State Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Dist. 35) is attempting to rally valley county commissioners in support of funding the long-delayed Arkansas Valley Conduit, which would deliver a fresh new supply of water to communities along the lower Arkansas River.
Crowder told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat on Thursday that he's requested the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to provide water quality data from the communities that would be affected by the building of the conduit, namely Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.
A joint memorial sponsored by Crowder and state Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Dist. 46) urging the U.S. Congress to fund the conduit project was signed on Feb. 14. Not much has happened since then, said Crowder.
"I've had virtually no response from them (Congress) on that," Crowder said. "What I thought I would do, I went to CDPHE and requested water quality for all the towns involved in the conduit."
Crowder said he plans to ask each county commissioner in the region for a letter of support to present to Congress.
Appropriations for the conduit project were approved in 1962 as part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas project, explained Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District's Senior Policies and Issues Manager Chris Woodka.
Woodka estimated that the Bureau of Reclamation, the primary agency working with water conservancy districts to develop the conduit, has spent approximately $30 million in the last 15 years on studies and preliminary work to get the conduit built.
Local communities within the project area have also contributed at least an additional $1 million dollars in that time period, Woodka added.
"We've spent that much money to date, and it's not a project that the valley can afford to walk away from or the state can afford to walk away from," he said.
Communities are facing mounting regulatory pressure to properly dispose of wastes and byproducts of the filtering process used in wastewater treatment and management facilities, Woodka said.
He anticipates that enforcement actions taken by the state will increase due to the emergence of radionuclides from deep wells and alluvial wells. He suspects that increased surface contamination will require more expensive methods of water treatment for communities of the lower Arkansas River Valley.
"The Arkansas Valley Conduit is seen as the only solution for communities that provides a new source a water," said Woodka.
Crowder hopes that U.S. legislators will be more responsive to the valley's water needs if local county commissioners chime in on the issue to demonstrate why funding for the conduit is necessary.
"The reality is they keep thinking (other things are) more important, and I'm just not sure that I agree with that. CDPHE is compiling this information as we speak," said Crowder.
Crowder said that both natural and man-made variables are responsible for current water quality along the Arkansas River. He said he's received complaints from constituents about the taste of water and that more people are switching from tap to bottled water.
"I don't want to infer that the water's unsafe, cause it's not, but it has to do with the quality of the water that we are consuming," said Crowder.
Crowder also said he wants legislators to address the need for dredging along the lower Arkansas River. The state senator said elected officials can expect to receive a letter from him detailing how he wants to tackle the issue.