PUEBLO, Colo. - - Sen. Cory Gardner was in Pueblo Wednesday morning to discuss one of our most vital resources: water.
Gardner was the keynote speaker at the Arkansas River Basin Water forum Wednesday morning. One of his greatest water concerns for Colorado is that there's still no water pipeline in Southeastern Colorado after nearly 60 years of waiting.
The project is called the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and it's a water pipeline connecting the reservoir in Pueblo 130 miles to the city of Lamar. It would provide reliable clean water to 50,000 people along the way.
“Everyone is deserving of clean affordable water and that’s exactly what we are trying to do,” said Gardner.
The federal government promised construction of a clean water pipeline to the people of southeastern Colorado back in 1962, when President John F. Kennedy signed legislation approving the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project.
"Over the past several years, we’ve led efforts to get millions of dollars toward this," said Gardner. "But we have to have the full commitment of the federal government to complete it.”
Farming communities like Rocky Ford, La Junta, and Lamar rely on groundwater, and would greatly benefit from the fresh water being provided by the conduit.
Chris Woodka with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District says the need has been here since the 1950s. Woodka says the Colorado state health department has taken notice of the levels of uranium and radium in these communities’ wells.
“They have to go into elaborate forms of treatment [of the water], some of which are very expensive," said Woodka. "For most of the communities, there is a lot of poverty. They aren’t able to pay for it.”
The biggest hurdle for the conduit is the funding. For Gardner, the best time to begin construction is right now.
“Every year, the project costs increase," pointed out Gardner. "It’s got to be done. This was authorized in 1962, it has got to be done.”
The Senator says he has spoken to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and the Bureau of Reclamation on this very issue, and is optimistic things will develop.
Back in 2009, the original legislation was amended, which featured a cost-sharing plan between the federal government and local funding from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, splitting the pay 65% to 35%. The Conservancy District would repay their construct costs over 50 years.
However a decade later, it’s still unclear when or if this project will break ground.