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Budget Cut Could Stall Major Water Project

February 15, 2011, 9:42 PM by Hailey Higgins

Budget Cut Could Stall Major Water Project
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Shock and frustration is setting in at the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System office Tuesday. The project is facing a significant cut in funding next year.

The Obama Administration is proposing to eliminate $157 million for water infrastructure projects and that could bring the Lewis and Clark Project to a screeching halt.

The Lewis and Clark Regional Water System is facing its largest financial hurdle to date. Executive Director Troy Larson said the less than half a million dollars in proposed funding from the federal government will cover only half of the administrative costs.

"Needless to say, we won't do any construction, any design work, any easement acquisition," Larson said. "So it brings it really to a screeching halt in no uncertain terms."

Nearly all of the 20 city and rural water systems involved in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, have paid in advance. The rest comes solely from the federal government, which to this point has only paid half of what was promised.

Funding increased slightly in 2009 to $27 million but dropped to $10 million the next year. Now funding is expected to drop again significantly in 2012.

At the bare minimum, Larson was expecting to get $2 million. That is significantly higher than the $493,000 in the nation’s budget proposal.

"It is really a state of shock," Larson said. "Again realizing, this project has the potential to benefit the tri-state region and the economy in so many ways and to not have that recognized at the federal level is extremely frustrating."

Eleven cities are expecting to get water next year. But with the current funding proposal that could be postponed.

"We just have to get creative and do everything we can to try to work around this and still deliver water by 2012," Larson said. "But we don't know at this point how we are going to do that."

Typically, the project has received more money through earmarks in Congress, but with the current earmark moratorium that's not an option this year or next. The Lewis and Clark board will meet Thursday, February 24 to discuss where the project goes from here.

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