The latest snag in the Lewis & Clark Water Project could literally push the endeavor back a few decades. This past year, Congress allotted $10 million for the project, but it also received $56.5 million in stimulus funding.
However, the House Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee only gave the project $5 million for the 2011 budget, well off the $35 million requested by the Lewis & Clark Water Project.
"To say we are disappointed is a vast understatement," said Troy Larson, executive director of the Lewis & Clark Water Project. "It's less than last year, and last year was suppose to be a fluke. We were assured by congressional leaders that the $10 million in 2010 was an aberration, so we were extremely shocked and disappointed when this year's number was less."
Added together, the $16 million combined for the 2011 budget and the 2010 budget is $11 million less than what Congress appropriated to the project in 2009.
Construction of the Lewis & Clark Water Project started in 2006. So far, $195 million of the budget has been paid with $193 million left. If the current trend continues and the project was to get only $10 million a year from Congress, Larson said it would take far too long to complete the project.
"The project wouldn't be completed until 2043-2048 if we were only to get what we are getting now," he said. "This system won't work. Critical water needs would go unmet for far too long."
The budget for 2011 hasn't been approved by Congress yet, but if the Lewis & Clark Water Project was to only receive $5 million in 2011, it wouldn't allow the project to start any new construction. "We would not be able to put any pipeline in the ground; we would be able to build some small meter houses though, but no pipeline," Larson said. "The good news is this wouldn't impact any current construction that's underway."
Because construction that is currently underway wouldn't be affected by the 2011 budget, the Vermillion water treatment plants could be safe and finished on time.
"We are making very good progress on the plant north of Vermillion, but weather has slowed us down a bit," Larson said. "We have two phases under construction, and it's on track to have the treatment plant up and running by 2012."
While the 2011 budget won't affect the construction of the Vermillion plant, it could affect other aspects that could delay when it is fully operational, Larson said.
"We still need to clean and disinfect a 54-inch pipe and that's roughly $2 million," he said. "The 2011 budget also has the meter houses to build. So to deliver the water to the members, no money would in 2011 would go to the plant, but it does impact other projects to have the system operational by 2012."
Larson and some other members of the Lewis & Clark Water Project already took steps to get more money appropriated to it before the 2011 budget is approved by Congress.
Last week, Larson was in Washington DC and met with Ed Pastor, the chairman of the Energy and Water Appropriation. He also met with Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz and South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.
Larson said Herseth Sandlin was extremely disappointed with how much money was appropriated to the Lewis & Clark Water Project in 2011. One of the talking points of the meetings was to get Iowa and Minnesota, which are a part of the Lewis & Clark Water Project, more involved.
"They have been supportive, but most of the heavy lifting has been done by the South Dakota delegation," Larson said. "Now that a lot of money will be spent in those two states, we want them to take an equal share, and they responded positively."
The group also decided they need to set up a meeting with the Office of Management and Budget on Capital Hill. Larson said Herseth Sandlin and Iowa representative Amy Klobuchar will work to set up the meeting and have it take place sometime in September.
Larson said the purpose of the meeting will be to find out if this type of funding for the project will continue.
"Hopefully the meeting will take place to show the importance of an increase in the budget, and we also want to get a sense from them if this is what we can expect from now on," he said. "If it is what we can expect, then we would have to work on a plan B in order to get the project paid for sooner."