Improving Water Quality at the
Pine Ridge Reservation

The Pine Ridge Reservation, located in South Dakota, is home to the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe. There is little industry, technology, or commercial infrastructure on the Reservation to provide employment for its residents, who live in two of the poorest counties in the nation. Many of the wells and much of the water and land on the Reservation is contaminated with pesticides and poisons from farming, mining, open dumps, and commercial and governmental mining operations outside the Reservation. The Oglala Sioux Tribe Environmental Protection Program is in charge of environmental regulations and programs for the Reservation.

Public Service Fellow Kendra Johnson (’09 Course 2) set out to initiate the certification process of water sample testing at Oglala Lakota College (OLC). This would enable the college to retain a full-time lab technician to process the samples as well as OLC’s ability to keep the sampling money on the reservation. Being able to process their own water samples would save time and money because of the reduction in travel time to outside labs. Kendra gathered all of the necessary data from the tribal and federal programs that ran environmental samples to get a sense of what the process entailed. She also investigated whether the college had the equipment to handle the water sampling. After much research, she proposed to the OLC president Tom Shortbull that the college had the capacity and means to process their own water samples. There are plans to implement such a program in the future.

While waiting to hear back from some of the environmental programs during her research, Kendra was also able to assist the Environmental Protection Program in developing their first watershed management plan for two local streams: Wounded Knee Creek and Porcupine Creek. Together they talked about outlining their watershed plan, setting water quality goals, and reaching out to community organizations to engage them in the process. The outcomes were a fact sheet, an outreach video, and a map of the watersheds with all of the tribal land, allotted land, and range units clearly defined. With Kendra’s initiative, the staff at the Oglala Sioux Tribe Land Office will now be able to delineate watersheds for future planning in the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“The most challenging aspect of this project was working within an under-funded, under-staffed government system,” said Kendra. Ultimately, Kendra was able to help the lab staff plan for the long-term, while also attending to the more immediate demands of the program. In the end, they were very supportive of Kendra’s efforts to help them develop a more sustainable and efficient program for the Reservation.

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