Water has always been scarce in the middle Dakotas and the tier of states south. There’s the big Missouri River runs right through the middle of the Dakotas, but get a few miles away and you’re in grasslands and even the Badlands. And what “water” we find sometimes ain’t good for much, attested to by the number of places with “salt”, “brine”, etc. in their names. And unlike the well documented Mississippi River where there’s a multitude of river gauges and a well established history of the river’s behavior in every stage from drought to flood going back over a century, such guages and history are scarce for the upper Missouri River through the Dakotas.
But through the hard work of a lot of good citizens we have a whole network of rural water systems treating and piping water from the Missouri to farmers, ranchers, and townsfolk miles and even hundreds of miles away. Check out this map from the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems- The map is clickable, and you’ll see that most of the water systems along the Missouri River rely on the river for their water. These systems are vast, some distributing water over a hundred miles to the ends of South Dakota. Heck, the Louis and Clark Regional Water System is even providing Missouri River basin water to parts of Minnesota and Iowa!
But we still don’t know a lot about the Missouri, especially out in the thinly populated rural Dakotas where the Corps of Engineers gave up on taming the river for navigation near a century ago. There’s over a hundred miles of river between Bismark and Pierre, and this is all the data points we have. Yup, one river gauge is down, and we have over 200 miles of river where we have no idea what the height, velocity, and flow of the river during flood or drought and every climate changed condition in between. No wonder the crest predictions of the Missouri River flooding a few years back were near useless! Throw in the unknowns of how a few huge dams control the flow, and we have no way of knowing the effects of any pollutants that enter this river system.
But thanks to a multi billion dollar investment in dams and rural water systems, it all pretty much works and folks all along the river and hundreds of miles on either side can take for granted that safe water will flow from their faucets on demand. Well, at least until Energy Transfer Partners gets their Dakota Access Pipeline built and operating. Yup, they’re going to force up to 22,000,000 gallons of crude a day through a 36 inch pipe buried under the Missouri River upstream from the water supplies from one thankfully very vocal Tribal Nation and over a million slumbering citizens further downstream.
Now big oil wouldn’t do anything that stupid, would they? Well, in the last decade they wasted billions developing and trashing in the process the Bakken oilfield a bit further up river, only to see OPEC open their taps and drop the price of crude below their cost of production. They’ve left behind ghost towns of abandoned trailers while North Dakota towns that tried to build infrastructure fast enough to keep up with the boom will struggle to pay for it in the decades of bust to come. Whole trains of near new frack sand and crude oil tank cars sit idly in sidings, and the number of drilling rigs drilling has dropped from over 200 to a couple dozen, probably fulfilling old contracts.
So we have good sound financial reasons alone to question the sanity of any band of oil companies that wants to build a new oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields when the market is glutted and conservation is making oil use drop everyday. So is it any surprise that these insane pipeline addicts have ignored the lack of basic river flow data needed to evaluate their pipeline routing and judge it’s safety and proceed full speed ahead with construction? Especially when Bakken crude oil is unusually high in Benzine and other Volatile Organic Compounds… The EPA allows only 5 parts per BILLION in drinking water, and Bakken oil contains 2% benzine. The flow rate within the past year at Bismark has dipped as low as around 9 billion gallons of water per day, but with only 5 parts per billion of benzine allowed in drinking water, just the 45 gallons of benzine contained in every 2250 gallons of Bakken crude would be enough to render the Missouri River water there undrinkable. Might dilute a bit downstream by Pierre or so, but with the Dakota Access Pipeline designed to carry nearly 10,000 times that volume per day, good luck with dilution and evaporation…
I’m no Sierra Club member, even argued with them a few times. I love my petroleum fueled cars and motorcycles and I’m not about to give them up for an electric or even hybrid car. I’m not a tribal member either, but respect their spirit, tenacity, and community. I’m just a small town water system operator with just the Buffalo Ridge between us and Missouri River water, and the rural water system that supplies us may have to someday access water from the Missouri River too. This pipeline is insane, permitted on the basis of grossly inadequate scientific data, and must be stopped before it poisons the water of over a million rural citizens and their crops and livestock!