The value of water on tap
Southern Black Hills Water System looks back at 13 years of service
HOT SPRINGS – Access to a supply of clean, readily-available water is something most people take for granted: You turn on the tap, water comes pouring out… nothing to it, right?
Ask those who have to haul water by the pickup truck load to a cistern for their daily use how precious a good supply of water really is; or a cattleman hauling water for his stock tank; or the guy who just shelled out $40,000 for a new well; or remember that time when that tap didn’t work.
For the last 13 years, the Southern Black Hills Water System (SBHWS) has been providing a clean, abundant supply of water for some 365 taps – an individual water user – across northern Fall River County and southern Custer County.
This rural water system – one of 33 formally organized systems across the state – began with a single well on what was the Streeter Ranch in 2004, and now serves an area from roughly 7-11 Road, west across Argyle Rd., to the developments in southern Custer County west of Hwy. 89.
However, it is in Phase III of a 12-phase program that would cover an area from Spring Creek Road, roughly 5 miles south of Rapid City, all the way south and west to both the Wyoming and Nebraska state lines.
According to SBHWS Chairman Ted Wick and Manager Don Peterson, the project began with a single well – the Streeter Well, on Red Valley Road – that SBHWS got permission from the state to begin tapping in 2004. This Madison aquifer well pumps 109 gallons of water per minute (gpm) and remains a primary source for the entire water system.
The water from the well is pumped into a nearby $890,000 treatment facility, built in 2010, where chlorine is added to make the water meet federal and state drinking water standards.
From there, the water is pumped up the hills to the reservoir facility located along Hwy 385 near southern entrance to Wind Cave National Park.
Here, in 2010, a $283,000, 140,000 gallon reservoir was built to hold and help distribute the water. Along with this came a $30,000 supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software and hardware system that allows the pipeline to be monitored and operated to its highest efficiency.
From the reservoir, the water is distributed across the 17-mile system, including a big blue water storage tower on the top of the hills near Hwy. 89, that also helps add pressure to the system from gravity.
Where gravity feed cannot bring enough pressure to serve individual taps, pumping stations – called boosters – add additional pressure to move the water through the 120 total miles of pipeline in the system. Argyle Road has several booster stations along it.
Peterson talked about how, in the past, when he worked for another water system, he had to climb a water tower tank, look into it and gauge the amount of water in the system. With the SCADA system, he can monitor the entire system from a computer, and communicate with individual elements of the system – say upping the pressure in a pumping station – to keep the system operating smoothly.
Peterson said the 365 taps represent an average of 2.5 people each, so the system serves more than 900 people in its present state.
Building the system
Building the system was a major undertaking for SBHWS.
Unlike prairie water systems, where trenching water lines requires only cutting through topsoil, SBHWS ran into a lot of rock – lots of hard, tough to go through rock.
- Wick and Peterson talked about how, creating the 30-inch wide, 6 foot deep trenches required for the 120 miles of water pipeline, especially going west of the Streeter well, progress was very slow.
There were two ways to go about cutting through rock, they said, dynamite or a special trenching machine. To avoid damaging the geology of the region, SBHWS chose the trenching machine.
Both talked about how this special trenching machine, imported from Wisconsin, was essentially an enormous chainsaw with carbide-tipped teeth that could cut a 30-inch swath through rock. When it hit the Southern Hills, it made only 1 foot per day progress, while it could typically do 2 miles per day through prairie country soils.
Still, SBHWS pushed on, bringing a water connection within 50 feet of homes, ranches and businesses along the route.
The water tower tank, built in 2013, along with the booster stations also resulted in a larger SBHWS investment - $573,000 for the tank, and $8,000 each for the boosters.
Peterson said that U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rural water development money and state help from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was a big help in developing the SHBWS system, and remains important to expanding it.
Initially, the cost of hooking up with the system was a “good intention” investment of $150, followed by a total hookup fee of $1,500. However, cutting through the rocks required a jump in fees to $2,500 as time continued.
The immediate push is to acquire six propane-fueled standby generators – these will kick on automatically when utility power drops – for critical locations in the system to ensure a continuous water supply for customers, a $150,000 cost, paid for with a grant from DENR.
The next phase of the plan will take the project down Cascade Road, near J. M. Keith Memorial Park, also down Sheps Canyon Road, into the western side of Angostura Reservoir.
Wick and Peterson expect an additional 400 customers to serve from this advancement.
The overall coverage area of the SBHWS is from the Wyoming border, east to about Hwy. 79, and south to Nebraska.
The real value of SBHWS and rural water said both Wick and Peterson is having water on tap, at hand, available, especially considering the alternatives – paying for water hauling; a water well costing $25,000 - $50,000 to drill; or the hassles of hauling water in a tank in the back of a pickup.
Peterson recounted the story of going to a Washington, D.C. conference and talking about how some rural water users must haul water to their homes or cattle. The reaction of people at the conference who heard about this was shock that this was taking place in the U.S.
Laying out the $3.2 million investment in the system so far, both said here is where the money was spent. They also pointed to their all-volunteer board of directors, who donate their time and energies to the effort, and how supportive USDA and DENR were in helping the project move along