LUVERNE -- The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System announced Friday it will get $9 million from the federal Bureau of Reclamation this year to continue to expand its multi-state water pipeline.
LUVERNE - The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System announced Friday it will get $9 million from the federal Bureau of Reclamation this year to continue to expand its multi-state water pipeline.
The designated funds are nearly $6.6 million more than what had been proposed by the Obama Administration in its 2015 budget.
The announcement is good news for the water project, which has been 25 years in the making. The system is now serving 11 of the 20 member communities, with both Rock County Rural Water and the city of Luverne to be hooked in next. Those hookups - the line will actually extend to near Magnolia - are made possible thanks to the Minnesota Legislature approving a $22 million federal funding advance during the 2014 session.
Troy Larson, executive director of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, said Friday he doesn’t know yet where the $9 million in new money will be targeted. The funds aren’t enough to build the pipeline to another community, but it will nevertheless result in expansion progress.
“Now we can award a pipeline contract,” he shared.
His board of directors has a couple of options before them - one is to build a water line east of Beresford, S.D., toward Iowa; the second is to continue expanding the water pipeline in Minnesota, east of Magnolia.
Just which state will benefit from the $9 million depends on each state legislature’s willingness to approve another federal funding advance.
“Both Minnesota and Iowa are considering federal funding advances this session,” said Larson. “Where that $9 million is used will be based on those funding advances.
“Hypothetically, if Minnesota offers another advance and Iowa does not, we could put that $9 million into Minnesota.”
A decision on where the funds go likely won’t be made until both states wrap up their legislative sessions in May, Larson said.
Minnesota received all of Lewis & Clark’s 2014 funding of $8.3 million with the legislative action last year.
Worthington Public Utilities Director Scott Hain made two trips to the Minnesota Capitol this week, meeting with the joint House and Senate capital investment committee on Tuesday alongside fellow representatives of Lewis & Clark, and meeting with local legislators later in the week on behalf of the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association.
Hain said he is optimistic about additional state funding coming to Lewis & Clark because of the interest already coming from legislators at the capitol.
“It was significant that a joint hearing of the two capital investment committees had been scheduled even before a bill has been introduced,” said Hain. “In conversations I’ve had with committee leadership and our legislators, the governor’s office wants to get this done.
“Last year, so much activity happened at the end of the session,” he added. “I’m encouraged that they’re looking at it early in the session.”
Despite the current revenues being poured into the Lewis & Clark Regional Water Project, there is still a lot of money needed - and a lot of pipeline to be constructed - to bring much-needed water to the remaining nine communities.
Hain said it will take $48 million to bring the pipeline from Magnolia to Worthington and thus complete the last Minnesota hook-ups. He said while the $9 million from the Board of Reclamation is nice, “it’s not enough to do any real meaningful construction.”
Larson said if Lewis & Clark received an annual appropriation of $10 million, assuming 4 percent inflation per year, the project would not be completed until 2045.
“If we got $35 million a year, which is what we ask for every year, the project could be completed in 2021,” he added.
On the other hand, Larson said if the project received only what the president proposes, the project would never be completed. On Feb. 2, the Obama Administration released its fiscal year 2016 budget, which proposes $18.5 million for rural water construction. Of that, just $2.77 million would be designated for Lewis & Clark.
“The longer it takes to build, the more expensive it becomes due to inflation,” he said. “We call it a double whammy for taxpayers. Not only do we have inflation, we’re not recognizing the economic benefits.”
In Worthington alone, local businesses are unable to expand while other businesses who want to locate here can’t - and it’s all because of a lack of available water.
“Wherever we use (the funds), the important part is we are using it to connect the remaining members,” Larson said. Those communities include Worthington, with a hook-up to Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water in Minnesota, Madison, S.D., and the Iowa towns of Sioux Center, Hull, Sheldon and Sibley.
Larson said the board takes into consideration the needs of communities, understanding that water, or the lack thereof, has an economic impact.
“The water needs of our members is a key criteria that the board considers when deciding who to connect next,” Larson explained. “We do our best with the limited funds to make sure the water needs are being met. If a member has more critical water needs than the other, that’s certainly a key factor.”