Lewis & Clark pipeline on tap for some in SDSIOUX FALLS — Sometime in late July or early August, potable water will begin flowing through the massive 54-inch diameter pipe between the Lewis & Clark Regional Water treatment plant near Vermillion and Sioux Falls.
By: PETER HARRIMAN, The Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS — Sometime in late July or early August, potable water will begin flowing through the massive 54-inch diameter pipe between the Lewis & Clark Regional Water treatment plant near Vermillion and Sioux Falls.
As much as 36 million gallons a day pumped from the Missouri River aquifer will expand and improve the water supplies of Sioux Falls and 10 other recipients in the 20-member pipeline consortium.
Even as the ambitious project conceived 23 years ago, authorized by Congress as a Bureau of Reclamation project a dozen years ago and under construction since 2003 finally begins to deliver on its promise, though, the chance of it being completed and the nine other municipalities receiving water recedes into the distance.
The Bureau of Reclamation informed pipeline officials this year the remaining federal cost share of the overall $462.2 million project has increased from $194.3 million to $200.6 million. At the same time, a zeal to rein in federal spending has resulted in such severe budget cuts for the project that the only ongoing construction for the next two years is a six-mile section of pipeline to connect Rock Rapids, Iowa, to the water supply. A $6.5 million bid was awarded in June to Merryman Excavation of Woodstock, Ill., to do that work by 2013.
A 2011 ban on congressional earmarks eliminated a tool pipeline proponents in Congress had regularly used in the past to get around austere federal budgets for rural water projects and keep enough construction money coming to make meaningful progress toward completing it. Without recourse to that, after Rock Rapids is hooked up, communities such as Madison and Worthington and Luverne, Minn., and Sheldon, Sibley, Hull and Sioux Center, Iowa, are left with an uncertain future.
“The federal funding being provided to Lewis & Clark is not even enough to keep up with inflation, let alone make any meaningful construction progress. Under this continued scenario, the project would never be completed,” said the project’s executive director, Troy Larson.
“It’s beyond frustration. It has turned into anger,” Hull city administrator Les Van Roekel said of the mood in his community. Hull has been forced to declare a water emergency and restrict nonessential use of water this summer, and Hull, like all the consortium’s members and the states of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, already has prepaid the $153.6 million state and local match in an effort to keep the project moving forward.
“Now we see the federal government out there approving projects, when previously approved projects” such as the Lewis & Clark pipeline “aren’t getting a funding level to ever be completed,” Van Roekel said.
The project is expected to drive hundreds of millions of dollars of economic development in a three-state, 500-square-mile region populated by 300,000 people. But as the project drags on, some of that development is held hostage, as well.
Agropur wants to expand its cheese production plant in Hull and add about 45 employees to an existing workforce of 125.
“We are worried a shortage of water could prevent that expansion, as well as other economic development efforts,” Van Roekel said.
In recent years, the Lewis & Clark Regional Water pipeline has resorted to veritable legerdemain to get water to some customers while it waited for the Missouri River aquifer well field, the water treatment plant and the distribution pipeline to be built. For instance, to get water to the Grand Falls Casino Resort near Rock Rapids now, the city of Sioux Falls is selling water to Lincoln County Rural Water System, which is selling it to Lewis & Clark, which is selling it to the city of Rock Rapids, which is selling it to the Lyon Sioux Rural Water System, which is selling it to the casino, according to Larson.
Similarly, four years ago, a pipeline connection was built between Hull and Sioux Center so Sioux Center could provide Hull as much as 150,000 gallons a day. Now, in an effort to at least ease its continuing water problems, Hull is looking to expand that relationship. Even though it already has prepaid its portion of construction, Hull will spend $300,000 to dig a new well in Sioux Center.
“We did invest city money,” Van Roekel said. “When that’s completed, we hope Sioux Center can consistently provide us 250,000 gallons a day. That will get us to where we can lift the ban for this summer and possibly next summer. But it’s not sufficient for expansion.”
If the project ever is finished, the new well in Sioux Center will be shut down, Larson says.
Luverne spent $700,000 for two new wells and a system to reclaim water used in backwashing water treatment plant filters to increase its water supply while it waits for Lewis & Clark.
Overall, consortium members have spent more than $9 million on projects to soften the blow of the project’s tenuous timeline.
Such scrambling and ad hoc arrangements hardly fit the goal of providing a reliable supply of abundant, cheap, high-quality water, Larson said.
“We’re using baling wire and duct tape to piece it together,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s becoming expensive duct tape and baling wire.”