SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The rate of growth in the Sioux Falls area has one economic development group concerned about the future needs on water supply. 

The Sioux Metro Growth Alliance, which serves interests of 13 municipalities along with Lincoln and Minnehaha Counties, is keeping a close eye on the supply and demand for water in the area.

In June, the tri-state Lewis & Clark Regional Water System that serves nearly 350,000 people reached its max capacity at 32 million gallons a day. Soon the system will expand capacity to 45 million gallons of Missouri River water treated daily and distributed to 15 different cities and other water systems. Five more sites are expected to be added when the project is 100% finished.  

Jesse Fonkert, President & CEO of Sioux Metro Growth Alliance, said discussions about the future supply and demand for water in the area need to start now. 

“We’ve been talking about the three W’s that are our challenges — water, wastewater and workforce,” Fonkert told KELOLAND News. “I put water first because we’re an ag state. We’ve got a great supply of corn and beans. If you want to take the grains and add value to them, you need water.” 

The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System treatment plant north of Vermillion.

Fonkert said while searching future sites for possible value-added ag projects and businesses, water demands have risen as concerns. 

“We found that there’s perhaps not enough water to add more value-added ag projects in the four county area,” Fonkert said. “If we want to attract more jobs and more projects that have a positive impact on farmers in our region, we need a stable long term supply of water.” 

Troy Larson, the Executive Director of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, admitted the system’s capacity has been pushed to the max this year, but additional wells will provide additional capacity. The current treatment plant was designed to process 45 million gallons of water daily and talks of expansion to be able to manage 60 million gallons of water have already been floated. 

“Water is taken for granted and that’s what we’re seeing with the drought. People are realizing they can’t take it for granted,” Larson said. “Water is the new oil and people really haven’t believed it, but I think they’re believing it this year.” 

Larson called the Lewis & Clark Water System a “generational changing project” and noted it’s taken more than 30 years and the project is still fighting for enough federal funding to finish the final 15% of the project by connecting Madison as well as four communities in Iowa (Sioux Center, Hull, Sheldon and Sibley). 

Lewis & Clark Regional Water System map.

“It’s a very unique project, there’s nothing like Lewis & Clark in the nation where we have the federal government in partnership with three states and 20 cities and rural water systems,” Larson said. “We’ve been at this for so long it just has to get done sooner rather than later. ”

The length of time water projects take from start to finish was highlighted by Fonkert. He said adding water to the area takes decades of planning and construction. He also emphasized the need for water will always be needed regardless of whether there’s a drought or not. 

“As our region continues to add more rooftops and more jobs, water becomes even more important than it was before,” Fonkert said. “You need to have a stable supply of water if you want to grow your economy.”