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House bill increases funds for rural water program

TEA, S.D. --An additional $25 million for the Bureau of Reclamation's Rural Water Program was included in the Energy & Water Appropriations Bill passed Wednesday in the U.S. House.

"We are very pleased that Congresswoman Kristi Noem was successful in including an additional $25 million for the Rural Water Program to the House's Energy & Water Appropriations Bill," Lewis & Clark Regional Water System Executive Director Troy Larson said in a press release. "Thanks to the leadership of Congresswoman Noem, as well as Sen. Tim Johnson -- who earlier secured $25 million in the Senate Appropriations Committee's version of the bill -- these are welcome steps in the right direction.

"However, we still have a long way to go to ensure the $25 million is ultimately part of the final FY14 budget, including passage of the Energy & Water Appropriations Bill by the full Senate," Larson added. "Having the $25 million in the House bill, though, puts the funding in a much better position when working out final budget numbers with the Senate."

If approved in the FY14 budget, Lewis & Clark and five other rural water projects would vie for a portion of this $25 million. The Bureau of Reclamation would make those funding decisions. Any additional funding would be on top of whatever is included for Lewis & Clark in the FY14 Budget -- the Senate version includes $3.2 million, and the House version includes $3.05 million.

"If additional funding is made available, it hopefully would be enough to allow Lewis & Clark to get pipeline about halfway to Luverne, while also delivering water to one of Rock County Rural Water District's two connection points," Larson said. The pipeline currently ends at the Iowa border.

Lewis & Clark is currently 65 percent complete. The 20 local members and three states have pre-paid 100 percent of their non-federal cost share ($153.7 million), so the schedule to finish construction is entirely dependent on federal funding.

The remaining federal cost share in September 2012 was $201.3 million. By comparison, the remaining federal cost share in September 2010 was $194.3 million. The $7 million increase in two years is the result of federal funding not even keeping pace with inflation.