STATEMENT OF NEED
Many regions of the world that once possessed sufficient water supplies, flowing rivers and regular rainfalls are currently suffering from droughts and severe water shortages. Ecosystems that were once full of life are facing a loss of biodiversity, including a decrease in numbers of plants and animals, which are of vital importance to the Lakota people. Wind erosion due to a lack of healthy plant populations is increasing and our land is losing its fertility. What has caused such drastic degradation of our Mother Earth? Evidence suggests that the damage started with decreased and irregular precipitation in the form of rainfall. Precipitation events have become increasingly unpredictable. In the last one hundred years, drought has become so severe that the existence of the Lakota people on ancestral lands is threatened. Water researchers estimate that clean water resources could completely disappear within the next decade. Action must be taken to remediate this threat to our longevity. We cannot survive in a desert wasteland.
Blue Alternative offers a way of reversing the degradation of our sacred water supplies. This process creates a balance in the small water cycle through the construction of local water catchments, which can achieve changes in land structure that will improve fresh water quality in small water cycles - long term. This will lead to land recovery, refilling of aquifers, the resurgence of natural springs known by our ancestors, and increased vitality in and around Ina Maka’s streams and rivers. Additionally, when the water cycle is restored, soils will be more productive, and the people of Cheyenne River will have more success growing traditional crops and restoring lands.
In recent decades, measures for achieving quality and quantity of water resources in much of South Dakota have primarily focused on technical solutions. The Pick Sloan project, for example, built a series of dams along the Missouri River, resulting in the destruction of more Native lands than any other public works project in U.S. history. While these dams increased water supplies in reservoirs for both economic development and drinking water assurances, this water is low quality and is often polluted by recreational and economic activities along the river. Worse, the Pick Sloan dams completely destroyed a way of life for the people of Cheyenne River, who once depended on the plants and animals that thrived in the bottomlands of the Missouri River and its tributaries. This cultural and environmental devastation continues to this day, and as time has passed, water reserves throughout Indian Country – and especially in the Dakotas – have been highly unreliable because the project did not consider the nature and dynamics of land-changing processes or the sustainable use of the land.
Forecasts have confirmed that a major determining factor in the economic, social and cultural security of tribal nations will be sufficient amounts of water for people, nature and food. This can be achieved only if tribal entities are willing and able to better manage their water resources. We thus, must be capable of withstanding extreme weather events with no devastating droughts, fires or floods. This desired land improvement might be achieved only by ecosystem protection of water resources that also improves the hydrology of the land.
Cheyenne River has the opportunity to become a pilot project – leading the way for the rest of Indian Country and beyond – in the restoration of dried-up lands. The Blue Alternative Project can restore the natural production potential of Lakota lands. The reservation’s natural resources will improve greatly and more resources will be available for sustainable use by current and future generations.