Minnesota steps up to the plate for Lewis and Clark Rural Water

MARSHALL – The Lewis and Clark Regional Water System (LCRWS) project started construction in 2003, with the goal of bringing water from the Vermillion, S.D., well field to 20 communities in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. Unfortunately, progress stopped dead in 2011 with the project 65 percent completed when the federal government reneged on its commitment, although all state and local partners had fulfilled their financial obligations.

Now, Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed including about $20 million for the Lewis and Clark project out of the nearly $1 billion in the 2014 bonding bill.

“We are ecstatic, thrilled,” said LCRWS Executive Director Troy Larson. “That water is so critically needed in southwest Minnesota that sitting and waiting was not an option.”

According to Larson, LCRWS provisionally plans to complete the Minnesota connections in three phases. The first phase would run pipeline from the Iowa border to Luverne, and would begin this year and hopefully be completed in 2015.

“We got a call from the governor’s office on Tuesday,” said Luverne City Administrator John Call. “We’ve been working with Lewis and Clark to lobby on the federal level. It was an authorized project back under the Clinton administration, but for the last few years, we’ve gotten about $3 million, and that’s not enough to do anything. This is good news, but it’s not a done deal.”

Phase two would link Luverne to Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water. Phase three would link Lincoln-Pipestone to the city of Worthington, if funding comes through.

“We were hoping it would be all of it, but this is a good start,” said Mark Johnson, CEO of Lincoln-Pipestone. “Before I got here, the board and former CEO did a band-aid and went to Osceola. They put in a $4.6 million upgrade on their facility and put in piping. They’ve been able to deliver 1.2 million gallons per day.”

The bonding bill will be finalized in May. Larson said he hopes the willingness of the state to shoulder part of the costs it had not originally contracted for will motivate the federal government to hold up its end of the deal.

According to Larson, the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s Rural Water Program originally had $51 million budgeted in 2013 for six regional water projects, including LCRWS. President Barack Obama proposed $29 million in cuts for all six projects, leaving $22 million.

However the remaining federal cost share for all six projects is $1.2 billion.

The proposed federal Omnibus spending bill would restore $27 million to the Rural Water Program, leaving the Bureau of Reclamation with the responsibility of deciding how to divide the amount between the six projects.

“We’re planning to get Iowa and South Dakota involved,” Larson said. “All six will be arguing for the lion’s share of the money.”