Fresh water finally on tap for South Dakota residents

South Dakota State Roundup

Published January 1, 1994  | January 1994 issue

For about 240 homes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and 87 ranch homes north of Wall, construction that began in 1992 on two local pipelines will bring them a resource that most homeowners take for granted: water.

The 70-mile pipeline through Pine Ridge and the 160-mile line north of Wall—funded through a $5 million congressional appropriation—are just the beginning, though, for southwest South Dakota. Congress recently appropriated an additional $10 million for the Mni Wiconi Rural Water Supply Project that, if expanded as planned, will serve over 50,000 people in a 12,500 square-mile region of the state, many of whom now haul their own water.

Initially approved by Congress in 1988 as an $87.5 million project to serve over 30,000 people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and nine additional counties, amendments to the existing law call for expansion to the Rosebud and Lower Brule reservations, and to areas west of the Missouri River known as the Lyman-Jones and West River service areas.

Adjusted for inflation, the cost of the original Mni Wiconi project is now at $105 million, according to Mike Kurle, manager of the West River/Lyman-Jones project. And according to the project's engineering report, the total cost of the expanded project would exceed $250 million.

Most of that funding will come from the federal government, according to Kurle. Construction, operation and maintenance costs for the portion on the three Indian reservations are a federal responsibility and will be covered 100 percent. The construction of the non-Indian portion will be covered by federal funds at 65 percent, with local users paying the remaining 35 percent, in addition to operation and maintenance.

Without the participation of the Indian reservations and the attendant appropriation of federal funds, the project would never be built, Kurle says. Area residents had been trying for years to get water pumped from the Oahe Reservoir on the Missouri River, he says, but it was never economically feasible. "There were not enough bodies to make it work."

The reason for the pipeline system, which will pump about 10 million gallons of water a day through 4,351 miles of pipe, is obvious, according to Kurle: "There is either no water or the water is unfit for human consumption." According to the engineer's report, some existing water supplies not only pose health risks for humans, but are also unfit for livestock.

Kurle says ranchers must dig 3,000-foot wells, at a cost of up to $40,000, just to find potable water for cattle. The towns of Belvedere and Kadoka each drilled $300,000 wells last year and the water is often undrinkable, Kurle says.

Congress is expected to address the issue of expanding the Mni Wiconi project early this year, after which construction will begin.

David Fettig