SIOUX FALLS, SD -
Minnesota Senator Al Franken stopped in Sioux Falls on Tuesday to tour part of the Lewis & Clark water project. It's the second time in less than a year the senator has taken a behind-the-scenes look at the system, which would provide water to Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa. But Franken's concerned a lack of commitment from Washington may run the well dry.
"The progress on this has been slow," Franken said.
Franken's main concern is for the residents of Minnesota, but considering communities in the southwest part of the state haven't seen a return on their investment in Lewis & Clark, he hopes something can change.
"It's exactly the kind of infrastructure project the President talked about in his speech on an economy built to last," Franken said.
New figures estimate the project will receive around $4.5 million in federal funding next year. It's a huge step from last year's nearly $500,000 investment, but Lewis & Clark executive director Troy Larson says that'll only allow for construction on some pipelines.
"We're thankful the $4.5 million is higher and our delegation worked very hard to increase that," Larson said. "But it's nowhere near what we need to actually make any meaningful construction progress."
Both Franken and Larson say if more funding isn't allocated toward the Lewis & Clark project, it could actually be decades before everything's finally complete.
"It really should be $30-35 million," Franken said. "I mean, we want to get this thing done. At this rate, I don't think it gets done until 2050, which is just unacceptable."
Franken says he'll work with South Dakota and Iowa lawmakers to try and find more funding sources. In the mean time, all he can do is continue advocating for a project he's backed for years.
"I'm trying to be armed to make the best case I can and also to just keep pounding away," Franken said.
Larson says the project would serve 20 communities in the tri-state area. But after construction on new pipelines is complete for Rock Rapids, Iowa, in 2013, only 11 of those communities will have access.
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