President Biden's infrastructure plan calls for money for water projects, capping abandoned wells

denver roads.jpeg
Posted at 8:00 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 22:00:06-04

DENVER — President Joe Biden has proposed a $2.3 billion infrastructure plan that could wide-ranging impacts on Colorado if it’s passed.

Colorado’s congressional Democrats are speaking out in favor of the bill, including U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, who participated in a press conference Monday to talk about the merits of the bill.

The plan calls for $621 billion in transportation infrastructure investments for things like roads, bridges, airports, public transit and more.

Another $580 billion would go toward manufacturing, development, research and job training.

Water infrastructure

The plan also calls for $300 billion in upgrades to the country’s storm, waste and drinking water systems and the complete removal of all lead pipes.

“Infrastructure does not simply mean roads and bridges. It means addressing the need to modernize and update or electric grid,” Neguse said. “It also means addressing the water infrastructure challenges that we have across the country in places like Flint, Michigan, and here in Colorado.”

Denver Water is already in the middle of removing its lead pipes. The department is in charge of roughly 3,000 miles of pipe servicing 1.5 million people. Some of the pipes in the city date back to the 1800s.

“The lead reduction program is Denver Water’s biggest public health initiative, and it focuses on removing between 64,000 and 84,000 lead service lines in our water system,” said Jose Salas, a spokesperson for the department.

Most of the lead pipes the city is trying to replace come from service lines from homes constructed in the 1950s that connect to Denver Water’s pipes. Each lead line takes between six and eight hours to replace. In 2020, the city replaced 5,200 lead service lines as part of its reduction program, creating 300 jobs.

Even with these efforts, Denver Water estimates it will take the city 15 years to replace all of the pipes at a cost of $500-600 million.

“We’re definitely excited to hear about the upcoming infrastructure plan, and it’s something that we are learning about and will continue to study,” Salas said.

Along with replacing lead pipes, Neguse said the plan would also focus on modernizing rural water systems.

“Infrastructure investment, as far as modernizing our water and wastewater and stormwater systems, also would address rural needs and rural small water systems, which have in the past been neglected,” Neguse said.

Capping Oil and gas wells

The jobs plan also calls for $16 billion to be dedicated to capping oil and gas wells across the country, including Colorado.

According to data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state currently has 239 orphaned wells and 535 orphaned oil and gas sites. An orphan well is a well where no owner or operator can be found or where the owner is unwilling or unable to plug it and abandon it instead.

Capping each well costs an average of $82,000. Last year, the state dedicated $5 million of the COGCC’s budget to plugging wells and cleaning up surface sites. An orphaned site is an area where there may have been a significant environmental impact but where no owner could be found, or the owner is unwilling or unable to pay to mitigate the impact.

The president’s plan says the money will help hard-hit communities reduce methane and brine leaks as well as create jobs.

“Funding for workers to be able to ultimately engage in the capping of those orphan wells would not just extend to federal lands but could extend to state lands as well through a variety of different grant programs,” Neguse said.

A tough road ahead

The U.S. ranks 13th in the world when it comes to the overall quality of infrastructure. The president and supporters of the $2.3 billion plan say the investments will create meaningful jobs and help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Republicans are already pushing back against the plan, saying it’s too big, too broad and too costly for businesses since it relies on corporate tax hikes for funding. Others have criticized the plan for what it classifies as infrastructure projects.

Still, the president and supporters are hitting the road, touting the merits of the plan and saying they’re open to negotiating changes.