The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 2, 2013

Is Lewis & Clark project a pipeline to nowhere?

Water dries up as does federal funding for southwest Minnesota

The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System was supposed to supply millions of gallons of badly needed water to southwest Minnesota. Instead, it's Minnesota’s pipeline to nowhere.

More than 100 miles of pipe have been laid in South Dakota and Iowa. But not a drop of water has crossed into Minnesota.

The stalled project is causing problems for communities and rural water supply systems that trusted Lewis & Clark water would be flowing from household faucets by now. More than two years of on-and-off drought have stretched existing water supplies and led to watering bans and other restrictions.

The line "kind of just ends in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of that field," said Red Arndt as he walked farmland recently on the Minnesota-Iowa border. Arndt lives in southwest Minnesota and has been involved with planning and building the project for more than 20 years. He currently chairs the Lewis & Clark board.

The pipeline extends a little into Minnesota, but only by about 400 feet, said Arndt, as he stood near steel pipes sticking out of a slab of concrete, the junction where water is supposed to be directed from northwest Iowa into Minnesota.

It ends in this useless location because there's no money to lay more. Construction stopped after Congress failed to deliver promised funding.

Lewis & Clark is supplying water to some South Dakota and Iowa communities. It draws water from the Missouri River in South Dakota, treats it and then pipes the water north and east. It still gets a little federal money, but only enough to maintain what's already operating. Arndt said he's not optimistic Congress will send more funds anytime soon.

Local officials say that's a threat to the region’s economic development.

Luverne has spent about $400,000 developing water supplies to make up for the Lewis & Clark shortfall. If the project lies dormant into next summer, the city will spend another $1 million, mainly to dig new wells and process the water, said city administrator John Call.

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