23 years after initial funding, Lewis and Clark Regional Water System near completion
Millions of federal infrastructure dollars mean the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System will be completed earlier than expected. Congressional staffers, local leaders and federal officials gathered Wednesday in Beresford to celebrate the funding, and to cut the ribbon on one of the endeavor's last major construction projects.
The system delivers water from an aquifer near Vermillion to communities in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. Executive Director Troy Larson said the project is near complete, with a majority of the 20 participating towns connected to the system.
“In the next five years, hopefully we can have everyone connected,” said Larson, who estimated that the system is 93% complete.
Construction is yet to be completed for connections to Madison, in South Dakota, and Hull, Sheldon and Sibley in Iowa. That work will be accelerated by $75.5 million from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It’s a historic amount for the project, which received its first funds in 1999. Sporadic federal funding and the 2011 earmark ban led to irregular progress on the pipeline.
“There were many years where Lewis and Clark was only getting two, three, four, five million dollars a year,” Larson said. “The infrastructure bill has certainly been a gamechanger for us, and we’re thankful to the administration and the tri-state delegation for supporting us through the years.”
Larson estimated the infrastructure spending may have cut 10 years off the project’s completion date.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, Sen. John Thune and Sen. Mike Rounds all opposed the $65 billion infrastructure bill, but have joined leaders from Minnesota and Nebraska in supporting previous funding for the Lewis and Clark water system.
The event Wednesday commemorated the influx of funding, as well as the near-completion of the water tower in Beresford. The 2.5-million-gallon tower will serve the Iowa communities of Sioux Center, Hull and Sheldon. It’s one of the last major construction projects for the system.
Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo visited South Dakota for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Trujillo, a Biden appointee, said the project will improve the region’s ability to cope with extreme moisture conditions, like droughts.
“We don’t know how long the drought is going to last, we don’t know when the next series of rains is going to come,” she said. “We have to be prepared for whatever conditions we’re seeing.”
Trujillo said scientists at the Department of the Interior are expecting dramatic swings in the future due to climate change.
“We may see high water years, but that may be followed by an extremely dry year,” she said. “We have to be prepared for that amount of variability.”
Larson said that due to the drought, officials are planning to expand the system by 16 million gallons a day, creating a total of 60 million gallons of capacity by 2030. About $400 million in federal dollars have already gone into the project.