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Success Stories

Delivering mni wašté to residents of Cheyenne River Reservation

Michael Frye
Community Facilities
Rural Development
Mni Waste water tower in Eagle Butte, SD

The Lakota phrase mni wasté translates to mean good water, which is what Mni Wasté Water Company’s 13 staff strive to deliver to the residents of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and surrounding area every day.

Leo ‘Earp’ Fischer is the director of the water company. He’s been with Mni Wasté for over 35 years. Earp said he’s proud of the water quality they deliver and the ability to reach so many rural residents. “We’re always planning for the future. We’re currently processing an average of 1 million gallons of water per day with peak demand near 2 million gallons per day, but our system is capable of more than 4.4 million gallons per day,” said Earp. 

Mni Waste Water Company treatment facility near Eagle Butte, SD
The Mni Wasté Water Company treatment facility near Eagle Butte, SD.
Photo Courtesy: Mni Wasté Water Company

And that capacity is just the beginning. Mni Wasté continues to update existing pipe and extend to new areas to deliver quality water to residents and businesses across the region. The water treatment facility handles the water from the moment it is pumped from the Missouri River, sent to the treatment plant, and then distributed throughout the system. The system maintains 5.5 million gallons of water in storage capacity along with over 4 million gallons throughout service lines. Earp said the company manages more than 1,600 1miles of pipe, delivering water to more than 1,600 customers across the reservation, with plans to extend from Highway 63 North to serve the town of Timber Lake. Future plans also include upsizing lines to the west along Highway 212, and eventually providing bulk water to Perkins County Rural Water. 

Lacy Maher is the Administrative Assistant at Mni Wasté. She said being very rural does bring a unique set of challenges to delivering safe drinking water to the reservation. “Our crew puts in really long days. They may be 75 miles away in Bridger or put in 400 miles in one day, so when they leave the office in Eagle Butte, they need to have everything for the day,” said Lacy. “They can’t just run back to the shop to grab something.” 

A Mni Waste Water Company crew installs equipment on the Cheyenne River Reservation
Mni Wasté Water Company crewmembers work to install equipment on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Photo Courtesy: Mni Wasté Water Company

Lacy added they’re ready to hire three to four more staff as they continue to expand. “We’re very remote, so finding people to do the demanding work can be difficult,” Lacy said. “But our crew works hard and they’re always up for the challenge.” She also said Earp’s history with the company adds a unique benefit that other water companies may not have. “Earp has worked in every roll. Whether it’s digging the trenches, installing pipe, or running the treatment facility, he has done it,” Lacy said. “He won’t ask our crew to do something he isn’t willing to do himself.” That knowledge has also helped Mni Wasté as they explore new advancements and ways to use Rural Development funding. 

Rural Development and Mni Waste staff inside the pump room of a water tower in Eagle Butte
The USDA Rural Development leadership team recently met with Mni Wasté leadership to discuss current and future programs. The team was also given an up-close view of Eagle Butte's newest water tower, located northeast of Eagle Butte.

Lacy and Earp both agree that Rural Development’s nearly $90 million investment to the Eagle Butte area through the Water and Environmental Program is vital to the success of Mni Wasté. “We didn’t have anywhere else to go. The programs offered by Rural Development have only gotten better over time, which makes it even more valuable to our rural communities,” said Earp. Lacy added, “The Rural Development staff are very accessible, just a phone call away. If we have an idea or a problem, they’re easy to reach.” 

When asked if droughts are a concern for the Mni Wasté Water Company, Earp was proud to proclaim they have one of the deepest intake pipes in the area. “The Oahe dam levels in Pierre correspond with our intake location. If Pierre is unable to produce electricity, that would mean our intake is low. Drought is always a concern. While we can produce the water, we are still limited by line sizes in our distribution system.”  

Aerial photo of Mni Waste Water Company water intake at the Missouri River east of Eagle Butte, SD
The Mni Wasté water intake at the Missouri River east of Eagle Butte provides ample water for the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Photo Courtesy: Mni Wasté Water Company

Rural Development strives to deliver quality programs designed to meet the needs of rural communities, businesses and homeowners across South Dakota. To learn more about the Water and Environmental Programs and other Rural Development programs for your community, visit RD.USDA.Gov/SD

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  • South Dakota: District (at Large)