When Sen. Michael Bennet was home from Washington last week, he checked in with water districts in El Paso County that will benefit from $44 million he got into the federal defense budget to clean up water contamination near military bases and another $10 million to study the related health effects, his office tells Colorado Politics.
The senior senator from Denver, a Democrat, visited with the Security. Widefield and Fountain water districts to hear about the progress they're making with the help of federal dollars. Toxic chemicals used in fire-fighting foam used at Peterson Air Force Base were discovered in the Widefield Aquifer two years ago.
"Every Coloradan should have access to safe drinking water," the senator said in a statement. "The additional funding we secured is a boost for water districts, which now can continue their critical work with the Air Force to treat contaminated water and explore alternative sources. However, there is still more work to be done. We'll keep pressing this issue in Congress to ensure there is appropriate funding for continued remediation, additional research into the health effects of these chemicals, and development of safe firefighting alternatives."
The money is in this year's National Defense Authorization Act. About $25 million of the appropriation is destined to solve the Peterson problem, the state health department said. The $10 million study is covered in the 2018 omnibus spending package, according to Bennet's office.
"Because the Air Force had been working collaboratively with the districts and the state, they were prepared to take advantage of the funds over other sites in the country, before the authorization expires at the end of September," said Tracie White, the federal facilities remediation and restoration unit leader for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The military has discontinued the use of the foam, and the money Bennet worked to allocate also will help the military develop safer alternatives.
In a statement provided by Bennet's office, Roy Heald, general manager of Security Water and Sanitation District, said the federal help has helped ensure "clean and safe" drinking water for the district's customers.
"We have seen great strides in the collaboration of the many players in this tough situation, including the Air Force, which is putting the new funding to work quickly and very specifically to meet our needs," he said.
Mike Fink, the superintendent of Fountain Water Utility also expressed appreciation for the money that's helped the city make upgrades faster.
"The city of Fountain is extremely grateful to all members of our congressional delegation who have taken an active interest and played a role in helping the local utilities solve this problem," he said.
Brandon Bernard, Water Department manager of Widefield Water and Sanitation District, said the federal dollars lifted the financial burden for the cleanup off local ratepayers.
"We will continue working with the Department of Defense to connect additional wells to our new treatment plant, as well as finalize a long-term engineering plan to treat the additional water we own but cannot currently use," he said in a statement.