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Federal dollars could prime Colorado water projects

Jerd Smith
Rocky Mountain News

Colorado water projects are in line to receive at least $67 million in federal stimulus money, funds that could help ease water woes from small towns to big cities and create jobs.

At least six major water utilities, including Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, have lined up to claim a share of the giant spending package working its way through Congress. They hope to use the money to help construct new water delivery systems, repair aging pipelines and clear trees in fire-prone watersheds.

Also in line are dozens of small communities that can’t afford to fix aging water delivery and treatment systems.

“Everything helps,” said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress, a non-partisan group that represents water interests across the state. “But how it’s going to be prioritized is as yet unknown.”

Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water utility, is seeking $32.2 million for 12 projects that could generate 825 jobs this year.

“In some ways it looks like the world’s biggest earmark party,” Denver Water Manager Chips Barry said referring to the practice of Congress doling out money with strings attached. “We’re not counting on the availability of that money, but we think these are good stimulus projects.”

Denver hopes to win grants to help protect forested water sheds on the Upper South Platte River and on the West Slope that are threatened by pine beetles. It also has several aging pipelines it hopes to repair.

Colorado Springs has an even longer list which includes projects to improve water quality on Fountain Creek and to help build a massive new pipeline to the Arkansas River.

But demand for the funds will likely far exceed any cash that will be made available, according to Dan Law, executive director of the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, the agency that will help funnel federal money into local communities.

Law said that the state had a rough list of about $180 million worth of “shovel ready” projects that the stimulus funds could help jump start.

How quickly they could launch isn’t clear, he said.

State rules governing how existing federal funds are channeled may have to be changed, through a public hearing process, in order to include large utilities on the list of grant recipients, Law said.

Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said dozens of projects, including some that could repair dams and add more storage capacity, may also be eligible for funding.

“Divided among everybody, it may not be that much money, but it’s going to be helpful,” Gimbel said. “It will mean some real water for us.”


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