Luverne still waiting on Lewis and Clark water

LUVERNE, Minn. (AP) -- The southwestern Minnesota city of Luverne had been counting on the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System to help it secure an adequate water supply.

But it's been 13 years since the water project was authorized, and Luverne is among nine out of 20 system members that still don't receive Missouri River water through a pipeline. Some officials have expressed worries about their ability to supply water to the community's major employers this summer if the drought persists, the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader reported Sunday.

The project is intended to supply treated water to 300,000 people in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota, but construction has ground to a halt over federal-versus-local funding disputes. Other Minnesota members waiting to connect are the Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water system, the Rock County Rural Water system and Worthington.

It would take $35 million annually to fully fund the system's ability to continue construction work on the project. The federal government has appropriated just $3.2 million for the coming fiscal year.

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At a Lewis and Clark directors' meeting last month, chairman Red Arndt of Luverne told colleagues that if the drought persists, Luverne won't be able to supply adequate water this summer to its Gevo alcohol plant and its GNP poultry processing facility.

"We dug some more wells, but they're not great producers," Arndt said.

However, Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian and officials at both Gevo and GNP told the Argus Leader the situation is not quite so dire.

Gevo's executive vice president, Brett Lund, said his company is confident it will have enough water this year. He cited the city wells, the possibility that Gevo itself could drill a new well and Gevo's plan to gradually ramp up production over the course of the year instead of taxing Luverne's water reserves all at once.

The Gevo plant makes isobutanol, a type of alcohol, from corn. It can be used as a renewable fuel, converted into military jet fuel, or to make plastics and rubber.

"We support the Lewis and Clark project," Lund said. "We would like to see all the members hooked up as quickly as possible. But the nice part for us is we have other options available."

GNP spokeswoman Lexann Reischl said the city administrator has assured the poultry processor that it is not facing an imminent water crisis, either.

All the system's members already have paid what they anticipated their shares of the project would be. However, confronted by the lag in federal funding, some members including Luverne are considering whether to take on more of the burden.

Baustian said his city council will consider borrowing money or instituting a new water meter fee in hopes of eventually getting the 820,000 gallons of water per day it expected.

The city is heading into the summer with a lawn-watering ban already in place to conserve water. Fortunately, the drought seems to be abating.

"This has not been a bad spring for moisture," Baustian said. "But I would just as soon see it rain for another month."


Information from: Argus Leader