State officials have awarded Mid-Dakota Rural Water, a sprawling public water system which provides drinking water for 31,000 people across east-central South Dakota, including in Hughes, Hyde, Hand, and Sully counties, another “Secretary’s Award for Drinking Water Excellence.

“We’ve won that before,” said CEO and General Manager Scott Gross, of the award announced last week by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It was earned by turning in reports showing the water treated by Mid-Dakota is high-quality and meets all state and federal guidelines and good work by the 28 employees, Gross told the Capital Journal.

A state official agrees.

“The coronavirus has brought us many challenges this year including uncertainty about the health of our families and communities,” said DENR Secretary Hunter Roberts in a news release. “Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of South Dakota’s public water supply systems, one resource we do not need to worry about is safe drinking water.”

DENR is excited to award the Mid-Dakota Rural Water with the Secretary’s Award for Drinking Water Excellence for its efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic and for delivering safe drinking water to their customers for 19 consecutive years, Roberts said. “Year after year the Mid-Dakota Rural Water system operation specialists have worked tirelessly to provide safe drinking water to its customers and this year is no exception.”

Mid-Dakota had comply with all the governmental monitoring and requirements for 10 consecutive years, Roberts said.

When Pierre began planning a couple years ago to find a new drinking water source from the dozen wells it’s used along the Missouri River for 60 years and more, it checked with Mid-Dakota because its customers rave about the water, city leaders said. But it wasn’t workable: Pierre needed too much water.

“We are kind of at capacity, as far as taking on big customers,” Gross said. If Mid-Dakota had agreed to a deal with the city of Pierre, “we would have had to do the same thing Pierre is doing: build a new water treatment plant.”

Like Mid-Dakota, Pierre plans to take it water from the Missouri River, except its intake will be downstream from the dam.

Susan Hargens, member services manager, works at Mid-Dakota’s main office in Miller as does Gross and many of the employees.

She said the water comes from Lake Oahe, pumped up by the intake station, a small building on the east shore of the lake, about two miles northerly from Oahe Dam, just west of Grey Goose store, just off Highway 1804. It pumps the water to two nearby big tanks, then several miles east to the water treatment plant along Holly Road, just southeast of Grey Goose store, a few miles north of Pierre. Three people work at the treatment plant.

Since local leaders across the region incorporated in 1987 to find better water for thousands, Mid-Dakota has grown to serve 28 communities and about 31,500 people from northwest of Pierre to just north of Mitchell in Davison County, a 145-mile journey, Hargens says. It means 5,000 miles of pipeline in 14 counties across east-central South Dakota, she says.

And it’s still growing, she says.

“We are adding 21 miles of main line pipe — that’s 24-inch pipe — in three sections along U.S. Highway 14,” Hargens said. “And we have another water tank going up by Highmore, about the same size as the one already there.

It’s still relatively new system: construction began in 1994 on the intake in Lake Oahe but the system wasn’t completed until 2006 at a cost of $160 million in mostly federal funding.

Now its water towers can be seen across the region, including near Onida and Agar north of Pierre along U.S. Highway 83.

The system covers about 7,000 square miles, nearly the size of New Jersey.

Mid-Dakota provides water to all rural residents in Hughes County, all the residents in Sully, Hyde, Hand and Potter counties and parts of Beadle, Faulk, Spink, Kingsbury, Sanborn, Aurora, Jerauld, and Buffalo counties and one hookup in Davison County, Hargens said.

Gross said Mid-Dakota is looking for another employee, maybe two.

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