Water Is Life

"For the Oglala Lakota people on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, many don’t have access to running water. The reservation is plagued with unemployment, low life expectancy and poverty, but one organization is hoping to alleviate the conditions by connecting homes to piped water for free."
CNN GoThere
January 2022
Water Connections
With Running Water
In-home hookups for those with indoor plumbing and septic systems
Outdoor hydrants for those without indoor plumbing/septic
total number of Mni Wiconi projects since the pilot program starting in FY16
Individuals benefited from all water projects since FY07
individuals who have benefited from Mni Wiconi projects since FY16

When Running Strong for American Indian Youth® was formed in 1986, getting clean, safe drinking water to the residents of Pine Ridge was one of our top priorities. Previously, Running Strong satisfied this need by drilling water wells. However, the need for wells declined as the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System was created and water lines were laid providing access to water. 

Still, for many residents access to potable water remains unattainable. For some residents, who may live as close to just over 100 feet of the service line, the costs to run a line to their home and tap into the main line are too high. Many of these families have been waiting to be connected to the water line for years, on a waiting list of almost 500 households.

connecting a water line

In fall 2015, Running Strong returned to our roots to provide families with what most Americans take for granted – running water –  by connecting their homes to the Rural Water Supply line through our program Mni Wiconi (Water is Life).

Following the success of our Mni Wiconi program, Running Strong launched a 4-year pilot program in 2016 and expanded our water projects to the Navajo Nation, beginning with the District 11 communities of Wheatfields, Tsaile, and Lukachukai. This past year through Diné NaabehóTó (the Navajo People’s Water Challenge), Running Strong connected 13 households to water in these communities, providing 92 individuals with access to clean, running water.  

What’s more, our Oglala Lakota contractor, Sam O’Rourke of Badlands Enterprises and his crew have introduced a new way to connect even more families to water. Using what’s called a “Road Bore Machine”, they can now bore a hole under a highway to reach a home on the other side of the road.

In the past, Running Strong could not afford to serve people requiring a road bore. Sam says, “This will enable us to do more road bores for a lot less than from other companies who own road bore machines. It’s going to greatly benefit Running Strong’s capability to serve clients previously deemed unrealistic.”

"Just think, Running Strong has always found a way to assist these complex issues for our Lakota families, as long as we have funding in our budget, we will always be the sole provider for these unique situations that are an easy repair but due to regulations, families and elders run into these problems."
Ken Lone Elk
Running Strong Water Coordinator

Spotlighted Programs

In honor of Running Strong for American Indian Youth’s 30th anniversary of incorporation, we’ve partnered with Boulder Rotary Club to match our water projects efforts to connect homes on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  Click to read more about our proud partnership here!

Rotary’s foundation mission, “Service Above Self”, aligns powerfully with Running Strong’s commitment to ending water scarcity for all on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. 

Over 30 families, representing 179 individuals on the Navaho Nation were connected to running water through our Diné NaabehóTó (the Navajo People’s Water Challenge) from 2018 to March 2020.

Having access to clean, running water is not just a human right — it’s a public health safeguard, an invaluable convenience, and a beacon of hope. Running Strong for American Indian Youth is committed to bringing change by following the community’s lead, and water is where we start.

Read the latest on our water projects

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