The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently adopted a project management plan that will guide construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

“This will guide how we manage the project,” said Sam Braverman, a Reclamation Bureau engineer and AVC project manager.

The AVC is a pipeline project that will deliver clean drinking water to 40 communities serving approximately 50,000 people from the Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads.

Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, said he didn’t see the AVC having much impact on Salidans and others in the area. “It’s not going to change river flows,” he said. “It’s not going to impact the allocation (of water) communities in the upper basin get.”

After thinking about it for a second he said some transit loss might have a “minimal impact” on irrigators, but added that the advantages of the project far outweigh those potential effects.

Braverman said they’re not creating any new water diversions from Colorado’s Western Slope. The big change, he said, is that water will now be piped from Pueblo to surrounding municipalities instead of letting it flow to them in the river, which will improve drinking water quality.

“We can already release water in the river, but by the time it gets to providers it’s not a good source,” Braverman said. “(The pipeline) will be a much cleaner water source.”

Salinity, selenium and uranium found in the natural environment all pose water-quality challenges for the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado.

Several communities the conduit will serve currently can’t drink their tap water.

“There’s at least 5,000 people who literally have radioactive water coming out of their pipes,” Braverman said. “They can’t drink their water, and (the municipalities) can’t afford to filter it out.”

Braverman said another 11,000-12,000 people in the communities get their water from reverse osmosis, but the state doesn’t see those systems as permanent solutions because they put their effluent back into the river. He said drying the effluent, packing it and taking it to landfills would be too costly to be a realistic solution.

“There’s no way those communities could afford to do that,” he said. “The AVC is really the only answer for all of these communities; this a game changer for disadvantaged areas.”

The AVC will provide water for municipal and industrial use.

The project management plan describes how the project will be executed, monitored and controlled.

Under the plan, the Pueblo Board of Water Works will deliver AVC water to a point east of Pueblo. A contract among the Reclamation Bureau, Pueblo Water and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is in the discussion stage. From that point, the bureau will construct the trunk line, a treatment plant and water tanks, while Southeastern will coordinate with communities to fund and build connections.

Southeastern will serve as lead on the “spur and delivery lines” portion of the project and seek funding to design and construct this portion of the project, $100 million of which has already been secured from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, subject to legislative approval.

Braverman said they just started final design on the first 12 miles of the pipeline.

“We’re shooting to break ground on the first segment by late 2021 or early 2022,” he said. The target to finish the roughly 230 miles of pipe, with a minimum 6-inch diameter, is the end of 2035.

The AVC was originally authorized in 1962 as a feature of the Fryingpan-Arkansas (Fry-Ark) Project. In 2009 it was amended to provide that only 35 percent of the cost of the AVC is to be repaid.

Congress provided additional funds to the Reclamation Bureau in fiscal year 2020 for the AVC. The bureau allocated $28 million for construction in February, and an additional $8 million for 2021 was requested in the president’s budget. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved $100 million, pending approval, while other potential sources of funding are being considered. The project’s estimated cost is between $564 million and $610 million.

Braverman said communities the AVC will serve have been hearing about it for decades, but getting the $28 million recently was the first chunk of money they’ve secured to begin construction.

“That was a complete shift from where we were,” Braverman said. “Now it’s just a matter of the funding stream continuing.”

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