Environment | National

Native Sun News: Foreigner reworking Cheyenne River watershed

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Candace Ducheneaux

Michal Kravcik

Foreigner reworking Cheyenne River’s watershed
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

CHEYENNE RIVER RESERVATION –– One of the world’s foremost environmental activists visited the Cheyenne River Reservation July 11-17 to consult with the tribe on a proposal for using flood compensation money to restore the local water cycle in the wake of Missouri River damming here.

Slovak hydrologist Michal Kravcik, backed by a team of 20 experts, helped tribal elder Candace Ducheneaux elaborate the written proposal, which is for harvesting water. Like other proposals presented to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Equitable Compensation Act (TECA) Committee, it faced a July 16 deadline for submission.

“Cheyenne River Reservation’s clean water sources have been destroyed through poor water management. Most significantly, the damming of the Missouri River at the Oahe Dam,” said Ducheneaux, a member of the tribe.

In an open letter, she called for public support of Kravcik’s Blue Alternative system of rainwater runoff catchment, creating ponds for drinking water and aquifer recharge by building small dams and weirs on streams and rivulets.

“We need healthy rivers for drinking water, natural flood protection, economy and quality of life. The river is the lifeblood of the ecosystem,” Ducheneaux said.

Kravcik garnered a Goldman Prize for environmental activism in 2009 for his Blue Alternative, which provided a water supply option to the Slovakian government in Central Europe preferable to its initial idea of displacing four 700-year-old villages with a large dam and reservoir. Instead, he designed a network of small dams, creating 35 ponds, or microbasins, restoring agriculture and protecting the historical villages and wetlands.

Around that same time, Public Law 106-511, entitled “Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Equitable Compensation Act,” put tribal government in charge of administering federal compensation for some 525 families forced to relocate from the Old Cheyenne River Agency because of Missouri River dam-building.

The tribal government will decide how to use the $290.7 million plus $144 million in back interest due in recognition of the fact that “the federal government did not justify, or fairly compensate the tribe” for the Oahe Dam and reservoir construction, according to the 12-year-old federal law.

The tribal council, acting on legal advice, voted earlier this year to bar individual allotment owners who lost land in the flooding from qualifying for the funds, instead limiting eligible projects to those that the TECA Committee (currently the same people as the tribal council) deems in the interest of the tribe as a whole. In that context, Ducheneaux said she hoped Kravcik could address the tribal council at its scheduled July 12 meeting. However, no quorum was present and the meeting was adjourned.

Kravcik and his team at Ludia a Voda (People and Water) came to Cheyenne River “at their own expense, to give the tribe free consultation as to the feasibility and advisability of implementing the Blue Alternative system in our Lakota homelands in order to conserve, protect and restore our water resources and maximize the potential of our water assets,” said Ducheneaux.

“I wanted so much for our council to welcome (Kravcik) here in a good, respectful manner,” she said. “He came all this way to help us – not only us, but the whole Lakota Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) and the whole world,” she told Native Sun News.

Kravcik declined to be interviewed until after scheduled reconnaissance of the reservation on the banks of the Missouri and submission of the proposal. But he has stated his case on his organizations’ Internet sites: “A global Blue Alternative starts in your own yard. Save your water first, then support organizations seeking to implement global projects.”

His organization People and Water invites activists to “write Michal Kravcik to ask him for a consultation on starting your own community Blue Alternative project.”

The bottom line, according to Kravcik, is that “once the abusive pumping of groundwater and damming practices are stopped, we must manage our water more efficiently by keeping it in the ground.”

“Applied globally, the Blue Alternative can transform deserts into green land and create millions of jobs in the process. Both rural and urban engineering projects can recollect rainwater in the ground, instead of wasting it into rising oceans,” he states.

Applied locally, Ducheneaux noted, “A program of rainwater harvesting or rainwater retention through reservation-wide dam construction could create hundreds of much-needed jobs in this time of economic crisis and will contribute to the long-range environmental health through soil protection, biodiversity protection and regional climate recovery.”

She told NSN the project would be a 10- to 20-year undertaking.

The Oahe Dam and the five other dams built along the Missouri River’s 2,300-mile course “destroyed the watershed by flooding the timber and bottomlands – completely and wholly, interrupting the hydrologic cycle that is vital to the replenishment of our rivers, streams and freshwater lakes and necessary to the sustainability of our ecosystem,” Ducheneaux said.

Currently, the nation’s longest river, the Missouri, is No. 4 on America’s Most Endangered Rivers list, she noted.

“The loss of this vital Missouri River watershed through deforestation has created instant surface runoff, causing the vast desertification of our tribal lands,” she continued.

Desertification is the process by which fertile land becomes desert, typically as a result of drought, inappropriate land-use practices, winds and flooding.

“Desertification has resulted in the decrease of the natural water-retaining capacity of the Missouri River watershed and an increase of rainwater surface runoff. The consequence is an increase in the risk and frequency of floods, droughts, fires and climate change,” Ducheneaux said.

The Blue Alternative addresses water shortages and revitalizing watersheds, guiding achievement of maximum efficiency and effectiveness in water management.

“Mni wakan: Water is sacred,” noted Ducheneaux. “Mni wiconi: Water is life.”

“As Lakota, this is something we have known since we first uttered words and it is evident in our language. Mni. Mi: I. Ni: live. Mni – I live or we live. We all need water to live. It is only from liquid water that all known forms of life exist.”

In addition, “Water is a basic human right, and as a public trust, must not be denied to anyone,” she said. “However, today, fears over water scarcity and environmental degradation have (encouraged) transforming of water from a public good into a tradable commodity. The privatization of water resources and utilities by multinational corporations has led to reduced access for the poor around the world as prices for these water services have risen.”

“In some parts of the world, people are still dying from lack of an adequate, clean water supply. Only 3 percent of the earth’s water is fresh water and much of that, through disrespectful, greedy and wanton use,” is disappearing.

“Drinking water quality has been destroyed by oil spills, gold and uranium mine tailings, sewage and industrial waste, chemicals from household products, fertilizers and pesticides, and other contaminants that have been dumped and washed into our rivers, streams and groundwaters – and it is poisoning us.”

“The basic function of rivers is to carry nutrients vital to the health of the entire watershed. Watershed is the land area from which the runoff drains into any stream, river, lake or ocean. Tree roots and other plant life within the watershed absorb the runoff, thus holding the watershed in place. Take away the trees and so goes the water; with the water, so goes the land,” said Ducheneaux.

“These are not water (phenomena) peculiar to Cheyenne River or the Lakota people,” she continued. “There are 50,000 of these huge dams throughout the world.”

“As more and more of the earth’s surface waters are drained without replenishment and polluted beyond use, the world has turned to groundwater resources. The human population is now mining the groundwater faster than it can be replaced. We pump 30 billion gallons of groundwater every day, 15 times more than is coming back as recharge through the hydrologic cycle. This has created a worldwide water crisis.”

“We are now in a global struggle for what is increasingly seen as a commodity more precious than gold or oil – water. Hidden behind the current scramble for land is a worldwide struggle for control over water. The value is not in land – the real value is in water. The wars of the world are now being carried out over water.”

“We really are running out of water, but it is not too late. The ability of the earth to heal herself is truly amazing, and she can as long as we, human beings, behave responsibly and do our part to conserve and protect her most vital natural resource – water.”

“The solution is simple: The best way to fight against water shortages and contamination is to insure there is enough clean water around our homes for our current usage and that of our future generations. Water security can be accomplished by returning water to its natural cycle and irrigating the soil with rainwater through rainwater harvesting,” she said.

“The Blue Alternative project also gives a guide on how to achieve the maximum efficiency and effectiveness of this strategic natural resource, how to address our current water shortages and how to manage our water resources in a sustainable way so as to revitalize our river ecosystem.”

“It is not just about saving the environment, though, mitakuyapi (my relatives), it is about saving ourselves and our future generations. We can make this possible with the Blue Alternative.”

“With the Blue Alternative water restoration system we can not only create a virtual oasis on our Lakota lands but set an example for the rest of the world by taking the lead in the ecological recovery of the earth,” Ducheneaux concluded.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News www.nsweekly.com

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