Christine Arbogast honored by Colorado Water Congress — Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District @COWaterCongress #CWCAC2020

Christine Arbogast. Photo credit: Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

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

Christine Arbogast, a driving force in the political world of water for four decades, received the highest water award from the Colorado Water Congress at its annual convention last month.

Ms. Arbogast was surprised to learn she is the 2020 Wayne N. Aspinall “Water Leader of the Year” Award during the closing luncheon at the convention.

“I had no idea, but it truly is an honor,” she said.

“What is consistent about Chris is that she cares about people,” one CWC member said. “I would say she is passionate about ensuring people who wouldn’t normally have access get heard on Capitol Hill and gets their voice heard.”

The award has been presented annually since 1981 in recognition of lifetime achievements, service and commitment to Colorado water projects or programs. Ms. Arbogast is the third woman to receive the award. Nominations are screened by the CWC board and voted on by past recipients.

A native of Pueblo, Ms. Arbogast is a graduate of Southern Colorado State College (now Colorado State University-Pueblo), with a degree in journalism and political science. After working for the Fremont County Sun and Durango Herald, she began work a press secretary for U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek, D-Colo., in 1979.

After Kogovsek left office in 1984, Ms. Arbogast was special projects administrator for the Colorado Department of Agriculture as the Always Buy Colorado (now Colorado Proud) began. But she soon returned to politics and her old boss when she joined Kogovsek & Associates in 1985. She took over the firm in 2017 after Kogovsek’s death.

Kogovsek & Associates works primarily in Western states on resource and tribal issues as well as for local government, capital construction projects, and public land use.

Among the firm’s clients are the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the city of Pueblo, Southwestern Water Conservancy District, Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the Republican River Conservation District, the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes, and the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Ms. Arbogast was instrumental in completing the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Rights Settlement, defeating American Water Development Inc.’s attempt to appropriate Rio Grande groundwater, and creating the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Rio Grande Natural Area.

Most recently, she helped the Southeastern District and Bureau of Reclamation secure state and federal funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
She is the current president of the National Water Resources Association, a group that connects state water agencies such as CWC to advocate for water issues on the national level. For years, she has headed the Federal Affairs Committee of NWRA, and strengthened its role.

She has been a mentor to countless people in her field, and serves as president of the non-profit Women in Water Scholarship Fund.

Christine Arbogast and past Aspinall Award winners January 31, 2020. Photo credit: Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Arkansas Valley Conduit gains federal funding — Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Here’s the release from Southeastern (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Conduit received $28 million in federal funding to finish design and begin construction of the long-awaited pipeline.

“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. “This amount of money is a real milestone in the history of the project.”

[…]

“I think this is a wonderful example of bi-partisan support and partnership of federal, state and local officials that is needed to secure a safe drinking water supply, not only for the people of Southeastern Colorado, but for every rural American,” Long said…

The AVC is seen by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as the best remedy for high levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials in drinking water for about 15 of the water providers. Other communities are also facing issues of expensive treatment for other sorts of contamination.

The $28 million is the first step in a $600 million project to provide clean drinking water from Pueblo Dam through a 130-pipeline to Lamar and Eads. 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 Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Interior worked with other cabinet-level agencies in the past two months as part of an initiative to find efficiencies in construction of water projects.

The AVC will provide clean drinking water to about 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

The AVC was first authorized as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 1962 as a way to provide supplemental water to communities east of Pueblo. It was never built because of the cost to local water systems.

In 2009, federal legislation made revenues from the Fry-Ark Project available for construction and repayment of the AVC. A 2014 Record of Decision by the Bureau of Reclamation determined the AVC was the best solution for water quality and supply problems in the Lower Arkansas Valley.

Reclamation has worked with the Southeastern District for the past three years in planning efforts to reduce costs and the time needed to reach water systems east of Pueblo.

Pueblo Dam. Photo credit: Dsdugan [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons

From Senator Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today released the following statement applauding news that the Arkansas Valley Conduit will receive $28 million of Bureau of Reclamation funding to begin construction on the water diversion and storage project in the lower Arkansas Valley, which would bring clean drinking water to an estimated 50,000 Coloradans:

“For more than five decades, Coloradans in the southeastern corner of our state have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to deliver clean drinking water to their communities. Since I came to the Senate, we’ve worked together to pursue any and every avenue possible to ensure we fulfill that promise and build the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” said Bennet. “I’m thrilled this project is one step closer to breaking ground and ensuring that families in southeastern Colorado have access to a safe water supply.”

The Arkansas Valley Conduit is the final component of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, a water diversion and storage project in the lower Arkansas Valley. Once constructed, the Conduit will deliver clean drinking water to families and municipalities throughout Southeastern Colorado.

In 2009:

  • Congress passed legislation by Bennet and former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
  • Bennet worked to secure $5 million in funding to begin construction on the Conduit as part of the Energy and Water Appropriations Conference Report.

    In 2013:

  • Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s completion.
  • In 2014:

  • Following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the Bureau of Reclamation to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February.
  • After the President’s budget included an insufficient level of funding for the project, Bennet led a bipartisan letter urging the administration and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allow the Conduit’s construction to move ahead as planned.
  • Bennet successfully urged the Department of Interior to designate $2 million in reprogrammed funding from Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 for the Conduit.
  • Bennet secured language in the FY 2015 Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act that sent a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the Conduit should be a priority project.
  • In 2016:

  • Bennet secured $2 million from the Bureau of Reclamation’s reprogrammed funding for FY 2016.
  • Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit as part of the FY 2017 Energy & Water Appropriations bill.
  • In 2017:

    Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit for FY 2017.
    In 2019:

  • In April, Bennet and Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wrote to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, urging them to prioritize funding for the Conduit.
  • Bennet, Gardner, Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO-3), and Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO-4) wrote to the Department of the Interior urging the Department to support the project.
  • Bennet secured approximately $10 million for the Conduit in the December 2019 spending bills for Fiscal Year 2020.
  • From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit, a 130-mile water pipeline that would serve as many as 40 communities and 50,000 people east of Pueblo, is receiving a major financial boost to begin construction, decades after the project was authorized by the U.S. Congress…

    The funding will come from the Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation’s Fiscal Year 2020 work plan.

    John F. Kennedy at Commemoration of Fryingpan Arkansas Project in Pueblo, circa 1962.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit update

    From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

    Issues with clean water supply going back to the settlement of the Arkansas Valley will be aided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s approval of a $100 million packet for the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

    “The Southeastern District and Reclamation are working to reduce project costs and the need for up-front federal funding in order to begin construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit project. About $30 million has been invested in planning since 2011,” wrote Chris Woodka in a recent article about the CWCB’s action.

    “Most of the issues of water quality in the Arkansas Valley are dealing with nucleides,” said Tom Seaba, water and wastewater director for the City of La Junta. “Our new Waste Water Treatment Plan will reduce the contaminants going back into the river, and we will need time and accurate readings to see how effective it is. I don’t think of Selenium as a contaminant, but as a naturally occurring element in our area. We hope to install some other type of treatment to bring us into complete compliance. We are working under a discharge specific variance that is good for five years, and may be renewed for five years. All other elements are under control. We are in year two of the variance.

    “Many of the smaller systems, such as South Swink and May Valley, are in much worse condition. A cleaner water source from the Pueblo Water Reservoir would make compliance with clean water standards a non-issue.” Seaba said 15 of the 24 public water systems in Otero County have state water violations for naturally occurring radioactive contaminations.

    Swink and four other small systems are currently importing water from La Junta because of La Junta’s reverse osmosis water treatment plant. For smaller water companies, the improvements La Junta has made are not financially possible.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    @CWCB_DNR approves $100 million package for Arkansas Valley Conduit — Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    Here’s the release from Southeastern (Chris Woodka):

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously approved a $90 million loan and $10 million non-reimbursable investment for the Arkansas Valley Conduit at its November meeting.

    The loan, which still requires approval by the Colorado Legislature, will assist in a $500 million project that is being planned by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation. The AVC will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo in Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.

    The Southeastern District and Reclamation are working to reduce project costs and the need for up-front federal funding in order to begin construction of the AVC project. About $30 million has been invested in planning since 2011.

    “Poor water quality has been an issue in this area of the state since before Colorado even existed.  All the way back to explorers traveling along the Arkansas River in the early 1800s noted the poor drinking water in their journals,” said CWCB board member Jack Goble, who lives in Hasty. “And the lack of clean drinking water still exists today.  Taking a drive down Highway 50, you’ll pass by dozens of water filling stations, with at least one in almost every town in the Valley.”

    In its presentation, the Southeastern District noted strong support from the State Legislature, the congressional delegation and Gov. Jerad Polis for AVC. The Legislature approved a resolution in January asking the Administration to restore AVC funding. The congressional delegation drafted its own letter to the Administration as well.

    “I will continue to support efforts to work with our departments on opportunities to seek state financing and grant opportunities to advance this project,” Polis wrote in a letter earlier this year.

    Bill Long, President of the Southeastern Board, introduced three of the system operators who will benefit from AVC: Rick Jones of the May Valley Water Association, Norman Noe of the South Swink Water Company, and Tom Seaba of La Junta.

    “The only way we can move forward in the Arkansas Valley is to have safe drinking water for all of our residents,” Long said.

    May Valley faces state enforcement actions for violations of state standards for radioactive contaminants it has dealt with for 20 years, and other solutions would cost as much as $200 per month per customer, Jones said.

    “It’s disheartening to be told you can’t drink the water,” Jones said.

    Noe told the CWCB that it is also becoming increasingly expensive to deal with radioactive waste that is produced by the wells that the communities rely on for a water supply.

    Seaba said 15 of the 24 public water systems in Otero County have state water violations for naturally occurring radioactive contamination. Four of the systems have already connected with La Junta. La Junta treats water with reverse-osmosis, but the waste stream contains selenium. The city spent $19 million on a wastewater plant and still cannot meet selenium standards.

    “If the conduit is funded and built, you will solve the problems for these communities,” Seaba said.

    The AVC was authorized in 1962, but was not built because local communities could not afford to pay 100 percent of the cost. New federal legislation in 2009 requires a 35 percent local cost share, but also allows revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to be used for construction and repayment of the AVC.

    The presentation was at times emotional, teeing off with a recap of the history of the AVC by Alan Hamel, a Southeastern board member and former CWCB member. He showed a video of President John F. Kennedy, who came to Pueblo in 1962 and delivered a stirring speech about the importance of water projects to all of the people in the United States.

    Several CWCB members shared their own emotional comments during discussion.

    “It’s the responsibility of all of us on the board to make sure that all Coloradans have the basic right for clean drinking water,” said Heather Dutton, who chairs the CWCB.

    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.