60-Year wait ends as Arkansas Valley clean water pipeline project begins construction

(UI) — Although hundreds of millions of dollars in funding are still required, a project promised by former president John F. Kennedy to provide clean water to communities in the Lower Arkansas Valley is now officially under way.

According to statistics gathered by the Environmental Working Group, the Arkansas Valley Conduit project, which is expected to cost between $600 and $700 million, will supply clean water to areas with some of the highest amounts of radium-contaminated drinking water in the country. Over a long period of time, naturally occurring radium increases health risks like cancer.

The 130-mile pipeline, which is presently intended to extend from Pueblo to Lamar, was first announced by Kennedy in 1962 as a component of the broader Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, a system that carries water from the Western Slope to supply Colorado Springs and other areas. However, financial issues delayed the project.

Employees of the water system noted that while bigger cities along the Arkansas, including La Junta, established reverse osmosis systems to filter the water in the intervening decades, rural inhabitants installed their own filtration systems in their houses, bought bottled water, or just utilized the water as is.

According to Bill Long, head of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, 17 villages in the valley are subject to enforcement actions from the state health department because of the poor water quality. This issue will be fixed by the pipeline.

"Nobody should be concerned about the quality of water that they are drinking in their home," Colorado Water Conservation Board Executive Director Rebecca Mitchell told OutThere Colorado news last week.  

Mitchell was joined in celebrating the start of construction on Friday in front of section of the 30-inch HDPE pipe that will ultimately provide water to around 50,000 people by Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper as well as the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation Camille Touton.

The project has already secured around $151 million in federal money, of which $60 million is from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, according to the authorities. Long said the project needs an additional $500 million in government funding.

Despite the need for funding, Hickenlooper gave an optimistic five-year time frame. However, concerns among residents regarding the infrastructure needed to carry the water into the systems of the largely small rural water systems still persist.

This story was originally reported by OutThere Colorado.


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