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Colorado’s senators ask for $15M in federal budget for $600M water line project

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(The Center Square) – Colorado’s U.S. senators are requesting at least $15 million in next year’s federal budget for continued work on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a $600 million line bringing drinking water to 50,000 people in the state’s southeast region.

The request comes after President Joe Biden’s administration directed $160 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2022 and 2023. In addition to expressing appreciation for that funding, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper also thanked Biden for $10.1 million for the project from the 2024 fiscal year budget.

The line will run 130 miles from the Pueblo Reservoir to 40 communities to the south and east, including Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties, according to information from the Bureau of Reclamation. Projected completion is in 2030 at a cost of more than $12,000 per person served by the line.

“A priority for Coloradans for the past six decades, the AVC is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, a water diversion and storage project authorized by Congress in 1962,” the senators wrote. “Many communities that the AVC would serve rely entirely on groundwater, with several facing water contamination from naturally-occurring radioactive elements, or radionuclides.”

The project, started last year after President John F. Kennedy approved the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act in 1962, will cost approximately $600 million. The legislation authorized construction, but it wasn’t built because the communities couldn’t afford all costs.

In 2009, President Barack Obama approved federal funding for 65% of the project. Designs were approved in 2014 but later revised to reduce costs.

From 2010 to 2019, the Bureau of Reclamation funded approximately $30 million for the project through regular appropriations. Congress provided $28 million in 2020 to move the project into the construction phase.

Without the water line, the communities rely on expensive options such as reverse-osmosis, ion exchange, filtration and bottled water, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

“The region’s health and welfare depend on a reliable source of clean, safe water,” according to the bureau’s website.

Last year, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District approved contracts for construction of delivery lines from the Arkansas Valley Conduit to the town of Boone and the Avondale Water Sanitation District. Those projects are funded by $1.2 million from an American Rescue Plan Act grant authorized by the Pueblo County Commissioners, according to the district.

“Increased investment is vital for fulfilling the long overdue promise of the AVC,” wrote the senators. “Additional funding from the President’s FY25 budget will help leverage the historic investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, along with state and local funding, to accelerate the project’s completion.”

Colorado pledged $120 million toward the project and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District contributed $4.8 million, according to the district. The counties and other participants contributed or pledged $3 million in ARPA funds and project participants pledged approximately $2 million.

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