U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Representatives Collin Peterson and Tim Walz today called on the Bureau of Reclamation to give more weight to economic impact when prioritizing funding for water projects like the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System. In a letter to the Bureau on its proposed criteria for prioritizing rural water projects, the Minnesota delegation members highlighted the critical economic impact of the Lewis and Clark project for communities in southwestern Minnesota. In addition to the Minnesota delegation members, the letter was signed by the South Dakota and Iowa congressional delegations, including Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Tim Johnson (D-SD), John Thune (R-SD), and Representatives Steve King (R-IA) and Kristi Noem (R-SD).
"A basic purpose of a rural water system is to improve the quality of life of its customers and expand economic development opportunities, which is why we are disappointed to see that the regional economic impact is weighted at only five percent in the criteria outlined," the members said in the letter. "We look forward to continuing to work closely with the Bureau of Reclamation as these criteria are finalized and funds are provided to fulfill the federal government's outstanding financial commitment to the LCRWS."
Last month, Klobuchar and Walz held a meeting with Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor and local officials to discuss the Lewis and Clark project and the need to give more weight to economic impact when funding water projects. Klobuchar, Franken and Walz also met with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other Administration officials last year to urge the Administration to honor their commitment to local communities and move the bipartisan project forward.
Klobuchar and Franken also recently cosponsored the Authorized Rural Water Projects Completion Act, introduced by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), which would provide $80 million per year for 15 years, outside of the annual appropriations process, to complete construction of authorized rural water projects. The legislation would use resources from an already established fund in the U.S. Treasury - the bill would have no cost and expenditures would be prohibited if the spending resulted in an increase in the deficit.
The full text of the letter is below.
September 6, 2012
Mr. James Hess
Bureau of Reclamation
1849 C Street, NW, MC: 96-42000
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Mr. Hess:
As federal representatives of the partner communities, rural water systems and states of the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System (LCRWS) project, we write to submit the following comments on the proposed criteria for prioritizing rural water projects contained in the draft Rural Water Assessment Report released on July 9, 2012.
A basic purpose of a rural water system is to improve the quality of life of its customers and expand economic development opportunities, which is why we are disappointed to see that the regional economic impact is weighted at only five percent in the criteria outlined in the report. We ask that it be given greater weight in the final report.
Rural water projects generate both short-term and long-term economic activity and development. Construction-related and operating jobs come as a direct result of the project. However, once rural water systems, communities and businesses have access to adequate water, numerous jobs and business opportunities are created through expanded economic development.
In the states of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, we can point to a number of examples where the lack of water has had a significant negative impact on economic development. A large pork processing plant in Worthington, Minnesota cannot expand because of the lack of water. Ethanol plants have been turned away in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota. Proposed dairies have been turned away in southwest Minnesota.
A specific example is in the LCRWS partner community of Hull, Iowa, where local leaders worked to establish an emergency connection allowing water to be purchased and then resold to Hull. As a result, a large cheese factory opened in the community in 2008, which employs 135 people and processes 300,000 gallons of milk a day from area dairies. This factory has had a significant impact to the area, and its owners have already announced that they would like to double production and hire 50 additional workers. This example in Hull is one that shows the critical importance of completing the LCRWS project for economic development, while, at the same time, shows the negative impact that the incomplete LCRWS project is having on economic development and job creation.
Eleven communities and rural water systems in South Dakota and Iowa began receiving water from the LCRWS in July 2012, and residents and businesses in those areas can now begin to realize the economic benefits of being connected to a rural water system.
We also firmly believe that other factors make the LCRWS project unique and deserving of higher levels of funding annually as determined in the Administration's budget. For instance, the LCRWS partners have demonstrated a strong local commitment by prepaying 99.7 percent of the state and local match required. Also, by serving more than 300,000 people in 20 communities and rural water systems, this project will provide broad public health benefits in addition to economic development opportunities.
Thank you for your work to establish criteria to prioritize rural water projects including the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System. The LCRWS project is a priority for the communities we represent, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with you and the Bureau of Reclamation as these criteria are finalized and funds are provided to fulfill the federal government's outstanding financial commitment to the LCRWS.