Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

In search of water, commissioners tell SD Ellsworth Development Authority ‘no’

STURGIS, SD – A project to address a lack of potable water needs a right-of-way easement but Meade County Commissioners said no at its October 11 meeting.

The Meade County Commission voted unanimously 5-0 to deny the application from the South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority (SDEA) for a right-of-way easement in Meade County for a pipeline to bring water to residents affected by contamination from Ellsworth Air Force Base (EAFB).

Contaminated drinking water has long been a problem for the community of Box Elder, SD, located in Pennington County.  For the past four years, after it was discovered nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base was contaminating drinking water with toxic chemicals, many residents have had to rely on bottled water and a filtration system.

This past February, residents in Box Elder recently received a letter notifying them that radiological contaminants had exceeded the maximum allowable levels in a city well.

Ellsworth Air Force Base and the SDEDA have been working on a permanent solution by developing a water system for the impacted areas. SDEDA applied for the right-of-way easement in Meade County to bring water from the Madison aquifer near Black Hawk to residents of Box Elder through a proposed 14-mile, 16-inch pipeline. Roughly 10 miles of pipeline will cross Meade County landowners.

The project’s well location near Black Hawk was authorized at a meeting in Pierre last week.

According to Mike Stetson of KTM Design Solutions, the design is 60 percent complete. The next steps involve meeting with the Meade County Commission and affected landowners.

Commissioners balked at everything from the price tag to the location of the well. Add a lack of transparency, with some commissioners expressing concern that the public was not notified of the state’s plan to locate a well near Black Hawk for residents of Box Elder.

Ted Seaman, commission chair questioned why water from the Madison aquifer was proposed instead of getting it from another municipal source such as Rapid City. There were also questions as to how the project would affect water supply and costs to Black Hawk and Meade County residents who also rely on the Madison aquifer for water.

Commissioners also touched on the $30 million cost of the project and its location, noting there were other areas better suited for the project.

Ultimately, the commission denied the application based on the route selection.

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