Lewis & Clark reeling from budget allocation
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
The Lewis & Clark Rural Water System can't make progress with a $3.2 million allocation.|
The water system is solely reliant on federal funding to complete the remaining 35 percent of the project, which will eventually include connectivity to Madison. But Lewis & Clark Executive Director Troy Larson said the latest allocation in the 2014 federal budget doesn't allow for any sort of construction to move forward.
At the present rate of funding, the project is "on a path to infinity," he said.
More than $200 million in federal funding is needed to complete the Lewis & Clark project. That amount is adjusted for inflation, growing at a rate of about $8 million each year.
"Funding is not even close to covering inflation," Larson said. "The members want to know what year they're going to get to us. We can't tell them what decade, let alone what year."
Lewis & Clark is one of six rural water projects that is funded through the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The 2014 budget has $40 million set aside for rural water projects, with $28.41 million allocated for the water project construction and $12 million for operation and maintenance of the Mni Wiconi water system.
The Garrison project in North Dakota received $14.4 million (down from $15.9 million); Rocky Boys in Montana received $5.4 million (up from $4 million); Fort Peck/Dry Prairie in Montana received $4.3 million (down from $7.5 million); the Eastern New Mexico Water Supply System received $649,000 (down from $1.9 million); and the Jicarilla Apache Rural Water System in Arizona received no funding ($500,000 the year before).
Of the 20 communities and rural water systems that are members of Lewis & Clark, 11 are currently connected. Larson said at least $7 million would be needed to connect the next community, which is the Rock County Rural Water District in Minnesota.
"It doesn't do any good to build two miles of pipe to a cornfield," Larson said. "Every time we divide a stretch of pipe into two segments, it adds another quarter of a million dollars to the cost."
The 2013 federal budget included $4.5 million for Lewis & Clark. Larson said that funding is pre-obligated to cover existing work.
"One of the questions we're trying to get answered is what are we supposed to do with this money?" Larson said, explaining that the funding is more than what's needed to operate the system, but not enough to move the project forward with new construction.
Larson said it's frustrating to see the dysfunction that's taking place in Washington -- and even harder to understand how there can be across-the-board support for rural water projects and a desire to make it a priority, yet the funding isn't allocated sufficiently to complete the projects.
As a whole, Larson said, funding set aside for the six rural water projects is less than the 2013 budget. Larson said in 2013, $57 million was allocated; the newest budget sets aside $40 million.
"They're not only cutting us, but funding for the program as a whole," he said.
Funding in 2013 included $23 million for construction of the Mni Wiconi water project. Larson said that project reached completion, but instead of keeping the funding within the budget and redistributing it to other water projects, the overall amount for water projects continues to decline.