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Drought strains water system

WINNER -- The Tripp County Water User District will apply for $11.5 million in grants and loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Rural Development for a system-wide internal expansion of new pipeline, pump stations and water towers.

The project will cost $11.67 million. The difference will be made up with additional loans.

The district decided on the expansion and upgrade after distributing a record amount of water during last year's drought.

"It took a toll on most of the rural water system," said Tripp County Water User District Manager Russ Phillips.

The new system would maintain an adequate flow and pressure of water during times of drought by adding 120 miles of new pipeline, installing 10 district pump systems and constructing two new water towers in Burke and Fairfax.

Last June, the water district was approved for an $850,000 loan to replace the Fairfax water tower. That loan was turned down in order to lump the Fairfax sum into this year's loan.

The district received 95 applications for the project, the majority of which are for pasture taps.

The applications cost the water district $27,000 apiece. The largest cost of the project is the water towers.

The project would begin in the spring of 2014 and be completed in the fall of 2015. During the project, water service would intermittently be stopped for customers for a few hours.

The loan would be paid off over 30 years with an interest rate of around 3 percent. Previous water rate increases would pay off the loans.

"There is a desperate need for quality drinking water within our system," Phillips said. "We are optimistic that we will receive some grant money."

The water district will learn what percentage of the $11.5 million will be given in grants, and what will be paid out in loans, by mid-summer.

The district currently has 2,000 miles of pipeline, serves 2,300 customers and extends to Tripp, Gregory, part of Lyman, Mellette and Todd counties.

A public hearing on the grant application will take place at 2 p.m. today at the Tripp County Water User District Office, at 1052 W. First St. in Winner.