Additional funding of $5.2 million for the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System announced early this month will provide enough funding to start on a long-awaited pipeline to Luverne, Minn., from the Iowa-Minnesota border.
Luverne is in desperate need of water, as are other cities in southwestern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa. With shallow wells often exposed to more pollution and in times of drought, the cities are hoping for the pipeline to reach them and provide a needed boost to their supplies so they can continue to work on economic development or simply provide enough of a supply for residents.
Troy Larson, executive director of the system, said the funding announced by the federal government's Bureau of Reclamation probably will be combined with another allocation this coming fall to allow the system to get halfway to Luverne.
Another twist to the story is hopes that the Minnesota Legislature will provide some additional funding to help the pipeline to Luverne advance even farther.
An allocation of $3.2 million made late last year, Larson said, will be used to help “a little” with the pipeline, but most of that will go toward building a “meter house,” which is a connection point structure, to tie the system together for a rural Rock County system and the northwestern Iowa town of Rock Rapids, which is already connected to the system.
The extra $5.2 million will be enough to build about five miles of the pipeline from the border to Luverne. Also, President Obama in his budget announced last week put in $2.4 million for the coming federal budget year for the project. That would be enough for another two miles.
So altogether, the pipeline with the current allocation and other funding proposed for this coming year will get the system halfway to Luverne.
The dream then of people in the Luverne area is to get the extra state funding and possibly another boost from Congress over Obama's proposal to get it done.
Larson said he is hoping for a fall bidding for the Luverne pipeline, with work to start in the spring of next year.
Communities and states along the pipeline route have already honored their commitment to the project, but the federal share is what's holding up further work.
U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., a longtime supporter of the effort, said it's a “very difficult budgetary climate” in Washington, D.C.
“As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I worked hard to secure additional funds for rural water projects like Lewis & Clark that contribute to economic development and the quality of life for so many,” he said.
Larson said Johnson and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., have been “champions” of the project. Congressional delegations from Minnesota and Iowa also on board, which gives the project an added boost when seeking money.
Noem said she will continue to work with the bureau and the Office of Management and Budget to make sure the federal government continues to be a “good partner on projects like Lewis & Clark and upholds their end of the bargain when promises are made and communities have already invested.”
About 65 percent of the system is complete, with 11 of 20 members connected. The latest estimate that keeps climbing each year is that the federal government needs to provide $207 million to finish the effort.
The piecemeal approach leaves many to wonder how long that will take.