We are encouraged to follow the possibility of a large infusion of federal funds to complete the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System.
A $1 trillion infrastructure package passed the Senate on Aug. 10. It calls for investing $8 billion in water projects — $1 billion of that for rural water projects like this — in the Midwest and West, including $132 million for Lewis & Clark. That would replace $31 million set aside for the water project in the 2022 federal budget.
The massive infrastructure package was approved 69-30 by the Senate on Aug. 10, with Iowa’s senators split on it. Sen. Chuck Grassley voted for it but Sen. Joni Ernst was opposed.
Since the Senate is evenly divided, the fact that so many Republicans — including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — voted in favor of it shows strong support across party divisions, a welcome sign in today’s hyperpartisan political climate.
The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System takes water from an aquifer near the Missouri River in southeast South Dakota and pipes it to communities in northwest Iowa, southeast South Dakota and southeast Minnesota. It is a good idea that has been delayed far too long.
After all this time, 15 of the 20 communities are connected. In N’West Iowa, only Rock Rapids is connected. Other N’West Iowa towns, including Sioux Center, Hull, Sheldon and Sibley, as well as Madison, SD, await access to this life-giving liquid. If and when this bill becomes law and the federal tap is turned, we could see this water flowing into area homes and businesses in the next few years.
It’s been a long time coming.
Lewis & Clark executive director Troy Larson said he hopes this is a clear signal that the project, 34 years after initial planning began and 21 years after the first dirt was moved, is finally nearing completion.
“It will be a huge accomplishment to get everyone connected,” Larson said. “This should’ve been finished 10 to 15 years ago but we are encouraged that the light is at the end of the tunnel. The water was needed so badly.”
Getting through the Senate was a major accomplishment, and a sign that President Joe Biden’s belief that he and congressional Democrats could work with their Republican colleagues was not mere campaign talk. But getting it through the House of Representatives, which is under Democratic control, will not be easy.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wants another bill, focusing on paid leave, child care, Medicare expansion, climate and energy issues. It carries a $3.5 trillion price tag.
However, a group of moderate Democrats feel that is simply too much money.
They had threatened to derail both bills unless a smaller domestic spending package was offered.
Pelosi has agreed to separate the two, and a Sept. 27 vote is slated on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
If it passes, Biden would immediately sign it.
In addition to the Lewis & Clark funding, the bill would provide billions for necessary improvements across the country. The state of American highways and bridges is troubling, and this would mean significant improvements.
We are encouraged by any flicker of bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., and hope the infrastructure bill is soon law. Investing in America is long overdue.