LCRWS still in drought mode

MARSHALL – The Lewis and Clark Regional Water System project broke ground in 2003 to provide water from a well field and treatment plant near Vermilion, S.D., to 300,000 people in 20 communities in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.

As of 2011, about 65 percent of the project had been completed and 11 of the 20 communities were hooked up, but not a drop has reached Minnesota as the project stalled because of lack of federal funding.

If LCRWS gets an adequate share of an additional $25 million secured by U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., for the Rural Water Program in the House Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, Minnesota may get the tap flowing at least a trickle.

All of the communities involved in the project’s assessed contributions are paid in full but because of a rule banning “earmarks” Congress adopted in 2011, federal funds dried up.

“Right now, there are no construction plans for 2013 or 2014,” said LCRWS Executive Director Troy Larson. “It was a well-intentioned move to curb earmarks, but Lewis and Clark was fully vetted 10 years ago and approved by Congress.”

Of the $25 million approved for water projects, LCRWS is one of six rural water projects seeking a share of the money and has been prioritized fourth on the list, according to Larson. Although LCRWS is further along in its project than any of the others, there are tribal projects which take priority under Bureau of Reclamation rules.

And unfortunately, the project does not simply stand still if it is not advancing. According to Larson, inflation on the remaining cost share amounts to $7 to $8 million per year.

“Out of $25 million, we hope to get $4 to 5 million,” Larson said. “Add on to that the $3.2 million budgeted by the Senate, and we might be able to stop the bleeding. The analogy I’ve been using is, we’re in a severe drought, and we get a quarter inch of rain. It’s not even close, but we’re glad to get it.”

As originally planned, four members in Minnesota – Worthington, Luverne, Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water and Rock County Rural Water – would have 100 percent of their water needs supplied by the system when completed.

When funding dried up, Luverne was forced to spend about $700,000 for two new wells and a reclamation basin.

Larson said if LCRWS gets the $7 to $8 million in federal dollars, the most optimistic projections for this year provide for, it might be able to begin construction on enough pipeline to get half way to Luverne, possibly enough to hook up with Rock County Rural Water (RCRW).

“We have two connection points with LCRWS,” said Brent Hoffmann, director of RCRW. “If the pipeline gets to Luverne, we’ll be able to hook up one of those. If it doesn’t, we’re going to have to do some creative thinking to see what we can do with what we have. We’re putting in two wells because we weren’t certain Lewis and Clark would be funded.”

According to Hoffmann, one hookup with LCRWS on the west side of Luverne would supply about 300,000 gallons of water per day, enough to meet about one-third of its demand during summer.

One alternative RCRW is considering is not waiting for Lewis and Clark but to run about a mile of eight-inch pipeline south to meet them, at a cost of about $80,000, according to Hoffmann.