Boulder Rotary works to help connect reservation homes to clean water

For the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, access to clean water is a daily obstacle.

The tribe is one of dozens of native tribes across the United States that are facing a shortage of clean water and as a result their people are suffering from various deadly diseases.

Left to right, Dr. Juliette Harrington, Boulder Rotary, scientist; Ken Lone Elk, Oglala Lakota, Running Strong, Water Coordinator; Alessandro Sachs, Boulder Rotary, project manager; Dr. Lynn Johnson, Boulder Rotary, hydrologist. The group oversaw the drinking water project on the Pine Ridge Reservation. (Running Hard for Native American Youth/Courtesy Photo)

Alessandro Sachs, an Italian citizen who has lived in Superior since 2017, recently led Rotary Boulder’s efforts to help the tribe improve their access to clean water after learning about their struggles at an international Rotary conference.

“A Lakota man from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has a life expectancy of fifteen – five – fifteen years less than a non-native man living a hundred miles away in Rapid City, which is also in South Dakota. “said Sachs, co. -President of Boulder Rotary.

In an effort to connect homes to a source of clean water, the Boulder Rotary Club (District 5450), a branch of a global service organization whose volunteers are dedicated to solving humanitarian issues, has partnered with the non-profit organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth and created the CLEAN Water Project in 2019.

“Our goal was to lead by example and communicate for as long as possible that this is happening and that it is also happening on other reservations for Indigenous peoples,” Sachs said. “I wouldn’t limit it to Native Americans.”

Running Strong works to benefit Native American communities and was co-founded by Olympic track and field gold medalist Billy Mills, who grew up on the Oglala Lakota Pine Reservation.

A worker digs a trench for a water main on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. (Running Hard for Native American Youth/Courtesy Photo)

“I joined Rotary about three years ago because it’s a model of service above myself,” said Lynn Johnson, hydrologist and co-chair of the Boulder Rotary Club’s Global Community Service.

When Boulder Rotary associates learned of water scarcity in Native American communities, they formed a team to work on the CLEAN water project, made up of several researchers, professionals, and scientists committed to helping the Oglala Lakota people.

The nonprofit and Rotary paid to improve access on the reservation to an existing $450 million federal project that in 2008 began providing clean water to residents through the Mni system. Wiconi from the Missouri River. The funding helped improve the initial construction of this system which was flawed due to high prices to connect to the water supply, forcing many people to walk long distances to fetch drinking water if they cannot. not afford the connection.

“Their territory is parceled out, and if you don’t live near the main pipeline artery, you have to pay to connect your house to treated water,” Sachs said. “So for many years they’ve been using water from the wells, and a large percentage of those wells are contaminated.”

Many wells used for drinking water are contaminated with arsenic and uranium, exposing reservation residents to unusually high rates of cancer, kidney failure, heart disease and death. Due to the lack of accessible drinking water, the Oglala Lakota Tribe of Pine Ridge has the lowest life expectancy in the country, at 68.2%. They are also one of the poorest communities on a large reservation in the United States.

Ken Lone Elk is the Running Strong Water Coordinator at Lakota Sioux Nation and leads the on-site team that helps families on the reservation use funding to access clean water.

“(Lone Elk is) the real hero here, I think, him and his employees,” Johnson said.

As of August 2021, 22 Rotary clubs have raised over $140,000. With Running Strong agreeing to contribute up to $150,000, the Boulder Rotary project raised nearly $300,000 and was able to connect 50 homes to the central water supply system. Rotary always accepts funding that will be matched by Running Strong.

“It’s worth it in terms of reduced health gains or problems, disease, increased lifespan, less time spent searching for clean water to drink, and categories like that “, Johnson said.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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