Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are urging the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to consider allocating additional funding from the recent omnibus federal funding bill for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23), or from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to complete the final leg of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).
It would be about time, on a project that Congress approved more than 50 years ago. The AVC is a planned 130-mile water-delivery system from the Pueblo Reservoir to communities in Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. The Conduit is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962.
“[T]he Conduit has been one of Colorado’s top priorities for nearly six decades,” wrote the senators. “Continuing to invest in this project will allow the project’s stakeholders to plan for more effective construction and delivery of clean drinking water throughout Southeast Colorado.”
In the letter, the senators highlight the $60 million allocated for the construction of the AVC from the BIL last fall, and ask BOR to allocate additional funds, which could be immediately applied to help advance different components of the AVC.
“For years, this project languished due to insufficient funding and a prohibitive cost-share agreement,” continued the senators. “Congressional appropriations over the past decade coupled with BOR’s recent $60 million award will finally enable the construction of this long-promised project. More investment, from the FY23 omnibus or future BIL awards, would accelerate the construction timeline and improve planning efficiency.”
Bennet and Hickenlooper have consistently advocated for increased funding for the AVC. The FY23 omnibus spending bill, which was signed into law in December, included $10.1 million for the Conduit after Bennet and Hickenlooper urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to continue to fund the project last May.
In October 2022, the senators visited Pueblo to celebrate the announcement of $60 million in BIL funds for the Conduit. The senators and U.S. Representative Ken Buck (R-Colo.) urged the OMB and BOR in July to allocate these funds. In March last year, Bennet and Hickenlooper secured $12 million for the Conduit from the FY22 omnibus bill. Prior to FY22, Bennet helped secure more than $70 million for the AVC. Bennet and Hickenlooper will continue working in Washington to ensure Colorado has the resources needed to complete this vital project for the region.
In 2009, Congress passed legislation Bennet worked on with former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize a federal cost share for the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
In 2013, Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s pre-construction process.
In 2014, following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February. Bennet and Hickenlooper both joined the groundbreaking for the project in October 2020.
The letter reads:
Dear Commissioner Touton,
We write to encourage you to consider allocating additional funding, from either the recent omnibus for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) or the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), for the Arkansas Valley Conduit (the Conduit). As you know, the Conduit has been one of Colorado’s top priorities for nearly six decades. Continuing to invest in this project will allow the project’s stakeholders to plan for more effective construction and delivery of clean drinking water throughout Southeast Colorado.
The recent omnibus bill for FY23 exceeded the President’s Budget request, including funding for ongoing work for Water Conservation and Delivery Projects. Although some of the additional funding was appropriated for specific purposes, we ask that the agency allocate additional funding for the Conduit from remaining funds.
We are pleased that the $60 million already allocated to the project from BIL will result in the start of construction early this year as well as other activities. Stakeholders have indicated that additional funds could be immediately applied to the following:
· A contract to complete construction of the first reach of the trunk line to Boone, CO;
· Paying the remaining balance of the Construction Recovery Fee owed to the Pueblo Board of Water Works (which would avoid escalation charges);
· Construction of the dechlorination injection site as part of the Boone reach.
We commend the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) staff at the regional and area levels, as well as in your office, for their partnership with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District to move this critical safe drinking water project forward. We understand that discussion of accelerating project construction is taking place based on the availability of BIL funds in addition to annual appropriations. Please also note that the State of Colorado proposes to direct an additional $20 million in grants to further assist the local water providers in building the connections to the trunk line.
For years, this project languished due to insufficient funding and a prohibitive cost-share agreement. Congressional appropriations over the past decade coupled with BOR’s recent $60 million award will finally enable the construction of this long-promised project. More investment, from the FY23 omnibus or future BIL awards, would accelerate the construction timeline and improve planning efficiency.
We appreciate your attention and look forward to continuing to work with you on this important project.
(signed Bennet and Hickenlooper)