SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – As new water projects start discussions, the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System is eyeing expansion and final completion. 

Providing water from aquifers under the Missouri River near Vermillion, the tri-state project hopes to start providing water for two more communities in Iowa in a matter of weeks. 

Troy Larson, Executive Director Lewis and Clark Regional Water System, said Sioux Center, Iowa and Hull, Iowa were supposed to be connected in December, but water will hopefully start flowing to the communities in mid-April. 

“That’ll be a huge asset to Sioux Center and Hull,” Larson said. “After those two are connected, we have Sibley (Iowa), Sheldon (Iowa) and Madison. By late 2024 or early 2025, we expect them to be connected. We’re getting toward the end after so many years working to get this project done.” 

Sioux Center will receive 600,000 gallons of water a day and Hull will get 400,000. Sioux Falls will receive the largest allotment of water at 28 million gallons a day.

When completed, the base system will be able to provide 45 million gallons of water per day to 20 different members. Expansion, which is funded by the cost of the members, is also underway to maximize capacity at the Vermillion treatment plant at 60 million gallons of water per day. That expansion won’t be complete for another seven or eight years. 

“The drought and growth has really changed the timeline,” Larson said. “That will only take us to 60 million gallons a day. What do we do after that? That’s where we’re looking at the Dakota Mainstem.” 

No additional Big Sioux Aquifer water rights

In South Dakota, all surface and groundwater is the property of the people living in the state. The South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources oversees the water right permit process as well as monitor groundwater aquifers.  

State law 46-6-3.1 does not allow more groundwater to be pulled out than what the average estimated annual recharge of the groundwater source is. How much an aquifer recharges is monitored by the SDANR. 

“The Big Sioux Aquifer is all spoken for,” Larson said. “There are no more water rights in the Big Sioux Aquifer. Conservation is important, but we cannot conserve our way out of this problem.”

Larson said when the idea of Lewis and Clark was being discussed in the 1980s, as many as 59 cities and rural water systems were interested in the project but 30 dropped out. 

“The vast majority of those are regretting it greatly,” Larson said.