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Breaking Down Lewis & Clark Funding

Lewis & Clark Regional Water System

President Obama’s budget released Tuesday includes $2.4 million for the Lewis & Clark pipeline. That money is for fiscal year 2015. The announcement comes the same week water project leaders got word that Congress is contributing $5.2 million dollars to the current budget.

The Lewis and Clark Regional Water System is two decades in the making, and a lack of federal funding has the project at a near standstill.

Leaders hoped $5.2 million dollars restored to the project's $3.2 million budget would jumpstart some progress. Troy Larson is executive director of Lewis and Clark. He calls Tuesday’s news that the president’s 2015 budget allocates $2.4 million to the pipeline a travesty.

"And so we are just incredibly outraged with this number," Larson says. 

The president cut rural water funding last year, but Congress reinstated millions for 2014. It’s still a fraction of what the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System needs to finish construction and provide water to all of its members. The pipeline is 65 percent complete, and it’s six years behind schedule.

Nine members of Lewis and Clark still don’t have a connection to the pipeline, even though they’ve paid their share. The communities that have water now are paying more for the resource. Larson tells South Dakota lawmakers that’s because the cities online are covering all of the fixed costs of running operations.

"And Sioux Falls, for example, we estimate is paying $400,000 a year more for Lewis and Clark water than they would if all members were connected, and another example is Beresford where it’s $32,000 a year," Larson says. 

Broadly, funding for the project breaks down 80-10-10. The feds agree to pay 80 percent of Lewis & Clark. The three states impacted – South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa – kick in 10 percent. The final 10 percent comes from cities hooking up to the waterline.

The states and water system members have fully paid their portions. Despite Congress authorizing the project, Larson says $202 million in federal dollars hasn’t materialized for Lewis and Clark.

"Those prepaid dollars - $153.5 million – have all been used. That money has been put in the ground. As a result, the remaining schedule to connect the nine members as well as the other connections for MCWC and Sioux Falls depends entirely on federal funding," Larson says.

South Dakota lawmakers on the Joint Appropriations committee say they recognize how essential Lewis and Clark is to the southeastern part of the state.  They want to know about the money needed and whether project leaders waiting on federal cash are being prudent or unrealistic.

"Why should we have any faith, number one, that the feds would come in with any money just because they promised it at some point?" Representative Susan Wismer asks.

Fifteen cities and five rural water systems depend on Lewis and Clark for a supply of clean water. South Dakota lawmakers say they support that. 

Executive director Troy Larson says this year’s discussion in the Capitol is a foundation for next year’s talks. That’s when the project could request a grant from the state to restart progress on the pipeline; the water system would pay the state back when the feds provide the money they promised. Lewis and Clark leaders are already talking about that possibility with Iowa and Minnesota.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).
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