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Proposed funding inadequate to keep Arkansas Valley Conduit on track

Reclamation announced its Record of Decision (ROD) for the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).  But there was little time to celebrate the milestone—about a week and half later the administration budget request was released proposing a funding amount that is not sufficient to keep the project on schedule.

In evaluating the AVC, Reclamation considered three federal actions: constructing and operating the AVC, constructing an Interconnect between Pueblo Dam’s north and south outlet works, and entering into a master contract allowing Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District to store water in Pueblo Reservoir.  Project alternatives involved various combinations of the federal actions, along with different routes for the pipeline.  A total of seven alternatives were evaluated, including a no action alternative and a “master contract only” alternative.  In its ROD, Reclamation decided to construct the AVC using the Comanche North alternative, which involves all three federal actions, 227 miles of pipeline, and construction of other needed infrastructure.

The AVC is intended to bring clean drinking water from Pueblo Reservoir to the Arkansas Valley, where municipal water suppliers struggle to meet Safe Drinking Water Act standards.  The stretch of the Arkansas River through the valley is the most saline stream in the nation, and costs to treat that water are very high—and radionuclide contamination has been found in some groundwater wells.  It was authorized in the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project legislation—but was not built primarily because the beneficiaries were not able to repay the construction costs.  In 2009, the legislation was amended allowing for cost-sharing, with 65% federal funds and 35% local funds—and the local portion would be repaid over 50 years.

Federal funding is appropriated on a year-to-year basis.  On March 11, the administration budget for FY 2015 was released proposing $500,000 for AVC in FY 2015.  Project planners project needing $14 million in FY 2015 to keep the project on schedule.

In response, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and U.S. Representatives Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner sent a letter the administration and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging them to make more resources available for the AVC.  In their letters they cite the water quality problems faced by communities in the valley to emphasize the urgency for the project, and they remind the members of the appropriations committees that the costs will be recouped by non-federal repayments.

If the project is able to stay on schedule, they project breaking ground in 2016 and going on-line in 2022.

Read the letter to Administation officials

Read the letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees

Written by Marta Weismann