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$600M for water projects gains support, but senators pause

January 21, 2022 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A proposal from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to use the bulk of federal coronavirus relief funding on water and sewage projects has so far met little opposition in the state Senate, but a powerful committee on Friday withheld its approval to vet the proposal further.

The Senate State Affairs committee on Friday heard enthusiastic support from groups representing municipal governments, water utility providers and a conservation group for sending $600 million of federal funds to a grant program that would fund water supply projects across the state.

But the Republican committee’s chairman said he also wants to make sure the state is ready to disburse the funding before the bill gets the committee’s blessing.

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“A bill of this gravity — we don’t want to rush it through,” said Sen. Gary Cammack, the Senate Republican leader, adding that it was the largest single budget item he had ever tackled.

The funding would allow utility providers across the state to launch the next generation of water pipelines and treatment, said Kurt Pfeifle, the director of the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems.

“It’s going to ensure that we’ll continue to provide adequate service,” he said. “Making sure that the water’s clean, safe, filtered.”

Several large projects hoping to tap into the fund would pipe water from the Missouri River to both the Black Hills region and the northeast corner of the state, both of which have experienced droughts in recent years.

But even the $600 million allotment won’t come close to matching all the projects that have applied for funding. Hunter Roberts, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the state has received applications from 250 projects requesting over $3.2 billion.

The state will use an existing loan program for water infrastructure projects to distribute the funds, but Cammack said lawmakers want to make sure the Board of Water and Natural Resources is ready to handle the influx of applications.

“It’s huge, we really need some assurances along those lines,” the senator said.

The state is looking to spend $975 million from the federal government over the next five years. Cities and towns will get another $276 million to spend on a wide variety of projects that qualify under the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed last year.