Colorado’s water/waste water infrastructure is facing a crisis, according to a number of statewide business, professional, civic and environmental associations who gathered at the Colorado Contractors Association’s annual convention and expo Thursday.
The associations, which included the American Council of Engineering Cos. of Colorado, the Associated General Contractors of Colorado and CCA, announced a new water infrastructure advocacy group called Water Infrastructure Network Colorado, or WIN-Colorado, formed 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 difficulty arises from a growing backlog of water infrastructure projects, totaling approximately $4.3 billion for Colorado alone.
“The local situation is not unique to Colorado, everywhere in the country municipalities are struggling with how they are going pay for water infrastructure,” says Perry Fowler, director, Municipal & Utilities Division, Associated General Contractors of America. “As one of those fundamental infrastructure systems that people require every day, we think this should be a priority funding issue.”
Monte Vista, in the San Luis Valley, is an example of those municipalities struggling to pay for much-needed water infrastructure projects.
“We currently have a $48-million master infrastructure plan that includes a number of priority projects, starting with outdated sewer upgrades that we cannot fund,” says Don Van Wormer, Monte Vista city manager. “But we are not alone in the valley. Many smaller communities have aging infrastructures and are facing shrinking populations, shrinking household incomes and declining tax revenue to support infrastructure needs.”
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 in need of $310 million.
“We have seen some increasing awareness from D.C. in the level of federal funding that has come out recently, but that is not nearly enough to keep up with the increasing demands out there right now,” says Fowler, who added that the solution for the crisis doesn’t rest 100% at the state level or 100% at the federal level.
“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 acknowledges that the group is at the beginning of its findings, but he knows that raising rates for users aren’t going to fix an aging infrastructure.
“We plan to take our findings from today to a steering committee, and from there we will look for solutions on a local, state and federal level,” he adds.
WIN-Colorado’s next steps include identifying all entities that should be involved in the solution while identifying funding sources during a depressed economy, Bommer says.