Water Music: New Group Seeks Better Infrastructure Funding

In February a number of statewide businesses, professional, civic and environmental associations sounded an alarm that Colorado’s water/wastewater infrastructure is facing a crisis, but the state now has a win-win scenario to begin tackling the problem.

“Like the rest of the world, the United States installed underground water infrastructure in three main time periods because of population growth in the 1800s, 1900-1945 and post-1945,” says Gregory M. Baird, Aurora Water CFO and a board member of the new Water Infrastructure Network Colorado, or WIN-Colorado. “Pipes constructed in each of these three eras will all start to fail over the next couple of decades for a number of reasons—ranging from age to inadequate design to poor installation.”

To solidify their findings, the associations—which include the American Council of Engineering Cos. of Colorado, the Associated General Contractors of Colorado and the Colorado Contractors Association—formed WIN-Colorado. It was created to raise public awareness about aging and deteriorating drinking water and wastewater systems in communities throughout the state.

“Colorado’s water infrastructure has entered a crisis of perception,” says Kevin Bommer, legislative and policy advocate for the Colorado Municipal League. “We, as a society, don’t truly understand the value of our infrastructure until it doesn’t work right. And keeping those systems working right is getting more difficult with each passing year.”

The problem arises from a growing backlog of water infrastructure projects, totaling approximately $4.3 billion for Colorado alone. In 2008 the Colorado Municipal League identified 40 wastewater projects in smaller Colorado municipalities as public health hazards. They need of $70 million in funding, with 163 projects in significant noncompliance that need $310 million.

In the months since WIN-Colorado’s inception, the advocacy group has worked to identify all entities that should be part of the funding solution and delivered its message to government offices as well as other associations nationwide.

“There is a significant disconnect between the needs of Colorado’s infrastructure and the user fees funding them. Our mission with this group is to connect this by looking at outside sources for funding,” says Bommer. He says that raising rates for users by itself isn’t going to fix an aging water infrastructure.

Here’s to Your Health: Fitzsimons Medical Campus

The current economy and commercial construction market have seemingly had no effect on new construction at the Fitzsimons Life Center and Anschutz Medical Campus, located on the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora.

When the historic army post fell under U.S. Base Realignment and Closure in 1995, it was estimated that it accounted for $328 million in local economic activity and 2,904 jobs, according to Wendy Mitchell, president of Aurora Economic Development Council. Today, activities at the site are pumping approximately $3.5 billion into the state’s economy, according to an Aurora EDC report. And, not counting construction workers, there are more than 15,000 employees on the campus.

Since construction started in the late 1990s, more than 6 million sq ft of corporate and research space has been developed, including the University of Colorado Hospital, the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes and the School of Dental Medicine. And, just this year – during a depressed economy and seemingly stalled commercial construction market – the campus has announced or started construction on a number of large-scale projects, including:

• The Dept. of Veteran Affairs is expect to break ground on a new, stand-alone veteran’s hospital on the southeast corner of the Fitzsimons campus, and announced last month that it expects the building to open in spring 2014. A contractor has not been announced yet.

• In May, the University of Colorado Hospital unveiled expansion plans that include construction of a new $400-million, 12-story patient tower. The hospital will also spend $20 million to expand the CU Cancer Center to meet a substantial increase in demand for hospital services. The new building is slated to open in 2013.

• Construction recently began on the second phase of an interchange improvement project at Interstate 225, Colfax Avenue and 17th Place, at the southeast corner of the campus. The interchange project is designed to improve traffic flow, safety and access to the campus. The project is expected to take two years to complete.

• Construction recently started on a new $80-million, office-and-hotel project south of the campus.

• In June, construction began on a new $150-million, 10-story addition to the Children’s Hospital, east of the UCH.

“This continued building of a health-care city is not only a great boon for our economy and our state, but our opportunity to accelerate the hospital’s work in improving the health of all our communities,” said Peter H. Coors, UCH Foundation chairman.