Bennet Urges Support of Bill That Includes $5 Million to Finally Begin Work on Arkansas Valley Conduit

Congress Poised to Approve $5 Million in Funding for Ark Valley Conduit As Part of Energy & Water Appropriations Conference Report

Today, Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, urged his colleagues to support the passage of legislation that includes $5 million in funding to begin construction on the Arkansas Valley Conduit in southeastern Colorado.

Below is the full text of Bennet's remarks, as prepared for delivery:

M. President, I rise today to speak about a development folks in the southeastern corner of my state have been waiting on for the better part of forty-seven years.

This week, thanks in no small measure to the advocacy of our partners at both the local and federal levels, the vision of the Arkansas Valley Conduit -- long a priority of rural communities in my state -- moves one, significant step closer to reality. This week, we will send a bill to the President that finally funds this important water project that represents the best of regional government, with multiple communities cooperating for the greater good.

Our success is owed to the support of many who took it upon themselves at one time or another to move this project forward. In particular, I'd like to thank Congressman John Salazar, a good friend and tremendous leader who has championed this project since his first days in office.

M. President, the effort to build the Conduit is one that predates my arrival to Congress, but I'm proud to have taken the baton and tried to advance this worthy cause.

It is a journey that has its origins in post-World War II America, a time when members of ‘the Greatest Generation' were coming home to raise a family, plan their lives and build a new America with the same energy that they used to save it on the battlefield.

In the Arkansas River Valley, enthusiasm for the future was also high, but their enthusiasm was soon tempered by one, significant limitation: the water needed to build and sustain that future was in short supply.

Yet geographic limitations were no match for the resilience and determination of the Valley's residents. They came together and crafted a plan to satisfy the water needs of the Valley's ranchers, farmers and rural communities.

The project came to be known by proponents and detractors alike as the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. After a long and sometimes bitter battle, the project was authorized and signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in August of 1962.

The Arkansas Valley Conduit was a key piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The vision was simple: deliver clean drinking water to 40 ranching and farming communities of the lower Arkansas Valley.

As the years went by, that vision developed. Civic leaders and citizens came together to call for a water delivery system to bring the West's scarcest natural resource to over 40 communities, across a 140-mile stretch of southeastern Colorado.

Unfortunately, the resources necessary to put that plan into place did not advance with the larger plan. While other parts of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project moved forward, the Arkansas Valley Conduit languished and doubts began to grow about whether the federal government would ever live up to its part of the bargain.

Earlier this year, my predecessor, Senator Salazar and Colorado's now senior Senator, Mark Udall, gave the Conduit the jumpstart it needed by introducing legislation authorizing a federal cost-share for the project.

After visiting southeast Colorado upon my appointment to the Senate, I quickly decided to lend my strong support to the project and co-sponsor this important legislation. M. President, I believe you would be hard pressed to find many bills that have the support of three Senators from the same state during one session of Congress.

That support, as well as the strong support and leadership of my colleagues in the House, Representatives John Salazar and Betsy Markey, helped give this bill the final nudge it needed to get across the goal line -- Congress authorized it in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, which was signed by the President in March of this year.

Unfortunately, this authorization did not happen in time for funding to be included in the Administration's budget request for fiscal year 2010.

My colleagues and I advocated as strongly as we knew how for the Conduit. And I can tell you, that after communicating how important this project is to the people of my state on many, many occasions, the Chairman of the Subcommittee, Senator Dorgan of North Dakota, soon emerged as a committed partner in the effort.

Let me just say, M. President, that the people of Colorado have a good friend in the Senator of the North Dakota, and that the people of his state have a tremendously capable person representing their needs.

I am pleased that Senator Dorgan and his partners on the Subcommittee considered the Conduit along with many, many worthy requests nationwide and determined that $5 million of federal resources was what could get this project off to a promising start.

This first round of funding will be used for environmental analysis, planning, and design. The final project will enable these communities-all of which have average incomes well below the national average-to comply with federal drinking water standards.

I hope that it is just a matter of years-not decades-before the people of the lower Arkansas Valley have a conduit to call their own.

When President Kennedy traveled to Pueblo to sign the bill authorizing the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, he proclaimed it "an investment in the future of this country, an investment that will repay large dividends."

"It is an investment in the growth of the West," he continued, "in the new cities and industries which this project helps make possible."

Soon, for the first time in 47 years, we begin making that investment in earnest. Soon, we begin the difficult, but long overdue task of building a brighter, stronger future for generations of Arkansas River Valley residents to come.

Thank you, M. President. I yield the floor.