Senator Cory Gardner called the Tribune-Democrat office with news about the long-awaited Arkansas Valley Conduit on Monday afternoon, although the full story was embargoed until noon on Tuesday.
"This has been 60 years on the books," said Gardner. "This is the real beginning, not just a pipe dream. $28 million is enough to get the engineering done and start the construction - get it to the first town.
"Colorado is about all parts of our state. This is the first time real money is going to construction. This will get it under construction."
“We are very grateful and thankful for the work of Senator Gardner and our delegation in securing this funding,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of the AVC.
Southeast Colorado Water Conservation District called the $28 million a 'real milestone' in the conduit's history.
“This amount of money is a real milestone in the history of the project," said Chris Woodka of Southeast Colorado Water Conservancy District.
Woodka also said that construction has already begun by the Pueblo airport across from the Target Warehouse. Still needed is permission from Pueblo to use its water system and be repaid with storage in the Pueblo Reservoir. There is $100 million from the Colorado Water Conservancy District also in play, if approved by the state legislature. That's $90 million loan and $10 million non refundable.
"Jim Broderick's original idea of how to fund the project will still work for operation and maintenance," said Woodka. "3.5 million comes in every year from the Pueblo Reservoir and it keeps going up every year." Pueblo Reservoir is part of the original Frying Pan-Arkansas Project, importing clean water from the Western Slope.
"We owe thanks to our entire congressional delegation," said Woodka. "They have all worked hard on the project. Gardner really worked hard on it. He has been committed since he was a staffer."
The cost of the entire project is astronomical, in the hundreds of millions, but once a project gets started, it is continued, said Woodka. "First you work out the pre-construction planning, then you contract out, and you can keep going."
Gardner said in a press release:
"Currently there are approximately 50,000 individuals in Southeast Colorado who have contaminated groundwater. The Arkansas Valley Conduit project, which was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1962, will deliver clean drinking water to local communities across the region upon completion."
Gardner's office provided a brief timeline of the bill's progress through congress.
In December 2019 Gardner secured language in a year-end spending package that advocated for the conduit's construction and allowed the Bureau of Reclamation "flexibility" to use additional funding in FY2020.
Last October, according to Gardner's office, Sens. Gardner and Bennett and Reps. Tipton and Buck expressed to Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt in a letter that the conduit is atop priority for them.
In July of 2016 the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved a bill Gardner wrote that would give the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District more flexibility by allowing miscellaneous revenues collected from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to be reinvested into the conduit once construction began.
"In May 2016, Bent County Commissioner and President of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board of Directors Bill Long testified at the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee’s Water and Power Subcommittee hearing in support of Gardner’s legislation to extend greater flexibility to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and support the Arkansas Valley Conduit," continued the statement from Gardner's office.
Although the cities along the Arkansas Valley, Las Animas and La Junta, have installed Reverse Osmosis water plants to remove contamination, Selenium and other toxic metals occur naturally in the soil and cannot be completely eliminated. The Conduit is a solution to the problem of drinking water contamination in the Arkansas Valley.