PUEBLO, COLO. — Southern Colorado officials and community leaders gathered at the base of Pueblo Dam on Aug. 19 to celebrate the beginning of major construction on the historic Southern Delivery System (SDS), one of the largest water supply projects under way in the Western United States. The SDS project will serve the southern Colorado communities of Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain, and Security. With the ultimate capacity to deliver up to 96 million gallons per day (mgd), SDS will provide a stable supply of water for decades to come.

“This is one of the largest water projects to be built in Colorado in decades,” said Jerry Forte, Colorado Springs Utilities’ chief executive officer. “SDS is an investment in our community — one that will repay large dividends. Water is vital for our residents, and for businesses and new industries to prosper.”

Starting in 2016, SDS will transport water from Pueblo Reservoir through about 60 miles of underground pipeline. The project’s first phase also includes three pump stations and a water treatment plant. Work on the SDS connection to Pueblo Dam and raw-water pipeline construction in El Paso County began this year. The approved budget for phase I of construction is $880 million (in 2009 dollars). Future phases will include constructing a terminal storage reservoir and exchange reservoir, as well as expanding pumping and water treatment capacity.

Friday’s SDS celebration took place 49 years and two days after President John F. Kennedy stood in Pueblo to dedicate the Fryingpan Arkansas Project, of which Pueblo Reservoir is a component. The SDS project partners have long-term contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to store, convey, and exchange water using SDS, which will connect to the federal facility.

SDS construction is scheduled through 2016, resulting in an estimated $127.6 million in earnings to El Paso County contractors and $35.5 million to Pueblo County contractors. A number of regional businesses have earned contracts to perform initial work on the project.

“As we make this essential investment in our community’s future, we are pleased that construction will result in creating jobs and a much needed boost to the regional economy,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director.

According to a recently published independent study commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce Center for Regional Advancement, as many as 13,175 jobs could be generated by a region certain of its water supply. Further, without SDS, employment growth is expected to be 36 percent lower than it would be with SDS by 2050.

Nearly 20 years in the making, SDS was developed out of Colorado Springs Utilities’ 1996 Water Resource Plan. Hundreds of options were studied and SDS was identified as the most dependable, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible solution. In 2001, the SDS partnership between the communities of Colorado Springs, Fountain, and Security was formed, and Pueblo West became a partner in 2008.

From 2001 through 2010, the SDS partners completed environmental reviews, obtained required permits, and secured agreements with the city of Pueblo and Pueblo County to build the pipeline.

Environmental impacts of SDS have been studied extensively. Since the SDS project required a major federal action by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to issue contracts for using Pueblo Reservoir, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In March 2009, after nearly six years of analysis and public process, the Bureau of Reclamation issued its Record of Decision for the SDS project, identifying the pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir as the Preferred Alternative. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were cooperating agencies in the comprehensive environmental review process.

The project participants are building an environmentally responsible project by avoiding and minimizing project impacts. For unavoidable impacts, SDS will implement mitigation measures. A Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan developed with the Colorado Division of Wildlife outlines projected impacts to fish and wildlife as a result of SDS operations, and provides a blueprint to address them.

Mitigation will include maintaining viable fisheries in the reservoirs where SDS operations will impact lake levels (Pueblo Reservoir, Lake Henry, and Lake Meredith). It also will include funding for increased hatchery production capacity, and improved fish habitat and retention.

Additionally, as part of a 1041 land-use permit with Pueblo County, SDS will contribute $50 million to improvements for Fountain Creek, which will be administered through the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.