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Pipeline protest in Iowa

Water protectors in Iowa protest against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo: Bold Iowa/Facebook)

Beyond Standing Rock: Communities Along DAPL Route Fear for Drinking Water

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is far from the only community fearing that a spill from the Dakota Access Pipeline will poison its drinking water

Nika Knight

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe near Cannon Ball, North Dakota is just one of many communities that have protested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline for fear that an oil spill will contaminate clean drinking water, the Associated Press reported Friday.

"We don't want to drink any oil."
—Carolyn Raffensperger,
Des Moines, Iowa

The pipeline crosses "countless waterways and wetlands, including eight major tributaries and the Missouri and Mississippi River," as geographer Jennifer Veilleux observed, and endangers the water sources of "hundreds of thousands of people," AP notes.

Two such waterways are the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, the source of Des Moines, Iowa's, drinking water. Over 200,000 people live in Des Moines, and the pipeline crosses the Raccoon or its tributaries upstream of the city three times.

Des Moines residents also protested the pipeline's construction—some activists even went on a hunger strike in a last-ditch effort to defeat the project—but were ultimately unsuccessful. AP reports:

Carolyn Raffensperger, executive director for the Iowa-based environmental group Science and Environmental Health Network, noted the frustration she felt while watching the drilling and pipe installation. She has filed legal challenges and criticized the regulatory process for pipeline permitting, saying the layers of bureaucracy makes it difficult for citizens to be heard in any significant way.

Despite the finished construction in Iowa, environmental groups and landowners are continuing to pursue a lawsuit against state regulators for allowing the pipeline company to seize farmland through eminent domain. The plaintiffs say they are prepared to pursue the case up through the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The Dakota Access pipeline also crosses underneath the Mississippi River, which is a source of water for about 4,000 people in the southeast corner of Iowa and close to a water-treatment plant for the city of Keokuk," AP writes. "The utility's officials voiced concerns to the Iowa Utilities Board, telling them that a preferred a route would be south of the city's intake, but the route wasn't changed. A leak could reach the intake within an hour."

Also central to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's resistance to the pipeline was what the tribe argued was a failure of the pipeline company and government officials to adequately consult with the Indigenous people, and officials' refusal to listen to the tribal community's protestations and fears for the pipeline project.

Veilleux, a geographer whose research focuses on water security, observed that the pipeline permitting process was piecemeal and inadequate:

The DAPL has been assessed only in small sections, by a number of different government bodies who are uncoordinated, and no macro-assessment has been conducted about the cumulative impacts of the overall project, as this is not required by law. If the corporate interests behind DAPL are evading best practices in assessing human and environmental impacts of this project to begin with, we can question how these same interests will respond if their project causes harm and injury (already happening at Standing Rock) to human welfare and environmental wellbeing.

The pipeline threatens the water supplies of 13 tribal communities in the Missouri River basin, Veilleux's research shows.

All of those communities have good reason to be afraid, as a map of the thousands of U.S. pipeline accidents that have occurred over the last 30 years demonstrates. (Which is not to mention the most recent major spills.)

"We must stand together and we must kill the black snake."
—LaDonna Brave Bull Allerd,
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
"The oil industry says [transporting oil and gas via pipelines] is the safer way, but that doesn't mean this is safe," said Richard Stover, a former research astronomer who compiled the data, to CityLab. "Property is damaged. People are killed. There is no way to safely transport fossil fuels."

"I think it's important to note that it isn't a matter of if there'll be eventually some kind of leak or rupture of the pipeline, it's a matter of when," as Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe told AP.

"The problem is a very little bit of oil can make a very big mess," Raffensberger added. "We don't want to drink any oil."

One community has been successful in forcing a reroute of the pipeline to protect its drinking water: Bismarck, North Dakota. The pipeline was rerouted from upstream of Bismarck to upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's reservation, leading to the outcry and ongoing protest from the tribe.

And so it is with the aim of protecting all water that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and allies are maintaining their stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline, despite the brutal North Dakota winter. Even in the face of a looming right-wing administration, water protectors are seeking an end to the entire project.

"We must stand together and we must kill the black snake," said tribal member LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who started the Sacred Stone protest camp in the spring, to the CBC.

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