Last year, Governor Kristi Noem amnesiacally claimed that water pipes aren’t infrastructure as she expressed her exuberant opposition to President Biden’s infrastructure plan. Last winter, she supported investing $660 million in federal aid to build water infrastructure in South Dakota, but last week her amnesia hit again as she claimed federal support for local economies leads only and inevitably to inflation and ruin.
But big federal investment in the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System—which the Biden Administration is completing—has made possible Sioux Falls’s spectacular growth in the past decade:
At the time Lewis & Clark went live, Sioux Falls and the region were crawling out of the Great Recession. Since then, the region has seen unprecedented growth and economic development. In the past decade, Sioux Falls alone has added 42,000 new residents, according to Jeff Schmitt, a planning coordinator for the city. That represents about a 25% increase in population.
With dependable water supplies, the city is favorable for businesses looking to move or expand, particularly for water intense industries like manufacturing and processing, said Bob Mundt, the president and CEO of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation. Water is critical to economic development, and in Sioux Falls it’s something that officials can check off their list, Mundt added.
“We were smart enough to do this,” Mundt said. “It’s paying dividends now” [Jonathan Ellis, “Lewis and Clark Water Pipeline Became Sioux Falls’ Lifeline, Ushered in 10 Years of Growth,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2022.07.27].
If all policymakers thought the way Kristi Noem speaks now, Sioux Falls would be a much drier town:
Prior to Lewis & Clark, there were some drought years that tested the city’s ability to provide water from its well fields that feed off the Big Sioux River and Skunk Creek. Those years required severe watering restrictions and gut churning decisions.
While Lewis & Clark was supposed to be a supplemental source of water for the city, its importance only grew after the city had to stop using one of its well fields near the airport. Water from those wells was found to be contaminated with chemicals from the airport used for foam firefighting. The contamination is part of an ongoing federal lawsuit.
“Having what was intended to be supplemental has turned into Lewis & Clark really becoming a lifeline to us when that issue came to be,” [Sioux Falls public works director Mark] Cotter said [Ellis, 2022.07.27].
Big government spending on water infrastructure evidently did cause inflation in Sioux Falls: inflation of population, jobs, housing, industry, economic activity, and tax revenue. Go figure.