Rural System Goes Regional

April 11, 2008

About the author: Troy Larson is executive director for Lewis & Clark Regional Water System. Larson can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System (L&C) is a unique cooperative effort involving 20 cities and rural water systems, the states of South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota and the federal government. Incorporated in 1990 and authorized by Congress in 2000, L&C is being built to address common water needs of rural water systems in a consolidated project that is more effective and cost-efficient than each city and rural water system could be on its own.

Regional water issues include shallow wells and aquifers prone to contamination and drought, water demands that will exceed the capacity of the local aquifers, compliance with new federal drinking water standards and increasing water demand due to population growth and economic expansion.

Providing Water

When completed, L&C will be a wholesale provider of water to 15 cities and five rural water systems in southeastern South Dakota, northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota, who in turn will sell the water to their customers. L&C will not connect directly to homes, businesses or industries.

Through L&C’s 20 members, more than 300,000 people will benefit from the project in a 5,000-sq-mile area (approximately the size of Connecticut). In most cases, the members will use L&C to supplement their existing water source. A handful of members, however, plan to use L&C as their sole source of water. Having a plentiful source of quality drinking water will improve the quality of life and economic development opportunities in the region for generations to come.


Established as a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization, L&C is owned by the local members and governed by 20 directors, with construction oversight from the Bureau of Reclamation. The project enjoys strong political support in Congress and the state legislatures. L&C is being built entirely with grant funds—80% comes from the federal government, 10% from the three states and 10% from the 20 local members. The exception is the city of Sioux Falls, S.D., by far the largest member of L&C, which has a higher cost share than the other members.

When completed, the project will cost approximately $515 million, which includes the members paying 100% of the incremental cost to expand the system from 23.5 million gal per day (mgd), as it was authorized, to the current capacity of 45 mgd (with the ability to expand to 60 mgd in the future).

Federal funding has steadily increased over the last few years. Congress appropriated $17.5 million to the project in fiscal year 2006, $21 million in fiscal year 2007 and $26.57 million in fiscal year 2008. L&C needs $35 million a year to keep construction, which is already three years behind, on schedule.

As a way to keep construction moving forward and reduce the impacts of inflation, 17 of L&C’s 20 members have prepaid their share of the project. Combined with the funds contributed through the years, the local members have committed $106.5 million toward the project to date; only $1.5 million remains to pay.

In addition, the states of Iowa and Minnesota have prepaid their share of the project, with South Dakota planning to pay its remaining share, $19 million, over the next three years. The prepayments demonstrate to the federal government the exceptionally strong state and local support for this critical water project.

How It Works

L&C is a treated water delivery system that will utilize a lime-softening treatment process. The source of water will be a series of wells that tap into an aquifer adjacent to the Missouri River near Vermillion, S.D. Seven of the estimated 17 to 19 wells have been completed. Four are angle wells and three are vertical.

The first phase of the 45-mgd water treatment plant, which will be located a few miles north of Vermillion, is scheduled to be up for bid this summer. The main transmission line is 54-in. steel pipe. The last 11 miles of the main transmission line will be bid on this spring.

The distribution system is nonlooped, designed to deliver the capacity reserved by each of the members. System reliability is provided by storage within the distribution system.

Project Timeline

The groundbreaking for L&C was held in August 2003, and the first full year of construction was 2004. With four years of construction completed, in addition to the completed wells and a riverbank stabilization project that is underway, 79 miles of primarily 54-in. steel pipe were completed or under construction as of December 2007.

L&C expects to start delivering treated water to five of its members by 2012, with the remaining members to be hooked up in subsequent years. Depending on federal funding, the earliest construction would be completed on the entire system is 2019. The original plan was to complete the project in 2016.

Because of the critical water needs of some members, two segments of the pipeline are being built out of order as emergency connections—one for Hull, Iowa, and one for the cities of Tea and Harrisburg, S.D. Until L&C water arrives, L&C will purchase water from Sioux Center, Iowa, and resell it to Hull. Likewise, Sioux Falls will be the originating source of water for Tea and Harrisburg. Both emergency connections, which are scheduled to be operational by the summer of 2008, are simply ways to buy time for members in critical need of more water.

To review maps of the system and construction progress, construction photos and more information about L&C, visit

Download: Here

About the Author

Troy Larson

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