Infrastructure money aims to bring better quality water to rural northwest Iowa
A nonprofit organization that provides water to a portion of northwest Iowa received a boost that officials say will keep things flowing for the future.
This week, the Biden administration announced that $7 million in infrastructure money will go to the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System to finish the final phase of a water treatment plant in Vermillion, South Dakota. A total of $65 million was awarded to six projects for fiscal year 2024.
“Every drop of water that northwest Iowa gets emanates from the treatment plant you can’t get water to Iowa if we don't have a treatment plant,” Executive Director Troy Larson said.
The Lewis and Clark Rural Water System was incorporated in 1990 and covers 20 communities in northwest Iowa, southeast South Dakota and southwest Minnesota. Operations started in 2012 to help address water quality and quantity issues.
“The idea actually started in the late 80s, back when I had parachute pants. So that's how long we've been working on this," Larson said. "I wasn't around at the time, but this project’s been a long time in the making.”
Larson says the ongoing drought also shows the vulnerability of water sources across the region.
"... If you don't have good quality water and have it at an abundant level, your community or water system is going to suffer in the long run."Troy Larson, executive director Lewis and Clark Water Rural Water System
“It's the cornerstone of economic development, quality of life," he said. "If you don't have good quality water and have it at an abundant level, your community or water system is going to suffer in the long run.”
Larson says the water system has received $142.5 million in infrastructure money during the past few years.
“So, the infrastructure bill has just been a huge boom to Lewis and Clark, in terms of getting us toward the finish line," he said. "We're not there yet. But this is just another step closer, the $7 million is very welcome and will be put to good use.”
The cities of Sioux Center, Hull, and Rock Rapids already get their water from the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System that serves communities in three states. Sheldon is expected to go online in November as soon as the water line from Hull is disinfected. Sibley is expected to tap into the system in 2025.
Larson says Sibley’s water quality was so poor the town had to cap their wells.
“They’re told stories of how when RAGBRAI went through there many years ago, they put signs up everywhere saying, 'Don’t drink the water,'" he said. "Otherwise, you’re going to be in a cornfield a few miles down the road.”
Larson says the next priority is to expand the capacity of the water system from 44 million gallons to 60 million gallons a day by 2031.
“The drought helped everyone see we're not as flush as we thought we were, we better start this expansion sooner," he said.