Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and Representatives Tim Walz and Collin Peterson joined together, along with a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from South Dakota and Iowa, to send a letter to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor seeking answers on low-funding levels and the Bureau's plan to complete the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System project.
"The federal government made a commitment to the communities of southwest Minnesota to help construct the Lewis and Clark Water Project, and this commitment must be met," Sen. Klobuchar said. "This continued delay is hurting local economies, and I will continue to do everything possible help to ensure the region gets the funding it has been promised."
"For years now I've been fighting to restore federal support for this project and bring much-needed economic development to Southwestern Minnesota," Sen. Franken said. "At a time when creating jobs is so important, this type of infrastructure investment is exactly what we need. That's why I will continue to press the federal government to contribute its promised share and help our rural communities grow."
"This project needs to get done. Ensuring southwest Minnesota has access to a safe, abundant water supply will help rural communities grow and small businesses prosper," Rep. Walz said. "The local members have upheld their end of the bargain, it's long past time the federal government upheld theirs."
Senators John Thune (R-SD), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Reps. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Steve King (R-IA) also signed the letter.
Below please find text of the letter.
June 14, 2013
The Honorable Michael Connor
Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Commissioner Connor:
We are deeply disappointed that the Administration has failed to prioritize funding for critical Rural Water Projects, including the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget request for the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). With a remaining federal cost share of over $1.2 billion for construction of BOR water projects, the Administration's request of $22 million for construction in FY 2014 would not cover inflation or allow the projects to make any meaningful construction progress. For Lewis & Clark, the remaining federal cost share is over $200 million and the $3.2 million requested for FY 2014 would be insufficient for any pipeline construction.
We note that in the FY 2014 budget for each of the five BOR rural water projects there is a sentence that reads "Non-Federal entities will likely need to increase their share of project funding if this project is to be built within the timeframes they have envisioned." As you know, the twenty local members of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System and the states of South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota have prepaid one hundred percent of their non-federal cost share -- a combined $154 million. For Lewis & Clark's members to consider whether to incur additional expense in order to get water sooner, as proposed by the president's budget, it is only fair they have a general estimate from BOR of when the project will be finished. Unfortunately, with federal funding levels over the last four years not keeping pace with inflation, the Lewis & Clark membership is concerned that, even if an increase in the non-federal cost share was agreed to, there is no timeline at BOR for project completion.
Please advise what BOR's plan is to complete Lewis & Clark and when you estimate that will occur. We would also appreciate knowing of any other ways BOR may be able to work with the project sponsors to move this critically important project forward. In addition, the FY 2014 BOR budget requested a decrease of roughly $29 million for rural water projects when compared to FY 2013. While we recognize that existing federal funding constraints persist, as project costs continue to rise, we would request additional information on the administration's decision to substantially decrease the budget request for rural water project construction in FY 2014.
We appreciate your attention to this issue and look forward to hearing from you.