The federal government has authorized $28 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC) — a pipeline that would deliver cleaner water to an estimated 50,000 people to communities in southeastern Colorado.
The project has received wide bipartisan support in the state. In October, Republican Senator Cory Gardner and Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, as well as Republican Representatives Scott Tipton and Ken Buck, wrote to the Secretary of the Interior asking for support.
In a statement provided to the media, Gardner said the funds will be used to help finish the final design of the conduit and to begin construction.
"The communities of the Lower Arkansas Valley deserve clean drinking water, which the Arkansas Valley Conduit will supply for generations to come," he said.
Once complete, water from Pueblo Reservoir would be routed to six counties — Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers. Drinking water in the region has tested positive for naturally-occurring radioactive materials.
This summer, data reported by the state health department showed water systems in the valley to have radium levels 63 times higher than those detected at Pueblo Reservoir. Radium is a known carcinogen. The water systems also had comparatively higher levels of uranium, another carcinogen.
Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which advocates for projects in the area. He says the allocated funds are enough to get the project started.
“A project like this — any water project — takes a long time to get going. This one shouldn’t have taken this long, but now it seems like we’re going to be able to get moving,” Woodka said, adding that overall, it's a $600 million project.
According to Woodka, the conduit has long been seen as the best remedy for high levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials in drinking water in the region.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $100 million finance package for AVC in November. State legislative approval is needed to finalize the availability of those funds.
The project was first approved in 1962 as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Some work was completed in the early 1980s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project.