Guest column: Rebuilding America’s rural infrastructure

Julie Gross USDA Rural Development State Director
South Dakota

HURON, S.D. — Some people remember when many rural households didn’t have electricity or running water. Although those days are long gone for most, there’s still lots of room for improvement. In fact, our American infrastructure used to be the envy of the world, but now it’s in disrepair.

This is why President Donald Trump has made it a priority to rebuild America’s infrastructure. He proposes to devote $50 billion, which is 25 percent of new federal money, to improving infrastructure in rural America. This is an unprecedented commitment. His proposal will stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next decade.

As Congress takes up the president’s infrastructure proposal, I am delighted to share with you some great news right now. Included in the FY 2018 budget bill that Congress just passed, and President Trump signed in March, is a robust investment of $600 million in rural broadband. These funds will serve as a “down payment” on the President’s full comprehensive infrastructure funding proposal that will be further deliberated over the coming months.

USDA will use these new rural broadband funds administer a new program that will begin to meet the Administration’s goals of bringing reliable and affordable broadband e-connectivity to America’s rural towns, cities and tribal areas. Today, 80 percent of the 24 million American households that do not have 21st century high-speed internet are in rural areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission. That is unacceptable. America can do better for our rural citizens and for rural production sites that need e-connectivity to continue to supply the nation and the world with food, fiber, minerals, and manufactured products.

As we set up the new program, USDA will work diligently to ensure that the broadband e-connectivity projects provide the most “bang for the buck” and improve access for as many rural American homes, businesses, farms, schools and health care centers as possible.

Every day, I see firsthand the tremendous difference USDA has made over the decades by investing in rural infrastructure. Here in South Dakota, for example, USDA is helping Kingbrook Rural Water System, Inc. with providing 230 new service locations and improve the reliability of the existing water system. The project includes approximately 160 miles of pipeline, one new pump station for users on the outer fringes of the water system and one new ground storage tank at the De Smet Treatment Plant. The Kingbrook Rural Water System, Inc. operates a regional potable water supply system in east central South Dakota serving all or parts of 11 counties including Beadle, Brookings, Clark, Hamlin, Kingsbury, Lake, McCook, Miner, Minnehaha, Moody, and Sanborn, and approximately 4,700 customer accounts and a population of over 15,000. The system is operated with three independent water sources servicing three distinct service areas.

These investments are the result of strong partnerships that USDA has formed over the years with local business and civic leaders.

In addition to providing infrastructure financing, USDA is addressing statutory changes, regulatory relief and cultural shifts to help improve the way the Federal government serves its citizens. This approach is consistent with the secretary’s priorities — infrastructure, partnerships and innovation. All three are needed to rebuild this great nation.

During the next few weeks and months — and throughout my term — I will be meeting with business owners, developers, elected officials and rural residents to learn about your infrastructure needs and concerns. I want to hear from you about what’s working — and what we can do better.

Here’s how you can help: Please contact me at 605-352-1100,, or reach out to our team of specialists in South Dakota to let us know of your community’s infrastructure needs.

Together, we can ensure that USDA investments in rural infrastructure will creates jobs, expand economic opportunities and help ensure that rural communities continue to be great places to live, work, start a business, and raise a family.

It’s an honor to serve you.

Julie Gross