"Water is life" Project up and running

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FORT PIERRE, S.D. ? The Mni Wiconi Project celebrated the grand opening of its water treatment plant in Fort Pierre, S.D. on May 18.

Sponsored in part by the Oglala Sioux, the Rosebud Sioux and the Lower Brule Sioux Tribes, the project grew out of the Mni Wiconi Project Act. The 1988 Act directed the Interior Secretary to "provide a safe and adequate municipal, rural and industrial water supply to Indian and non-Indian residents of west-central and southwestern South Dakota," according to a news release.

"Mni wiconi" means "water is life." The new system will provide water for over 52,000 people, including some 40,000 on the three tribes' reservations, which currently "have the highest poverty rates in the nation and significant health risks due to unsafe water," the release said.

The act originally mandated the construction of the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System and the West River/Lyman Jones Rural Water System. In 1994, the rural water supply systems of the Lower Brule Sioux and Rosebud Sioux were added to the project.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation also worked with the tribes to complete the project, which culminated with the opening of its water treatment plant. The project is also comprised of 35 reservoirs, 4500 miles of pipeline and 60 booster pump stations.

"This project reconnects the tribe with the Missouri River as contemplated in the Treaty of 1868, which established the Great Sioux Reservation," said Theresa Two Bulls, Oglala Sioux vice president. "The project allows us to provide safe drinking water to our tribal members and neighbors ? something that is desperately needed in our areas. The opening of the treatment plant officially marks the beginning of clean water delivery."

At capacity, the plant will be able to treat 10,000 gallons of water per minute and will pump an average of five to six million gallons daily, Two Bulls said.