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Update From the Field: Connecting Families to Running Water

6/22/18 in Pine Ridge, SD under Clean Water


Clean Water




Pine Ridge, SD

Thousands on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation live without running water in their homes.

For more than 30 years, we at Running Strong for American Indian Youth® have worked every day to provide running water – even it’s just an outdoor hydrant for homes without indoor plumbing and septic systems – to as many households as possible before winter sets in and freezes the ground solid.

Since we began our “Mni Wiconi” (Water is Life) project three years ago (after decades of delivering water to homes by the truckload and drilling hundreds of deep water wells) we have connected about 40 households to the main water service line which runs through the reservation.


It costs about $7,500 per home to run the pipe hundreds of feet to tap into the service line and install a freezeless meter pit, but the price of not having access to safe, treated water is much higher.

This year, we are on track to complete 12 projects, bringing the total to more than 50 projects – serving roughly 500 children, parents and elders – including with indoor plumbing and who now have septic systems.

Each year Running Strong staff culls through the tribal and Indian Health Services waiting lists and selects receipients, most of whom have been waiting for years or have large households.

Among those recipients is Philomine of Oglala, South Dakota, who has been living without running water for five years even though the water line passes within 500 feet of her mobile home and she has indoor plumbing.

Her household is made up of two children, three adults and an elder and when asked on her Running Strong application for a water connection why she needs a water line hook-up, she gave a simple and direct answer that anyone would say – “There is none.”


On Pine Ridge, Running Strong Field Staffer Ken Lone Elk heads up the water program and coordinates all water connections.

It is not unusual for Ken to be the bearer of such good news to those who are unaware of the program and in her case, not only was Running Strong able to connect Philomine to the water line, but also install a septic system as well.

Alfred and his family of two adults and three children ages 12, 9 and 5 have been living without running water for years.

“We have been living without water going on 9 years,” Mr. Swallow told us. “It will be nice to have running water for our everyday needs.”

There is an estimated 400 households on Pine Ridge located within a few hundred feet of that main service line, and we at Running Strong are working to connect as many as possible over the next few years in our knowledge that “Mni Wiconi.”

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