Lake Andes, Yankton Sioux restrain flooding while searching for permanent solutions
LAKE ANDES, S.D. — More than two weeks after heavy rainfall left much of southeastern South Dakota flooded, people in and around Lake Andes are still trying to determine how to handle the water remaining in their area and the problems that water has caused.
Among those affected are members of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, many of whom reside in tribal housing just south of the Lake Andes city limits. Those houses, Tribal Secretary Glenford "Sam" Sully said Thursday, Sept. 26, have been exposed to water since March, and three-quarters will likely have to be replaced. Sully said there's a sense of despair among tribal members.
"There's 79 homes within the immediate area that are affected," Sully said. "Some of the people we have situated in our hotels in the area, but we can't afford to keep them there. We don't have the funds until we get reimbursed from FEMA. But we've been trying to do what we can."
Sully said some tribal members who have been displaced have gone to stay in Wagner, but that doesn't necessarily solve their problems.
"If I'm a young guy going to school in Lake Andes and I also have to be relocated to Wagner, I don't want to do that. But it's almost like you're forced to move," he said. "If you don't move, you're going to be on your own."
Lake Andes Mayor Ryan Frederick said water in the city continued to rise earlier this week, and at least a few people in Lake Andes and a dozen more outside the city limits had to evacuate their homes when they became surrounded by water.
"It's basically like a funnel," Frederick said. "It's not going out as fast as it's coming in, so it's starting to spread out into the community."
The most heavily affected areas, he said, are the highway and the area south of the lift station on the eastern side of Lake Andes. The lift station services about half the city's houses, and its school, nursing home, clinic and jail. Frederick said if it were to go under, the sewer system would back up into basements, and everyone in the nursing home and jail would have to be relocated.
To keep the lift station above water, Lake Andes residents built a berm around it last week. Frederick said volunteers, including city and county officials, high school students and teachers and people incarcerated in the Charles Mix County Jail came together to build that berm, which eased some of the city's worries for an indefinite period.
"We were told that it bought us a couple weeks. We're trying to come up with another plan with emergency management just to see what we can do better, because once this freezes, I think we're going to be in some trouble," Frederick said. "We're trying to get all our options out there and see what's going to be the best for the city."
With a temporary solution in place, Frederick said the city is considering a bigger project to move water away from the lift station and out of town. Once that's solved, he said, the next step will likely be to address the aqueduct that flows into the lake.
Tribal members have tried to take similar action on their land by digging ditches near their houses for some of the water to flow into, but the U.S. Department of the Interior issued a cease and desist order about a week and a half ago, reasoning that digging could cause more damage. Since then, the tribe has been sandbagging the area.
Sully said flooding has made travel difficult and impeded first responders' ability to get to a scene quickly, as main roads around tribal land are underwater and the tribal law enforcement office is located in the White Swan community, the same area where housing has flooded.
Tribal member Dayla Picotte said the $1 million the South Dakota Department of Transportation spent to raise U.S. Highway 18 earlier this summer is only a Band-Aid on a larger problem with water flow east of Lake Andes.
"This isn't only a tribal issue. It's a community issue, and it's also a state issue," Picotte said. "The tribe has offered their opinion of what should happen, but ultimately, it's up to the government."
Earlier this week, the South Dakota Department of Public Safety declined the Yankton Sioux Tribe's request for assistance from the National Guard. Sully said the request was "a long shot," but that the tribe asked in part because the National Guard has an armory in Wagner.
"We are reaching out to the entities that can help. Right now it's the tribe, but we've got some things in motion," said Sully, adding that an engineering group has been scheduled to look at the tribal land's topography and potentially find ways to drain water. "We're just doing what we can with what we have."