A tower bearing the name of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Fort Yates, North Dakota. Photo: Keith Ewing

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe celebrates completion of rural water supply system

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is celebrating the completion of a new water system that addresses some of the issues raised by the presence of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The controversial crude oil pipeline has been a major concern because the final portion in North Dakota is located close to the water intake system on the reservation. A spill would contaminate the tribe's water supply within minutes.

The Standing Rock Rural Water Supply System, though, alleviates a little bit of the pressure. The intake is now located further down the Missouri River and it has been placed deeper into Lake Oahe in hopes of avoiding a repeat of a crisis that left 10,000 people on the reservation without water in 2003.

"Construction of the water treatment plant, the new water intake, and many miles of pipe, ensures safe, clean and reliable drinking water for the people of Standing Rock," Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a press release on Monday.

The $29.2 million project was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It consists of a new storage reservoir, a system of water pipelines and the new intake and treatment plant that will serve about 10,000 people on the reservation.

"Projects like these demonstrate the benefits of investments in infrastructure to meet the current and future needs of the tribe," said Arden Freitag, an area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency. "This project completes a major effort to stabilize the water supply for the communities on the northern part of the reservation, replacing the Fort Yates intake that failed in 2003 and an aging water treatment plant."

Despite the completion of the system, the threats from Dakota Access remain unresolved. In June, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a more thorough analysis of the final portion because the tribe's concerns about treaty rights, water resources and environmental justice were ignored by the Trump administration.

Two months later, the Army Corps has yet to initiate a formal environmental impact statement on the matter. But attorneys from the Department of Justice are already hinting that a revised decision won't be any different than the one that led to the approval of the final portion of the pipeline.

"There is a serious possibility that the Corps will substantiate its prior decisions, in part because the risk that any oil will spill into Lake Oahe is low," government attorneys wrote in an August 17 brief.

The pipeline became operational on June 1. The tribe has sought to halt operations pending the new review, a request opposed by the Trump administration and the project's wealthy backers.

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