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Political Influence on Wastewater Backup Policy

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In April 1999, Colorado Springs Utilities experienced a severe storm event that resulted in numerous wastewater backups in the collection system. The wastewater backups were not a result of negligence. The wastewater backup policy in place at that time was generous compared to other utilities across the country and virtually paid all claims regardless of negligence. The Utilities Board (which also serves as the elected body of Colorado Springs City Council) chose to pay customer claims. The severe 1999 storm event resulted in a total claims cost of 2.1 million dollars. Previous to 1999, claims costs had escalated to 888,900 in 1998. Utilities Board then requested that Colorado Springs Utilities staff review the wastewater backup policy and make a recommendation.

In 2001, Colorado Springs Utilities changed its wastewater backup policy to only pay claims for which it was negligent and launched a Wastewater Backup Insurance product as optional insurance coverage to customers. In 2004, Colorado Springs Utilities further refined its wastewater backup policy by requiring customers to clean their services lines within a 24 month period to be eligible for wastewater backup claim reimbursement outside of the defined negligence parameters. The intent of the service line cleaning component was to encourage service line cleaning and therefore reduce wastewater backup incidents.

In 2007, Utilities Board was presented with a wastewater backup customer claim that was denied. This customer experienced a wastewater backup, caused by an act of nature (not negligence, that began on Colorado Springs Utilities mainline. Under this scenario, as per then current policy; the customer's claim was denied. Utilities Board members recognized that this was not “their intent” in applying the wastewater backup policy and wanted a solution “so this kind of a problem would never be brought to the Board again”.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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