Arkansas Valley Conduit update

From High Plains Public Radio (Abigail Beckman):

Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.

He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”

“Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”

Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.

But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.

And then there’s the cost.

“Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.

It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”

It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.

The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.

“[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.

Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.

But it’s still a $500 million project.

“The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”

Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…

[Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.

“We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”

Twenty-four water systems across the Arkansas Valley are in violation of the Clean Water Act — The La Junta Tribune-Democrat

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Christian Burney):

Twenty-four water systems across the Arkansas Valley are in violation of the Clean Water Act due to the levels of radioactive contaminants – some of them naturally occurring – in the water, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The systems deemed to be in open health-based violation are located in or near La Junta, Cheraw, Rocky Ford, Manzanola, Swink and Wiley, and the water produced by those facilities is high in radioactive elements, radium and uranium and, in fewer instances, gross alpha radiation.

Colorado Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Dist.35) told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat that other municipalities – such as Fowler, Ordway, Sugar City, Las Animas, Eads and Hasty – could also be affected.

While those towns were not identified by the CDPHE to be in open violation of clean water standards, various contaminants such as selenium were measured by some of their water systems, he said.

The fact that radioactive contaminants exist in some water systems is not itself a new development. As Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District Manager Jay Winner put it, communities in the region have been dealing with them for years…

But the CDPHE’s findings reveal that radium levels in some Arkansas Valley water systems is up to 63 times higher than levels at the Pueblo Reservoir, and the amount of uranium is up to 12 times higher, Crowder said.

What does that mean if you’re born and raised here and have been drinking the contaminated water your entire life?

Maybe nothing, but the potential does exist for health problems if the impurities in drinking water regularly exceed the maximum contaminant level (MCL) recommended by the EPA and if there is long-term exposure.

For instance, the EPA says prolonged exposure to levels of nitrate (measured as nitrogen) – which is in fertilizer and which makes its way into groundwater and aquifers via runoff – exceeding the MCL could result in serious illness and, potentially, death in infants below 6 months of age.

Long-term exposure to selenium that exceeds the MCL could result in hair or fingernail loss, numbness in fingers or toes and other circulatory problems.

Several water systems tested positive for radium 226 and 228 (combined), which the EPA says could result in an increased risk of cancer, if the exposure is prolonged and above the recommended MCL. Radium appears in groundwater through the erosion of natural deposits…

Crowder requested the water quality tests in preparation for another push to get federal funding for the long overdue Arkansas Valley Conduit, which would deliver water from the Pueblo Reservoir up to about 130 miles downstream, bypassing the sources of contamination and providing cleaner water to communities in the Arkansas Valley.

#ArkansasRiver Basin Water Forum recap

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

Pushing the…administration to continue financial support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit pipeline is a priority, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner told an audience of water district officials here Wednesday.

The 130-mile pipeline — which would run from Lake Pueblo to Lamar — was first authorized in 1962 but was unfunded until 2009, when Congress began authorizing planning funds for the long-awaited project.

Speaking to the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum in Pueblo, the Republican senator said he recently met with officials of the Bureau of Reclamation earlier this month to press the administration to support the pipeline project.

“I won’t let the federal government walk away from its obligation to the communities along the project,” he told the audience of several hundred water district officials at the Pueblo Convention Center.

Most recently, the federal bureau completed a feasibility study of the project.

Headwaters of the Arkansas River basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journlaism

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

[Colorado and Kansas] are working together now on how to share a river that is lifeblood to eastern Colorado and western Kansas farmers and ranchers, according to experts at the 25th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum here this week.

The states have been to the U.S. Supreme Court seven times since 1902, most often because Kansas officials charged that Colorado was overusing the river. That wasn’t an empty claim, lawyer Matt Montgomery told the audience Thursday.

“The river essentially runs dry every summer near Dodge City because of its heavy use by agriculture in Colorado and Kansas,” he said.

Of course, it resurfaces further east and continues its way to the Mississippi River.

The historic source of the water feud was the fundamental clash in water philosophy. Colorado’s landowners and Legislature believed in an appropriated system of awarding water rights. People with the most senior water rights on the river get water before any junior rights are recognized.

Kansas, which was settled earlier, had a more land-based view. Owning land next to a river granted the landowner automatic water rights. The problem was the Arkansas might be used up before it reached some Kansas landowners.

Also, Colorado farmers were quick to drill wells in the valley. More than 1,000 new ones were installed after World War II, Montgomery said.

When states fight, it’s the U.S. Supreme Court that has primary jurisdiction. The court ordered the two states to reach some accommodation — and they created the Arkansas River Compact in 1949.

John Martin Reservoir back in the day

To help regulate water flow in the river, John Martin Reservoir was built in the 1940s near Lamar.

“But then Lake Pueblo and Trinidad Reservoir were built (in the 1970s), and that triggered the last lawsuit from Kansas, that Colorado was storing too much water,” Montgomery said.

But the two new lakes weren’t the problem; it was the additional wells that were depleting the river, he noted.

Today, the two states monitor the river use — and in Colorado, water courts require augmentation to the river before new wells are added.

@SenBennetCO: Budget continuing resolution includes $3 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today announced that several Colorado priorities are included in the $1.1 trillion omnibus budget deal to fund the government through September 30, 2017.

“This bipartisan agreement removes the threat of a government shutdown and makes significant investments in education, infrastructure, and science programs that are important to Colorado,” Bennet said. “During a time of unprecedented mistrust in government, this agreement is an example of a responsible, bipartisan solution to maintain important investments in our country.”

Below are several Colorado priorities secured by Bennet and included in the budget deal:

  • Provides $3 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, six times more funding than previous years. Bennet worked with the Senate Appropriations Committee to include this funding to ensure work on the Conduit will continue.[ed. emphasis mine]
  • Restores year-round eligibility for the Pell Grant program, which will allow college students to continue their coursework during summer months. Bennet has pushed for year-round Pell grants since it was cut in 2011.
  • Provides $150 million for the Denver RTD Eagle P3 project to complete the next phase of the Denver metro area’s light rail transportation project.
  • Fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which provides Colorado counties with funding to carry out vital services like fire and police protection, school construction, and road maintenance. Bennet has consistently advocated for full funding of this program.
  • Increases funding for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), located in Golden. The $92 million in funding is a $30 million increase from the previous budget.
  • Increases investments in NASA, including $2.15 billion for the Space Launch System and $1.35 billion for the Orion Crew Exploration Program. Dozens of Colorado aerospace companies are involved in these projects.
  • Increases funding for the Transportation Security Administration, including more money for security in unsecure areas and funding to help reduce long wait times at airports. Bennet worked with Denver International Airport to secure this funding to support the airport’s efforts to enhance security and improve the efficiency of its screening process.
  • Includes language that will allow Colorado businesses to hire returning workers through the H-2B visa program. More than 300 Colorado businesses rely on the H-2B visa program to hire temporary non-agricultural workers for seasonal jobs that are vital to our state’s economy.
  • Pueblo Reservoir: Reclamation awards master storage contract to Southeastern District

    Pueblo dam releases
    Pueblo dam releases

    Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

    The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District has signed an Excess Capacity Master Storage Contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, culminating an effort that began in 1998.

    “This is a great opportunity for the communities of the Arkansas Valley, which allows us to assist and provide them with a more secure water supply for the future,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern District board. “It’s been a very long process, much longer than we anticipated, but well worth it.”

    The master contract allows participants to store water in Pueblo Reservoir when space is available. Pueblo Reservoir was built by Reclamation to store Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water and for flood control. But it rarely fills with Project water. Excess capacity contracts allow water from other sources, including Fry-Ark return flows, to be stored in Pueblo Reservoir.

    The initial contract will allow 6,525 acre-feet of water to be stored in 2017, which will become the minimum number for future years. The contract allows storage of up to 29,938 acre-feet annually for the next 40 years.

    For 2017, 16 communities signed subcontracts with the Southeastern District to participate in the master contract. Another 21 communities plan to join once the Arkansas Valley Conduit is built, and do not have an immediate need to join the contract.

    Participants in 2017 include: Canon City, Florence, Fountain, La Junta, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Olney Springs, Rocky Ford, Penrose, Poncha Springs, Pueblo West, St. Charles Mesa Water District, Salida, Security, Stratmoor Hills, Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Widefield.

    “It’s a big step for the District,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern District. “The ability to use excess-capacity storage on a long-term basis has been a goal of the District for almost 20 years. This will add certainty to the process.”

    Reclamation first issued excess capacity contracts in 1986. Last year, more than 29 excess-capacity contracts were issued more than 60,000 feet – one quarter of the available space in Pueblo Reservoir. For many years, Pueblo Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water were the major entities that used the contracts on an annual basis.

    Pueblo became the first community to get a long-term contract in 2000. Aurora first used its long-term contract in 2008. In 2011, Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West obtained a long-term contract as part of Southern Delivery System.

    The next step for the Southeastern District is the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Reclamation anticipates completing the feasibility study later this year, which will allow construction to begin.
    “The master contract is absolutely essential to the conduit,” Long said. “It will give us long-term reliability for a clean water supply.”

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    Pueblo County gives federal Bureau of Reclamation land access for Arkansas Valley Conduit field work

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

    In a brief meeting Monday, the Pueblo County commissioners approved a resolution granting permission to the federal Bureau of Reclamation to access county property for field work associated with the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit.

    Reclamation officials will conduct surveys and soil testing related to the conduit alignment, the commissioners learned. The county will be notified by Reclamation before entry onto county property is taken.

    In voting to OK the resolution, Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen noted, “It makes me a bit more optimistic it (the conduit) could happen in my lifetime.”

    Lake Pueblo: Reclamation sets comment deadline on excess capacity water storage contract

    Pueblo Dam
    Pueblo Dam

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Negotiations are continuing with participants in a master contract for the excess capacity storage of water in Fryingpan-Arkansas Project facilities, primarily Lake Pueblo.

    The Bureau of Reclamation released a public notice in The Pueblo Chieftain on Saturday seeking comments on its draft master contract with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    The deadline for comments to the Eastern Colorado Area Office in Loveland is Sept. 15.

    The contract was negotiated in January, but did not include storage amounts. The district is in the process of meeting with each of the participants on the details of subcontracts, which will be submitted to Reclamation in order to finalize the contract, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the district.

    “We’ll be meeting with all the participants in August,” Broderick said.

    In the environmental impact statement for the master contract, there were 37 participants seeking nearly 30,000 acre-feet (9.7 million gallons) annually.

    More than half of those were participants in the Arkansas Valley Conduit, but others included several communities in the Upper Arkansas Valley, Pueblo West and El Paso County communities.