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Regional Water Authority Funding isn’t working

Those were the words of Bruce Sunchild, The Chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation.  Sunchild testified before a key Senate panel at the end of July on a bill introduced by Mt. Senator Max Baucus.   The bill’s intention is to try and get some consistent-guaranteed funding for the slow-moving Rocky Boy’s Northcentral Regional Water Project.

The project was authorized in 2002 but funding has been sketchy with as little as 5-million per year or in one case, 800-thousand a year for a project that will cost in the neighborhood of 400-million depending on how long it takes.    These are Sunchild’s comments, taken from Senator Baucus website.

“If I could leave the members of this committee with one impression, it would be for you to understand how difficult life is when you have no assurances that when you turn the water on in your house that water will in fact come out of the tap or be safe to drink,” Sunchild told the Senate Natural Resources Committee today.

Sunchild’s testimony centered on the devastation of two consecutive years of flooding on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation that have resulted in serious health problems for residents in addition to the naturally occurring high arsenic levels in the groundwater. He described the ongoing impacts of groundwater contaminated with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) which causes ulcers, severe gastric discomfort and can lead to stomach cancer.

Sunchild also pointed out that the current system of funding rural water projects through ad hoc appropriations bills rarely even keeps up with the rate of inflation. Under this system, these projects would actually cost taxpayers millions of dollars more than necessary, because they will take decades longer to complete.  Instead, Baucus’ bill invests adequate funding for rural water projects up front and saves taxpayer dollars over the long run.

“City people, and even many folks in rural states, take for granted that when they move into a house they on turn the tap and there’s drinking water. But for many folks, especially in rural areas, that’s just not true. When there’s no municipal drinking water system, you get your water from wells – sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the water is contaminated. It’s unreliable, and there’s not enough good, clean water,” Baucus told the panel. “We’ve got to get these rural water projects completed and the approach in this bill makes a lot of sense because the old way of doing things just hasn’t worked.”

In his testimony, Sunchild used the example of the Rocky Boy’s/North-Central Water Project.  He said if the project were funded at $35 million a year, it could be completed at a total cost of $418.6 million by 2021. But, funding the project at only $15 million a year will cost about $647 million and wouldn’t allow the project to be completed until 2046 – costing taxpayers an extra $228 million.  Since the project was first authorized in 2002, its appropriations have fluctuated dramatically, averaging about $5.5 million a year, and falling as low as $800 thousand.

The Baucus bill, officially known as the Authorized Rural Water Project Completion Act would authorize no new projects but rather provide guaranteed funding for projects that are already authorized.

It would not add to the deficit according to Baucus because it would forbid the Treasury Secretary from transferring funds if it would add to the deficit.

A public hearing on the water project was held in Chester last week and another one, concerning future pipelines will be held in Cut Bank on September 10th. More on that when we get closer.

 

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