Ever since he took office, we've been writing about Congressman Walz's efforts for the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System. The project, which enjoys bipartisan support, will bring quality drinking water to the area. It's a vitally important economic development project.
The editorial board of the Worthington Globe, like many people in the area, were flabbergasted when President Bush released a budget that completely left out funding for the vital project. The Globe board wrote:
Scott Hain, the general manager of Worthington Public Utilities, was incredulous when he learned President Bush’s new budget allocates no new dollars for the Lewis and Clark regional water project.
Last year, the project received almost $27 million in funding, a figure below the project’s request of $35 million but well in excess of Bush’s proposal of $15 million. With Bush offering even less — and you can’t get any less than zero — in this budget, advocates of the three-state water project would appear to have their hands full.
Still, Hain was optimistic Tuesday that federal support for Lewis and Clark will continue to grow.
“It’s just shocking the administration would zero the project out, but our congressional delegation has been able to bump the administration number up every year,” Hain said. “I think there’s been only one year that funding has decreased from one year to the next.”
Area federal legislators from both sides of the aisle, predictably, slammed the Lewis and Clark funding cut. Quite frankly, they’ve got every right to be irate at Bush’s passing over of the project. The system, a partnership of 15 cities and five rural water districts in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, would get treated water from wells near the Missouri River through the 337 miles of underground pipe, the Associated Press explained in a story published in this newspaper Tuesday. Without an ample water supply, future development for this region will be next to impossible.
“There are some heavy hitters going to the plate for us,” Hain said. Let’s hope they can connect for a timely home run.
KELO-TV in Sioux Falls reported the project director's response:
Lewis and Clark Executive Director Troy Larson says, "We're just stunned that makes no sense whatsoever. This project has such strong support throughout the region, in the three states, strong local support, state support, it makes no sense to zero out project funding."
One of the reasons for the shock on the part of state and local officials is that many of the local communities (and two of the states) have--as a cost containment measure--already paid their share of the construction costs:
Now in its fifth year of construction, the project has received $100.1 million from the federal government while the 20 local water providers have contributed $106.5 million. The state of South Dakota has paid $12.9 million so far, and Gov. Mike Rounds has introduced legislation that would pay off the state's remaining $19 million contribution during the next three years.
The states of Iowa and Minnesota paid $7 million and $5.4 million respectively and are all paid up.
Another reason is that in March 2001, President Bush singled out the Lewis and Clark system an "important development project." Congressman Walz has reminded the President of this promise.
Those who pledge to refuse earmarks for the First would create district-wide replications of this travesty, if this one instance isn't enough in itself to illustrate the destructive consequences of a cheap talking point. In today's Globe, DFL party chair Brian Melendez asks Would's Walz's opponents fight for Lewis and Clark?:
Your Feb. 6 editorial, “Water system cut would dry up growth,” was right on the mark. It is a travesty that President Bush wants to cut all federal money in 2009 for the much-needed Lewis and Clark Regional Water System, which will create good jobs and help southwestern Minnesota keep growing.
After Bush shortchanged the project in the 2008 budget, a bipartisan group of representatives and senators from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota — including First District Rep. Tim Walz — stepped up to secure $27 million to keep the project moving forward, on time and on budget. But now, with Bush “zeroing out” Lewis and Clark for 2009, it looks like Rep. Walz and his bipartisan allies must keep fighting even harder this year for southwestern Minnesota.
Rep. Walz has shown leadership by fighting for this project. But two of the three Republicans running against him have effectively refused to help Lewis and Clark. Dick Day and Brian Davis have both declared their opposition to congressional earmarks — federal funding that representatives bring home for important projects in their district. Day has even said that, if elected, he wouldn’t use them to benefit southern Minnesota. (Randy Demmer has yet to speak up.) But last year’s funding for Lewis and Clark came only through an earmark, precisely because Rep. Walz stepped up when President Bush left the project high and dry.
When the going got tough, Tim Walz rolled up his sleeves and got the job done for southwestern Minnesota — and he’s ready to do so again. Now voters should ask Day and Davis why they wouldn’t — and ask Demmer to take a stand.
But maybe there's a temporary solution that presumptive thimblewits Day and Davis could propose to the citizens of southwestern Minnesota. A South Dakotan writes in the Harrisburg (SD) Champion:
Enjoy that federal tax rebate you are going to get. If you live in Harrisburg or Tea, you will need to invest it in bottled water. For reasons only our lame duck President George W. Bush understands, he has proposed no funding for the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System in the next fiscal year.
Let them drink Perrier!