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Editorial: A water wake-up call

Daily Globe

We’re hopeful for a “yes” vote today on a $21.6 million 2014 construction budget for the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System. Don’t be surprised, though, at a “no” outcome.

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Scott Hain, manager of Worthington Public Utilities, plans to vote in support of that budget, and there’s good reason for him to do so.

“We got into this project because we have a long, long history of inadequate water resources,” Hain told the Daily Globe last week. “We spent hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and years and years in local exploration. We really know that beyond what we have, there isn’t anything else here.”

As of now, 11 of the 20 Lewis & Clark members are receiving water as a result of the ongoing project. Worthington isn’t one of them — and it won’t be in the next year, either, although passage of the $21.6 million budget gets the pipeline closer and to Luverne, Hain said.

The outcome of today’s vote is difficult to predict, and that’s because of the question of how much (or, more accurately, how little) of the budget dollars will come from the federal government.

Hain estimates that after the feds give their expected contribution, the members will be left with about an $18.4 million tab to pick up. This, of course, comes well after Lewis & Clark members and the three participating states paid their agreed share of the project — and after years of Congress failing to uphold its end of the original bargain.

As we’ve noted before on this page, Lewis & Clark has suffered significantly since the abolition of federal earmarks, even though it by no means fits the definition of one. A “no” vote won’t kill the project, but it surely won’t encourage significant progress. What is needed most — more than a members’ vote on any construction budget — is for the federal government to own up to its end of the deal.