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Letter to the Assistant Secretary Castle and Commissioner Connor - Advocate for Arkansas Valley Conduit

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U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Congressmen Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner this week urged the Administration to provide adequate resources for the Arkansas Valley conduit in future federal budgets.

In a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the Department of Interior, the members outlined the importance of supporting the conduit, which will bring clean drinking water to up to dozens of municipalities, towns, and water providers in the lower Arkansas valley. Recognizing the project's importance to residents of southern Colorado, the Administration has signed legislation committing to supporting a substantial share of the project, but the amount budgeted for FY2014 is far less than the project's cost.

"Adequate funding to compensate for this shortfall in 2015 will be essential to complete the project on schedule," the members wrote in their letter to the Department of Interior. "Providing clean and safe water to all Americans should be at the forefront of the Department [of Interior]'s mission, and these water quality issues underscore the urgent need for progress on the conduit."

The Arkansas Valley Conduit is the final component of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The Fryingpan-Arkansas project is a water diversion and storage project constructed to deliver water to families, producers and municipalities throughout the lower Arkansas Valley, as well as provide supplemental irrigation water.

Full text of the letter follows:

August 8, 2013

Dear Assistant Secretary Castle and Commissioner Connor:

As the Department of Interior begins consideration of its FY 2015 budget, we write to express our strong support for robust funding of water conservation and delivery studies, projects and activities. In particular, we want to highlight the Arkansas Valley Conduit project in southeastern Colorado. Adequate funding is essential in order to meet federally mandated water quality standards in the region.

The Arkansas Valley conduit is a planned 130-mile water delivery system from the Pueblo Dam to communities throughout the Arkansas River Valley in Colorado. The conduit is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962. When completed, it will help bring clean drinking water to up to 42 municipalities, towns, and water providers in the lower Arkansas valley.

Many of the wells in these areas have been contaminated with radon or uranium. As a result, many of the water providers in the region are out of compliance with federal water quality standards. More importantly, however, because of the lack of funding for water projects like this, the populations of these regions have been denied clean high quality water. Providing clean and safe water to all Americans should be at the forefront of the Department's mission, and these water quality issues underscore the urgent need for progress on the conduit.

The federal government has already funded planning and feasibility studies for four years in order to make the conduit a reality, and President Obama signed legislation in 2009 committing to fund a substantial share of the project costs. Unfortunately, the Administration's budget proposal for FY 2014 did not fund the project adequately. While planners in the Arkansas valley expect costs to exceed $15 million in FY 2014, the Bureau of Reclamation's budget justification requested just $1 million for the project. Adequate funding to compensate for this shortfall in 2015 will be essential to complete the project on schedule.

As you know, the final Environmental Impact Statement will be released this month. Following a 30-day comment period, a Record of Decision ("ROD") will be announced. The issuance of an ROD stating a preferred alternative removes any regulatory barrier to moving forward with the project, and signals the start of the design and engineering phase. The Office of Management and Budget indicated that the lack of the ROD was the reason for reducing the funding to only $1 million for FY 2014. With the ROD due to be announced soon, adequate project funding is essential for moving this vital infrastructure and water quality project forward in a timely manner.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.


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