Between the Lines: For job creation, just add water

Well, Congress is on vacation right now after nearly a month of wrangling over the debt ceiling and the deficit and taxes and the federal budget.

An economic catastrophe has been averted. The debt ceiling has been raised. The jury is still out over whether the steps Congress and the president had to take get that routine piece of business finally settled will actually work.

The agreement reached Sunday by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders from both parties calls for up to $2.4 trillion in savings over the next decade, raises the debt ceiling through the end of 2012 and establishes a special congressional committee to recommend long-term fiscal reforms.

The legislation was signed into law, without fanfare, by the president on Tuesday. Had that agreement not been reached, had the $14.3 trillion debt limit not been increased by Tuesday, we all likely would be facing rapidly rising interest rates, a falling dollar and shakier financial markets.

In remarks made after signing the bill Tuesday, President Obama vowed to pivot rapidly to deal with a jobless rate stuck stubbornly above 9 percent.

He urged Congress to take �bipartisan, common-sense steps� after its August recess to boost job creation and spur economic growth, including permanently extending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for middle-class families, which are set to expire next year. He called for patent reform, the passage of trade deals with Asian and Latin American countries, and the creation of an �infrastructure bank� to fund federal projects and put construction workers back on the job.

In the meantime, it appears that a number of Republicans worry about cuts in defense spending and the lack of a required balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, while progressive Democrats were livid over the extent of the deal's domestic spending cuts, as well as the absence of any immediate tax hikes on wealthier Americans.

The deal that was finally struck to end all of the posturing and the debt ceiling drama we�ve experienced this last month really hasn�t changed things that much.

The drama remains.

We offer a suggestion to the president as he now focuses on jobs and the economy. President Obama can easily retain a number of existing jobs and probably increase the employment rate in our region by doing one simple thing.

Adequately fund the Lewis & Clark Water Project.

It�s a no brainer. This project has been going on for years now, and workers have made great progress in laying water lines, putting the necessary equipment in place to draw water from the Missouri River and send it to a water treatment plant, currently being constructed a few miles north of Vermillion in Clay County. That treated water will then be sent throughout the water system to communities in a three state area.

That will take money, naturally. That will take action rather than political bickering from our leaders in Washington. We�re happy to report that local political players are already cooperating on this issue.

Last month, a bipartisan group of six U.S. Senators and three U.S. Representatives from Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota pressed the Obama Administration to pay its share of the cost of the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System (LCRWS) and asked three top federal officials for a meeting to discuss the urgent need to bring adequate water supplies to the region.

Included in that group is South Dakota�s entire Congressional delegation.

To date, state and local governments in the three states have paid over $150 million � about 99 percent of their share. The legislators say the project will not only provide drinking water to more than 300,000 people in the three states, but also would unleash business expansion and job creation in the region that has been delayed because of inadequate water supplies.

In a letter sent July 26 to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew, and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor, the lawmakers wrote, �We were disappointed at the [Fiscal Year 2011] level of funding for Lewis and Clark Regional Water System, which barely keeps the project's lights on and does nothing to move the project forward in any way. We certainly understand the severe budget constraints facing our country and appreciate the need to balance priorities.

�However,� they continued, �it is difficult to understand how a project such as this � one that has been authorized, whose local members and three state partners have prepaid 99 percent of their cost share (a combined total of $153.5 million), and has shown such promise for economic development � would receive such inadequate funding.�

We�re assuming that Sens. Thune and Johnson and Rep. Noem will be doing the �usual� thing during their August recess � relaxing a bit, attending county fairs, visiting with constituents and holding meetings.

We urge everyone who happens to see Thune, Johnson and Noem this month to tell them to ratchet up the pressure for funding the Lewis & Clark Water Project.

Completing this needed infrastructure here on the Great Plains by doing nothing more than finding the needed funds is a rather simple way to quickly make progress as Congress and the White House turn their focus on jobs and our nation�s lagging economy.

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