Water woes

Adequate funding remains in place to allow the construction of the new water treatment plant for the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System to continue a few miles north of Vermillion along Highway 19. The water system's board and its executive director, Troy Larson, are hoping Congress and the Obama Administration will eventually allocate federal dollars needed so that the system can meet its deadline of delivering treated water to several communities in the region by 2012. (Photo by David Lias)

The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System is still without a budget for FY11, and the figure released by the Obama administration for FY12 has system officials worried.

On Feb. 14, the administration proposed $493,000 for Lewis & Clark for FY12, and although Congress has raised the funding levels for the project in the past, an earmark moratorium has taken that option off the table.

The system is under a deadline to deliver water by 2012 and is entirely dependent on 2011 funding to do so.

We have to do the work in 11 to get the water in 12, said executive director Troy Larson. We could get $100 million in 2012 and it wouldnt make any difference, because the work has to be done this year.

The reason I say it puts us in serious jeopardy is if the 2012 funding is any indication, were in trouble for 11, he said.

Larson said neither the 2011 nor 2012 funding will impact the work already under way at the treatment plant near Vermillion.

We have all the funding in place for that project, so that will continue, he said.

However, two smaller projects still need to be completed before water can be delivered next year.

One is what we call the pipeline commissioning, Larson said. That is where we are essentially cleaning and disinfecting all the pipelines to get them ready to deliver water.

The other one is four meter houses. There are 11 members that we would be serving in 2012, he said. We have seven of the meter houses completed or under contract. Four would need to be completed yet.

Along with administrative costs, those two projects would need about $6 million to be completed, Larson said. If that money isnt supplied in the FY11 budget, the company may have to look at diverting funds from other projects.

An example is the treatment plant substantial completion is March of 2012, Larson said. Substantial completion means thats when (the system) is usable and we can start pumping water. But when we also have a final completion deadline of November 2011. Final completion is where they have to finish things like landscaping and cleaning up.

They also can look at taking funds designated for the treatment plant that currently are sitting aside to use toward the two smaller projects.

Then we would have to figure out how we fill the hole we just left in the treatment plant funding, Larson said. In other words, wed be robbing Peter to pay Paul to buy us another year. It doesnt solve our money problems it just buys us another year.

Larson said the Lewis & Clark board will do everything it can to deliver water in 2012, and that the plant will be operational that year.

I cant tell you today how were going to get it up by 2012, but I know were going to find a way, he said.

A solution will have to be reached this spring, as the two small projects have to be bid by April.

Larson said that part of the problem is that the board has no idea when Congress will pass the FY11 budget.

Heres the irony the federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1, so we are about halfway through fiscal year 2011 and we still dont know our funding, he said. So we dont know how much of that $6 million were going to get. We can discuss different options, but theres really not much we can do until we find out that number.

Congress currently is working on the budget, but the continuing resolution under which they are working is set to expire March 4, Larson said.

What we are hearing is that they will not have the new continuing resolution, the year-long one, in place by then, he said. So theyre probably going to pass another short-term one to buy more time. But we really need to know by April whats happening so we can bid these projects.

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