SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Some 14,000 residents of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation (search) could run out of water by August because of a drought along the Missouri River (search) basin, officials said.
The tribe's list of potential problems stretches from health concerns to fire fighting. The reservation's schools and its only hospital and clinic would have to close.
"It will be more than just running out of water for a couple of days. There will be 14,000 people that have no water whatsoever," said Wayne Ducheneaux (search), a tribal official and member of a task force working to come up with a water plan.
Poverty on the reservation is complicating the matter, said Rebecca Kidder, a lawyer for the tribe.
The reservation lies in Dewey and Ziebach counties, both among the poorest in the state. Ziebach is one of the poorest in the nation.
"Any time you're dealing with that kind of poverty, there aren't as many options for moving, or even buying bottled water," Kidder said. "People don't have the funds, they don't have the resources to travel to (water) distribution points."
Storage in the Missouri River's six reservoirs has reached a record low of 35 million acre-feet of water, Gov. Mike Rounds (search) said.
"This has now become a matter of, 'Do we have enough water for the intakes for domestic water supplies?"' Rounds said this week during a South Dakota Public Radio program Wednesday.
Heavy mountain snow is the only sure way to recharge the upper river basin, and that's not likely to happen, Ducheneaux said.
Tribal, state and other officials hope they can keep drinking water flowing to the reservation at least temporarily by extending the intake farther into the river. Both counties are served by the Tri-County Water Association.
One plan requires four miles of pipe to lengthen the system's intake into a deeper part of the river and another 18 miles of power lines to pump the water, Kidder said. The project could cost $6 million.
Extending the pipe is not a permanent fix, however. A long-term solution could cost as much as $76 million and take at least five years to build, Kidder said.
The tribe has asked for help from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to do an evaluation soon.
"The biggest fear right now? We're looking at ways to prevent us from running out of water," said Kidder, the lawyer, "and the solution is not simple."