Sen. Amy Klobuchar made a whirlwind trip through southwest Minnesota earlier this week on a Rural Economy Tour, hearing from local leaders about everything from business development and broadband to childcare and workforce development.
During a mid-morning stop in Worthington Monday, Klobuchar was briefed about the progress of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System expansion. Worthington is slated to be hooked into the multi-state water pipeline in November, bringing an end to the pipeline’s construction in Minnesota until a proposed line from near Rushmore to Sibley, Iowa, is slated to be installed.
Klobuchar has advocated for federal funding to complete the regional water project, and realizes there’s more work to be done. Minnesota’s senior senator helped secure an additional $66 million for the federal Rural Water Program for fiscal year 2018.
Lewis & Clark Regional Water System Executive Director Troy Larson said that money, if divided among projects at the same percentage as in the past, would mean an additional $12.55 million to build out the pipeline in South Dakota. He and the LCRWS board of directors are advocating for $16.2 million, which would advance construction of the pipeline to the next location, rather than ending “in the middle of nowhere.”
Larson anticipates an announcement within the next week on the amount of money that will be appropriated for Lewis & Clark.
Also during the 40-minute meeting, Larson spoke of the $10 billion in additional infrastructure funding in the 2019 federal budget, and asked for Klobuchar’s support to direct as much of that money as possible to the Rural Water Program. Funding the LCRWS to advance construction and completion of the entire project will save a considerable amount in inflation, Larson said, adding that $188 million is still needed to complete the project.
Worthington Public Utilities Manager Scott Hain spoke of the progress in bringing the water pipeline to Worthington, saying that construction is ongoing between Magnolia and Worthington, and the water treatment facilities in Worthington are also underway.
Once the work is completed, Worthington will receive an estimated 1.9 million gallons of water from LCRWS each day, which accounts for one-third of the city’s use. The remaining two-thirds will continue to come from the city’s wellfield near Lake Bella.
“In 2013-2015, we were getting awfully nervous around here with an extended drought,” Hain said. “Now we’ve bounced back, which is OK, but we’re anxious for (Lewis & Clark water) to show up here.”
Both Hain and Larson thanked Klobuchar for the additional funding for the Rural Water Program and asked for her continued support.
Klobuchar mentioned the tru Shrimp project planned for Luverne and said without the regional water project, that would not have been possible.
Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa legislatures each approved funding advances to get the water pipeline constructed, and the federal government is expected to pay that back once all 20 member communities and agencies are connected. Minnesota advanced $44.5 million, South Dakota advanced $8.7 million and Iowa advanced $7 million for construction.
Also during Klobuchar’s visit, Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle and City Administrator Steve Robinson spoke of business expansions and the ongoing workforce and housing needs.
“Immigration reform has been really frustrating because workforce really needs it,” Klobuchar said, noting the 2.9 million DREAMers that don’t have a path to citizenship. “I’m so afraid for our rural areas if something doesn’t get done.”
Robinson said the city is advocating, for public safety reasons, getting the non-U.S. citizens licensed and insured.
“We don’t care where they’re from, we need safe streets,” Robinson said.
On another note, Kuhle spoke of the investments the city is making in amenities to attract people to Worthington, the investments being made in housing and the new Bluejay Villas student housing project on the Minnesota West campus.
Regarding child care, Kuhle said regulations need to be evaluated, and spoke of how the retail sector is being hurt by internet businesses that don’t collect sales tax.