Spending more days in a cold, dark ranch house doesn’t bother Judy Johnson of rural Faith as much as the long wait for water.
“What we need is water,” Johnson said Tuesday, echoing the thoughts of thousands of people who depend upon the Tri-County/Mni Waste Water System at Eagle Butte, which is operated by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
The system supplies water to approximately 14,000 people on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation, the communities of Faith, Isabel and Dupree and rural portions of Dewey, Ziebach and Meade counties.
Joseph Brings Plenty, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, declared a state of emergency on the sprawling reservation Tuesday. Damage from recent ice storms and strong winds left the reservation without power and water.
Tri-County’s water treatment plant lost power one week ago when power lines started falling after days of fog and icing, according to manager Leo Fischer.
With approximately four million gallons of water held in storage reservoirs, the system had enough capacity to continue operating for a few days.
Last Friday, generators were moved to the water system’s alternate pumping site on the Cheyenne River. It was not feasible to take generators 20 miles to the new pumping station on the Oahe Reservoir, Fischer said.
As the power failures spread, a generator was used to operate the water treatment plant 20 miles south of Eagle Butte, but the plant was not operating at capacity.
Without water to fill storage reservoirs, the system’s users gradually started drawing down those reserves.
On Sunday night, generator and filter problems at the treatment plant caused about 800,000 gallons of water to flood the treatment plant. The water was discovered Monday morning. Employees spent Monday pumping water out of the plant and assessing the damage.
On Tuesday, Fischer said several electric motors were in Pierre being rebuilt. The damage to the plant’s computerized equipment was also being assessed.
“We’re hoping we can start producing water by Friday,” Fischer said.
If the plant is operational by Friday, only the town of Eagle Butte will have water service. Fischer is reluctant to predict when system will be fully operational.
At peak efficiency, the treatment plant can produce 1.2 million gallons of water daily. In addition to the four million gallons it takes to fill the 20 storage reservoirs along the system, it takes another four million gallons to fill the system’s 1,400 miles of distribution lines.
“At best, if we start by Friday, it will take a week and a half to recharge the entire system,” Fischer said.
Recharging the system also depends on power being restored to the pumping stations to fill storage tanks.
A storm system that brought ice, snow and strong winds moved out of the Dakotas Tuesday and roads reopened.
North Dakota transportation officials Tuesday morning reopened the stretches of Interstates 94 and 29 that were closed Monday following multi-vehicle crashes. In South Dakota, closed stretches of I-29 and Interstate 90 were opened.
Utility crews were taking advantage of a break in the weather on Tuesday to restore electricity to parts of the Dakotas and Nebraska hammered by ice and wind over the weekend.
Ed Anderson with the South Dakota Rural Electric Association said 600 workers were “on the ground just raring to go.”
An estimated 5,700 customers in South Dakota were still without power Tuesday morning. Fewer than 4,400 remained in the dark in North Dakota.
Farther south, Northeast Nebraska Public Power District General Manager Mark Shults said outages were down to about 20 customers who should have power restored by the end of Tuesday.
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Forecasters said wind chills down to 30 below zero were possible Thursday night in some areas hardest
Crews from throughout the Midwest are working from dawn to dusk restoring power to Moreau Grand Electric’s 3,700 customers, according to Roger Lawien, director of member services.
“We’re getting a lot of lights back on,” Lawien said Tuesday afternoon. By Monday evening, 1,700 customers had electricity. “In the same token, we have a long, long way to go.”
Lawien said the cooperative is focusing on restoring service to as many people as possible. Priority is given to communities, transmission lines and sub-stations first, before branching out towards individual customers.
For people living in remote areas, like Dean and Judy Johnson and their sons, who ranch approximately 14 miles south of Faith along Butcher Creek, the power could be out for some time.
“Obviously, we’re stressing residences as quick as we can,” Lawein said. But for some locations, it’s going to be a couple of weeks before the lights come on.
Lawein said county and state highway departments, the National Guard and the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock tribes are all lending equipment to help repair crews get to damaged power lines.
The Johnsons have generators to supply limited power for their homes and to a lambing barn, but keeping food in the refrigerators and freezers from spoiling is secondary to the need for water.
“Water is the main thing that’s killing us,” Johnson said.
Cattle went two days without water, until the men could get out Tuesday to chop a hole in an ice dam. A generator was used to siphon water into a tank to haul water to 28 heifer calves, Johnson said.
“Our house is at the very bottom of the line (rural water line), so we’re still getting just a trickle,” Johnson said. She’s melting snow to take care of necessary things like flushing the toilet.
Bottled water and tanker trucks of water arrived in Eagle Butte on Tuesday, according to Fischer.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a 3,600 gallons of bottled water arrived in Faith, city finance officer Debbie Brown said. The city and Lynn’s Dakotamart are sharing the cost of the water. Volunteers were distributing water to the elderly. Tankers of water were also expected.
“We’ll do what we can to get water out tonight,” Brown said.
The lights came back on in Faith last night. The city of 489 people still had 72,000 gallons of water left in its storage tank, but folks who had been without power for a few days were not aware there was a water shortage.
“The reserve drained within hours after the power came back on,” Brown said.
The Faith school will remain closed until water is restored, Brown said.
So far, people in the community are working together to get through the crisis, checking on the elderly and helping where they can, Brown said.
Fischer said Faith may have water by Saturday evening, but the entire system will still need flushing and monitoring.
As water service is restored, Fischer asks that people conserve water and boil water before drinking it.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Contact Andrea Cook at 394-8423 or email@example.com.