It's been 22 years in the making and on Monday the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System is delivering water for the first time—maybe just in time.
On Monday, Lewis & Clark started producing water from its treatment plant near Vermillion to 11 of its 20 member cities and rural water systems. Lewis & Clark's board chairman said the project has become an enormous undertaking, but its production came at the right time.
"With our members unfortunately experiencing critical water needs in the face of a crushing drought, we are extremely pleased that Lewis & Clark is able to begin producing water just in the nick of time," Red Arndt, Board Chairman, of Luverne said.
The project was in incorporated in January 1990 and a total of 20 communities will receive water from the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System. The 11 members currently receiving water include: Sioux Falls, Beresford, Centerville, Harrisburg, Lennox, Parker, Tea, Lincoln County RWS, Minnehaha Community Water Corporation (MCWC), South Lincoln RWS and Rock Rapids.
Members awaiting the second connection include: Madison, South Dakota along with Hull, Sheldon, Sibley and Sioux Center from Iowa, and Luverne, Worthington, Lincoln Pipestone RWS and Rock County RWD in Minnesota.
However, Executive Director Troy Larson said there is no way to tell when the nine remaining members will be connected because the federal government has not provided enough funding. He said federal funding has not even been able to keep up with inflation.
"The project's timeline is infinite," Larson said.
Larson said the 20 members that signed on with Lewis & Clark have paid $153 million—which is 99.7% of what the communities owe. Larson said some of those communities also paid for this service a decade ago, but without enough federal funding those communities will never know when they are receiving water.
Executive Director Troy Larson said the only gain left is the federal funding. Larson and Board Chairman Red Arndt are headed to Washington to lobby for more funding. Larson is testifying Tuesday for a bill allocating $80 million a year to the project until it is completed. In a news release, Arndt said they will keep fighting.
"However, be assured we continue to work tirelessly to ensure the remaining nine members are connected as soon as possible," Arndt said.
A ribbon cutting ceremony for the treatment plant is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, August 21, which is the nine year anniversary of Lewis & Clark's groundbreaking.