater.org.

Lionel Rivera has served as the mayor of Colorado Springs since 2003 and is chairman of the Colorado Springs Utilities Board.
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