Sioux Falls seeks information on backup to water project

The city of Sioux Falls wants to know how much it would cost and how long it would take to build an alternative to the Lewis & Clark Rural Water System in case funding for the project falls through.

May 7th, 2004

SIOUX FALLS, S.D., May 7, 2004 -- The city of Sioux Falls wants to know how much it would cost and how long it would take to build an alternative to the Lewis & Clark Rural Water System in case funding for the project falls through.

Sioux Falls and 21 other communities see the project as the solution to future water needs. It would pipe treated water from the Missouri River to 200,000 people in southeast South Dakota, northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.

But its success depends on federal money and a shortfall in those dollars has led Sioux Falls officials to start considering other options, said public works director Lyle Johnson.

This week the city council authorized spending $50,000 to hire a consultant to study a raw-water pipeline from the Missouri River to Sioux Falls.

"Both members of the council and the mayor have said we are fully committed to Lewis & Clark, but should Lewis & Clark not be funded or not be funded in a timely manner we need to look at alternatives," said council member Kevin Kavanaugh.

Troy Larson, Lewis & Clark executive director, said representatives of Sioux Falls asked a year ago about the possibility of borrowing the money to cover the federal fund shortfall and getting paid back when those funds eventually made their way to Lewis & Clark.

That option could keep the project on its current timetable without putting Sioux Falls at risk of losing its money, said Larson.

"Lewis & Clark (funding) survived 9-11. It would have to be a cataclysmic event where the project is no longer funded," he said. "Never in history has the federal government ever defaulted on a rural water project."

Although the city of Sioux Falls might be the borrower, the other members of Lewis & Clark would all be responsible for their share of the project should federal dollars not materialize.

Larson said the money Sioux Falls would borrow would be to cover only the shortfall in federal dollars - not the entire cost of the pipeline.

The most recent estimate is that it would cost $376 million to build Lewis & Clark. Plans call for $295 million of that to come from the federal government, with the remainder coming from the states of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, and the communities that would be receiving water.

Charlie Kuehl, chairman of the Lewis & Clark board, remains optimistic that federal funding will be available for the project and he hopes Sioux Falls doesn't pull out of Lewis & Clark.

"I think that kills the project for the rest of us. The rest of us don't have the resources," he said.

Two Iowa water districts have already withdrawn from Lewis & Clark, saying they can't wait until the project is done and have found another source of water.

Kavanaugh said the city simply wants a backup plan and the study should not be seen as Sioux Falls stepping away from Lewis & Clark.

Council chairman Darrin Smith said he doesn't want to send the message that Sioux Falls' interest in Lewis & Clark has waned.

"That is something that Sioux Falls needs to be committed to because that is the best plan for the future of the region," he said.


More in Distribution