Decades overdue conduit needed to bypass contaminated water sources

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.

“A system with 200 water taps cannot afford these improvements and provide water at a reasonable rate,” said Seaba. “The conduit would be problem-solving for the entire valley.”

“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,” wrote Woodka. He also quoted Gov. Jared Polis in a letter earlier this year: “I will continue to support efforts to work with our departments on opportunities to seek state financing and grant opportunities to support this project.”

The CWCB action is a start on making the dream of the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas  Project come true. Alan Hamel, a former CWCB member, showed the video of President John F. Kennedy’s stirring speech before the CWCB in this meeting, wrote Woodka.

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

The La Junta Tribune-Democrat reported in July that a water quality report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment showed that 24 individual drinking water systems across the lower Arkansas Valley were considered out of compliance at that time.

State Sen. Larry Crowder requested water quality tests that summer 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 potential sources of contamination and providing cleaner water to communities in the Arkansas Valley.