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It has taken much more than half a century to reach this point, and hopefully only a few more years to finally complete it. Today Colorado’s U.S. Senators Michel Bennet and John Hickenlooper joined officials representing the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board to celebrate the announcement of $60 million in new funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support the completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC) to provide Coloradans with a secure and safe supply of water.

“Sixty years ago, President Kennedy came to Pueblo and promised to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver clean drinking water to families in Southeastern Colorado. Since I’ve been in the Senate, I’ve fought to ensure the federal government keeps its word to Colorado and finishes this vital infrastructure project,” said Bennet. “One of the first bills I passed helped to jumpstart and fund construction on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and with this announcement, we’ve delivered more than $140 million to speed up construction and deliver on this decades-old promise.”

“The Ark Valley Conduit is finally getting built! Thanks to our Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this project will help provide clean drinking water for Southern Colorado,” said Hickenlooper.

The Conduit is the final phase of the Frying-Pan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy. The effort to ensure predictable and safe drinking water for a vast swath of Colorado began along the Upper Arkansas River Basin, and in the first few decades, resulted in the creation of two major reservoirs: Twin Lakes and Lake Turquoise. The transfer of water from the Frying Pan River basin which feeds the Colorado River, into the Arkansas River has not only insured safe drinking water, it has watered the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.

The project is a planned 130-mile water-delivery system from the Pueblo Dam to communities throughout the Arkansas River Valley in Southeast Colorado. This funding will expedite the construction timeline for the Conduit and allow for federal drinking water standards to be met more quickly by local water providers.

Colorado’s U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet joined together with the Southeast Colorado Water Conservation Board to announce major funding from the National Infrastructure Law for the project. Photo by Greg Felt.

“It’s a really important project, the well water down there has carcinogens. It has selenium, it’s radioactive, and it tastes terrible. It is out of compliance with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment,” said Greg Felt, the only Chaffee County member of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board, who attended the event. “Right now there is no other option. Where they do have good water, people drive in with trailer tanks to get water. It was a tremendous need 60 years ago, and it is a tremendous need now.”

Attending for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District was Board President Bill Long, Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Area Manager Patrick Fischer, and Executive Director of Southeastern Water Conservancy District Jim Broderick. Also attending was Seth Clayton, Executive Director of Pueblo Water Seth Clayton, and General Manager of May Valley Water Rick Jones.

“We have been working hard to move this project from planning to construction. This announcement follows the first construction contract award, and is a clear indication that the District and Reclamation will continue to partner in this long-time effort to bring clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley. Our Senators were key to securing the new $60 million in funding for the Conduit from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Thanks to our delegation’s long-standing bipartisan support for this project and the support from the State of Colorado, the conduit is on Reclamation’s front line for construction,” said Bill Long, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board president.

“Now more than ever, people in the Arkansas River Valley understand the immense value of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager. “We look forward to the day when these residents can open the faucet and know that their drinking water is safe and healthy.”

“As a regional leader in water issues in southern Colorado, Pueblo Water is proud and honored to be a part of this historic moment and help push the Arkansas Valley Conduit forward … it was 60 years ago that President Kennedy signed the legislation that created the Frying-Pan-Arkansas project. This is a project that all Southeastern Coloradans rely on, and the AVC is the final piece,” said Seth Clayton, Executive Director of Pueblo Water.

“Just a few months before President Kennedy visited Pueblo in 1962 to authorize construction of the Ark Valley Conduit, family farm members from across the May Valley and the Wiley area came together and organized to bring water to the region, and since then, May Valley Water has served our communities. We’re grateful this new funding will speed up the construction of the Conduit to provide May Valley Water members and consumers with safe and reliable drinking water,” said Rick Jones, General Manager of May Valley Water.

“This is one of the most critical projects that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been part of,” said Becky Mitchell, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director. “It is essential that every Coloradan – including rural and lower-income communities and our state’s Tribal Nations – have ample access to clean drinking water. It is a basic human right. I commend Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper and the Bureau of Reclamation for recognizing this need and taking action.”

Felt noted that the money funding the completion of the Conduit isn’t just federal dollars. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has made the biggest financial investment in the history of the agency….they have already committed $100 million to the project and may consider significantly increasing their commitment.

Bennet and Hickenlooper have consistently advocated for increased funding for the AVC. In July, the senators and U.S. Colorado Representative Ken Buck urged the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to allocate funds from the infrastructure law for the AVC. In May, the senators sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee to include funding for the AVC in the FY23 spending bill. In March, Bennet and Hickenlooper helped secure $12 million for the Conduit from the FY22 omnibus bill. Bennet and Hickenlooper will continue working in Washington to ensure Colorado has the resources needed to complete this vital project for the region.

The benefits may go far beyond being able to turn on the tap and get a safe, clean glass of water.

“It is a good thing for economic development in southeast Colorado. We have a moral and ethical obligation and that is now really rolling,” added Felt. “I thought it might get built someday, but not in my lifetime. Now Hickenlooper said five years, but I think more likely [it will be] 10 years. It is a fact, once you get pipes in the ground, the bureau is not good at funding. But,” he added, “the one thing I’ve learned as a commissioner is that when you create opportunities for communities to succeed at something, like what we’ve been doing in our county with wildfire mitigation – you don’t just get the results of that success. The act of doing something successful strengthens the collaboration of the community. this is both a water project and a community engagement.”

Featured image: Colorado’s U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper attended the announcement of a $60 million award from the Infrastructure Act towards the completion of this important conduit to bring safe drinking water to Southeast Colorado. Photo by Greg Felt.