One of the biggest issues currently facing Cheyenne River Reservation development is a water shortage, which is preventing the construction of new homes, and any new water hook-ups for existing homes.
The concept for a water supply and distribution system on the reservation was introduced at the infrastructural scale in the late 1960’s. By 1981, the tribe and Tri-County Water had installed an intake pump into the Cheyenne River, built a treatment plant south of Eagle Butte, and set up a main pipeline into Eagle Butte – the reservation’s largest town. Later, this main line was expanded east and west, and lines were placed north and south to pull in the outlying districts, communities and individual home sites, and to provide pasture taps (for a fee). In order to reach these outlying areas, Tri-County Water partnered with the USDA and Indian Health Services to expand and upgrade. Water storage tanks were put up in the 15 communities and 4 incorporated towns, ranging from 100,000 – 250,000 gallon capacity. Before 1981, people relied on deep (1000-2000 ft) artesian wells, which produced hard, salty water, or water delivery services.
The system was soon strained by a drought that affected the area from 1997 to 2008, an increase in housing demands, and high pasturing demand. Currently the pipelines are past capacity and Tri-County Water has put a hold on all new water lines and meters. An expensive, temporary fix moved the intake from the Cheyenne River to the Missouri River, and appropriations for 60-65 million dollars would be needed to make this fix permanent and to expand the main pipeline from the intake to Eagle Butte. This is a 4-5 year project, which does not account for expanding the lines out of Eagle Butte to smaller communities. Therefore, even though the drought ended 2 years ago, water flow is still impeded by the inadequate pipelines.
Originally, most rural homes built by the Housing Authority were equipped with cisterns, and received water through delivery. Over the years, many rural homes were added to the water supply system, eliminating the need for those cisterns. However, those who did not receive a meter before the moratorium must haul water to these cisterns in order to service their homes, as there are no delivery services left on this reservation. We recently had the opportunity to witness and assist in this process.
After looking in the water cistern and determining that water was needed, the process starts with securing a 300 gallon tank to the back of a pick-up truck and procuring a key and hose from the local store, off the reservation. Here, the water is purchased from neighboring Meade County. With tools in hand, we took five trips between a roadside hydrant and the home cistern, a mile long trip with some tricky truck maneuvering needed to align the tank’s spout with the cistern. In total, this process took half a day, and must be done approximately every two months by this family. As difficult as it can be during the summer, it is particularly taxing in the winter. The 1500 gallons of water supports the needs of a two-person home, where water is carefully conserved. Instead of using the indoor toilet, they opt to use an outhouse, as the water used for a toilet would require more frequent hauling. They have been requesting that Tri-County Water install a meter and line for ten years, but are still waiting.