By David Lias
A lot of attention has been paid lately to the squabbling that’s been going on over Obamacare and the debt limit, and how some leaders linked the two together to shut down the federal government for a short time.
It causes us common folk to simply shrug. It’s hard to believe what happens, and sadly, doesn’t happen in Washington, DC.
We shouldn’t be all that surprised, however. We don’t need to focus on the debt limit debacle to easily conclude that Congress does a really rotten job at paying its, or should I say, our country’s, bills.
There’s a big bill that Congress has chosen to practically ignore for the last year or so. And, during times when it has decided to make a payment at what it owes, it has proven to be a royal deadbeat.
It hurts. It hits close to home. This inaction by our leaders in Washington appears to be stopping a dream in its tracks.
Some may even argue that Congress is demonstrating its potential to turn this dream into a nightmare.
For more than 20 years, hard work, lots of planning and a commitment by Congress – let me repeat that – a commitment by Congress made it possible for work to begin on the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System.
Congress authorized the water project as a multi-state water supply system for 300,000 people in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. The authorization calls for 80 percent of the construction costs to come from the federal government. State governments pitched in 10 percent of the costs, and the remaining 10 percent of needed revenue comes from the member communities.
This system is a pretty big (I’m so temped to type a Joe Biden expletive here, but I won’t) deal to thousands of people in the Midwest. It certainly isn’t pork barrel. It is a necessary infrastructure development in order for regional communities in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota to thrive.
A celebratory groundbreaking marking the beginning of work on the system was held at the Missouri River near Clay County Park about a decade ago. Two years ago, local citizens and dignitaries celebrated the completion of the water system’s new treatment plant, located just a few miles north of Vermillion.
Work on a feasibility project for the water system began in 1990. The project was authorized by Congress as a Bureau of Reclamation project over a dozen years ago, and workers began burying pipe from the source of the water – a well field near the Missouri River in the vicinity of the Clay County Park – in 2003.
When completed, the Lewis & Clark system will supply water to 15 cities, including eight in South Dakota, and five rural water systems. Water is flowing to seven of those eight communities – Sioux Falls, Beresford, Centerville, Harrisburg, Lennox, Parker, and Tea. Madison is scheduled to receive Lewis & Clark water in the near future. Today, it’s hard to say whether Madison will be the recipient of water any time soon.
Missouri River water is also flowing to the Lincoln County, South Lincoln County and Minnehaha County rural water systems in South Dakota, and the Rock County Rural Water District in Minnesota.
Still waiting to be hooked up to the system are the Iowa communities of Hull, Rock Rapids, Sheldon, Sibley and Sioux Center. In Minnesota, the communities of Luverne and Worthington, along with the Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water System are also destined to one day be recipients of treated water from the new Lewis & Clark plant.
Today, further development of the system has nearly stalled. There’s plenty of water flowing in the river, and being pumped to communities lucky enough to currently be on line.
What’s dried up, however, is the occasional appropriation from Congress needed to complete the project. It’s stopping the hard work and planning of scores of local people who only want to make our corner of the Midwest a better place to live.
By the time you read this, the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System’s board will have voted on whether to borrow $16 million from members to extend the system to Luverne.
Sioux Falls and Madison’s board representatives have already said that they will vote against putting up more money for the project.
Luverne’s representative, board chairman Red Arndt, said he will vote in favor of fronting the money in the hope that the federal government will pay the system back, but Sioux Falls representative Chad Huwe said that based on talks with other members he expects the plan to fail.
“We feel that we have fulfilled our commitment to Lewis & Clark financially. Now we’re waiting for the federal government to make their end of the commitment,” he said.
Troy Larson, the system’s executive director, said he doesn’t like that members are being called upon to put up more money – but is either that or continue hoping for more federal money.
“The federal government has forced the members in choosing a very bad option,” Larson told the Argus Leader.
This is an example of a government shutdown of a different sort. Congress has proven that in some fiscal matters, it easily ignores its commitments, whether or not the government is up and running. For people involved with Lewis & Clark, being constantly slighted by Washington has become routine.
It also appears that hopes of any federal funding to keep the water project moving forward are very slim.
Congress is indeed a dream killer.