MARSHALL - The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System (LCRWS) is set to start delivering water to 11 of the 20 members of the system next month, but unless federal funding keeps up with costs, the other nine members may not see their water for quite a while.
The project, which broke ground in 2003, is designed to supply water from a well field and treatment plant near Vermillion, S.D., to 300,000 people in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota when completed.
While the three states and 20 cities and rural water systems that make up the membership in the system are all paid up on their $156 million share of the project, the federal government's financial commitment has become entangled in red tape, said LCRWS Executive Director Troy Larson.
Every year the federal government figures out the cost of completing the project after adjusting for inflation and supply and demand, according to Larson.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation recently notified LCRWS that after indexing the yearly federal share of the project had increased from $194 million last year, to $200 million this year.
"What this shows is that after adjusting for inflation, and supply and demand, we've gone backwards," Larson said.
Congress in February 2011 adopted rules banning earmarks. Unfortunately, Larson said, the rules were hastily written and included authorized, fully-vetted projects in their definition of "earmarks."
"The Republicans are blaming the Democrats because the president is not proposing enough money to finish the project," Larson said. "The Democrats are blaming the Republicans because the earmark ban mistakenly includes authorized projects. They're both right."
According to Larson, even hard-line Republican foes of earmarks such as Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Minnesota's Michele Bachmann have criticized this aspect of the ban.
In March members of the LPRWS board of commissioners sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., whose district was recently redrawn to include most of the LCRWS area within Minnesota, urging him to support increased funding for the project.
"In addition, the delay in receiving L&C water is forcing the members to make unplanned infrastructure improvements..." the letter reads. "The longer the delay goes, the costs for L&C's members will continue to mount, which impacts the water rates for our customers."
To date, Peterson's office has not answered the board's request for a meeting to discuss the issue.
Though nine of the members will start receiving water from the 65 percent of the project completed so far, none of them are in Minnesota, according to Dennis Healy, CEO of Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water System. The four members from Minnesota are Rock County Rural Water System, the City of Luverne, the City of Worthington and Lincoln Pipestone RWS.
Communities served by Lincoln-Pipestone include: Verdi, Ghent, Minneota, Ivanhoe, Russell, Taunton, Lynd and Green Valley, Healy said. Though Lincoln-Pipestone does not directly supply water to Marshall, it serves as an emergency backup should Marshall's primary source fail in an emergency.
"The first effect this had on us was we ended up looking for an interim water source from the Osceola Rural Water System in Iowa," Healy said. "We spent $5 million to purchase water from ORWS. Our contract is a 40-year agreement. I certainly hope we get Lewis and Clark water before then."