Column: Don't leave Lewis & Clark high and dryLUVERNE — I have been involved with the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System since its start in 1990. The project is 65 percent completed. Lewis & Clark will bring critically needed drinking water to southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa and southeast South Dakota
By: Lennis "Red" Arndt, Luverne, Worthington Daily Globe
LUVERNE — I have been involved with the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System since its start in 1990. The project is 65 percent completed. Lewis & Clark will bring critically needed drinking water to southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa and southeast South Dakota. Despite countless hurdles the last 22 years, I remain optimistic it will eventually be completed — but the big question is when. Our latest funding challenges have made me question whether the federal government is going leave the Lewis & Clark members, including those in southwest Minnesota, high and dry.
At a time when job creation is supposedly the administration’s top priority, it is hypocritical for them to only propose $4.5 million for an authorized shovel ready project like Lewis & Clark in the FY13 Budget. The remaining federal cost share of $194 million represents as many as 5,500 short-term jobs, plus thousands of long-term jobs from expanded economic development opportunities. A pork processing plant in Worthington, an ethanol plant in Luverne and a cheese factory in Hull, Iowa, cannot expand without more water. These are just a few examples of how the lack of water is stifling economic development in the tri-state region. Some members are also battling water quality issues, which impacts quality of life.
The $4.5 million is much higher on a percentage basis than the $493,000 proposed last year, and for that we extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to the tri-state congressional delegation and Bureau of Reclamation officials for their efforts to help make that happen. However, it is a far cry from what is needed to make any meaningful progress. The proposed $4.5 million will not even cover the estimated inflationary increase of $8.5 million this year. Even if Lewis & Clark receives $10 million a year, the project would not be completed until 2050. This is completely unacceptable and a terrible disservice to the taxpayers!
We all understand our country’s financial struggles, but when times are tough you prioritize and go back to the basics. What is more basic than drinking water? The Department of Interior’s FY13 Budget includes $45 million to study fracking. The oil and natural gas companies are making record profits. Let them pay for their own ‘fracking’ study! As Sen. Al Franken suggested to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at a recent budget hearing, this $45 million should instead be prioritized to Lewis & Clark and other rural water projects. We couldn’t agree with him more.
On a related note, the messed-up budget process the last couple years clearly demonstrates the stupidity of including authorized projects in the earmark ban. It took close to 10 years of meetings and hearings for Lewis & Clark to be authorized and signed into law in 2000 with a federal cost share of $270 million that, because of inflation, now totals over $396 million. Lewis & Clark is not an earmark! We are pleased our tri-state congressional delegation agrees authorized projects should be excluded from the earmark ban, and we call on them to help get this changed soon.
Lewis & Clark’s 20 members, including Minnesota members Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water, Luverne, Rock County Rural Water and Worthington, and the over 300,000 people they serve in the tri-state region have gone far above and beyond. This includes pre-paying over $153 million (99.7 percent of non-federal cost share) and spending another $9.3 million in unplanned infrastructure upgrades and repairs because of the delay in receiving Lewis & Clark water. The members of Lewis & Clark are beyond feeling frustrated and disappointed; we are angry and outraged with how the federal government has dropped the ball. It is way past due that the federal government holds up its end of the deal.
Lennis “Red” Arndt of Luverne is the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System’s chairman.