The Rural Water - Economics Link

I had the unique opportunity on March 23, along with four other water officials from across the nation, to provide testimony to the House of Representatives regarding the critical importance of improving water resources in rural America. As part of my testimony I shared, “To help ensure the sustainability of rural America and remain competitive in the industrial market, access to quality, reliable water is job No. 1.”

The House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Rural Development, Biotechnology, Specialty Crops & Foreign Agriculture invited the aforementioned representatives to address the important role rural water plays in economic development.

Economic Backbone

“Water truly is the backbone of economic development,” I said. “Talking about water may not be flashy, but it is the first factor considered when it comes to attracting new businesses or industries or expanding existing ones.”

I further testified that during this time of economic turmoil, “water truly is the oil that runs the engine of economic development.” As part of my testimony I gave multiple examples of missed opportunities for economic development in Lewis & Clark Regional Water System’s (LCRWS) 20 member communities. Cities and rural water systems have turned away ethanol plants and dairy operations, as well as expansion of existing industries, because they did not have the available water resources to support those operations. “The lost economic value to the farmers and regional economy is immeasurable,” I stated to the subcommittee.

Success Story

On the flip side, I shared a success story of the positive impact LCRWS already has had in Hull, Iowa. LCRWS constructed an “emergency connection” to the town of just more than 2,000 people using a temporary water source. Because of this connection and the promise of future water once the system is completed, a large cheese factory was able to open there.

This was not a plant that relocated from somewhere else, but a brand-new factory. The cheese plant currently employs 99 people and soon plans to expand to 130. It processes in excess of 300,000 gal of milk a day from area dairies. There is no question that without the water from LCRWS this plant would not have located in Hull. I told the Subcommittee: “The addition of this cheese factory has been like a direct injection of adrenaline into the regional economy.”

Call to Action

The goal of Congressional leaders in holding the hearing was to bring increased awareness to their colleagues and the administration of the importance to providing adequate funding for critically needed water infrastructure through existing loan and grant programs. During tight budgetary times like this it becomes more important to prioritize. The invited water officials collectively emphasized the importance of ensuring critical water infrastructure, which creates jobs on the front end through construction and more importantly on the back end by expanding economic development opportunities for communities and rural areas, is a top funding priority for Congress and the administration.

The testimony was well received, and the members of the subcommittee asked many good questions. The proof will be in the pudding, though, as it becomes clear whether their colleagues and the administration fully recognize the crucial role rural water plays in the America’s economy, especially in rural parts of the nation. Members of the rural water industry will continue to do our part, but we need the federal government to be a full partner by ensuring that we have the tools and resources available to get the job done.

Troy Larson is executive director of Lewis & Clark Regional Water System. Larson can be reached at tlarson@lcrws.org.

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