When Running Strong for American Indian Youth® was formed in 1986, getting clean, safe drinking water to Native Americans on Pine Ridge was among its first top priority.
Running Strong founder Gene Krizek can still recall loading up a truck with 500 gallons of water and dispensing it to families who would fill whatever container they had to the brim.
It would have to last them a week, maybe longer.
And three decades on, he recounts vividly as if it were yesterday the words of a little girl upon seeing the water truck pull up front of her home exclaiming, “Mommy, the water is here. Now I can wash my hair!”
The meager wells existing on the reservation at the time were shallow, many perhaps only 30 feet deep drawing water from the soil filled with alkaline, and while barely usable, it was better than nothing.
Soon after that, Running Strong took on the huge task of drilling much deeper wells, with pumps powered by windmills, to provide families and communities with access to clean water from the Ogalala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest aquifers located beneath the Great Plains in portions of eight states.
However, a few years after that, the need for wells declined as the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System was created and water lines were laid providing access to water with half coming from the Missouri River and half developed from reservation ground water giving the tribe the flexibility and reliability of a safe and adequate water supply for present and future generations.
Our New Program
While that is all well and good, for many residents access to potable water remains as unattainable today at it was 30 years ago.
For some residents, who may live as close to just over 100 feet of the service line, the water simply passes them by as the costs to run a line to their home and tap into the main line is out of reach.
This fall 2015, Running Strong is returning to its roots with a pilot program to connect families to what most Americans take for granted – running water.
The cost is not cheap, but Running Strong has committed $30,000 to connect five families, in the hopes of connecting dozens more in the years to come.
Five families represents only 1 percent of the 500 families who are on a waiting list, waiting to be able to turn on a tap for a clean glass of water, wash their dishes and clothes, take showers and baths, and flush toilets.
For these five families, having running water will be life-altering. For the others, all they can do is wait and hope that one day their day will come.