Randall water district overcomes 2019 flooding to receive top SD honor
Rural system estimates it had more than $1 million in damages from flooding
LAKE ANDES -- The challenges raised from extreme flooding in 2019 did not prevent the Randall Community Water District from being named Rural Water System of the Year recently.
The district was recognized by the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems at the organization’s annual Technical Conference in Pierre earlier this month.
“It was a surprise,” said Scott Pick, general manager of the district, when asked about receiving the award. “We’re a 45-year-old system, and this is a first and it’s an honor.”
The district serves customers in portions of Aurora, Bon Homme, Brule, Douglas and Hutchinson counties in southeast South Dakota. It also supplies water to 15 bulk users, including area towns, the Yankton Sioux Tribe, Aurora-Brule Rural Water and Davison Rural Water.
And while the district specializes in delivering water to customers throughout southeast South Dakota, it was water from heavy summer rains and storms that complicated operations for the organization in 2019. Pick said flooding caused issues with roughly 400 meter pits out of 2,700 in the system, where infiltration caused some pits to deteriorate. Meter pits are below-ground chambers between a water main and a residence or business that houses the water meter assembly. Some pumping stations were also affected by the excess water in the system, as well.
“Once (excess water) infiltrates, it ruins everything from electrical to the meters,” Pick said.
It was a messy and costly summer for the district, which is currently in the process of providing paperwork to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and expects damages to run into seven figures. Still, the system functioned well despite non-ideal conditions and continued to deliver water to its customers.
“We didn’t have a day where we couldn’t provide water out to the system,” Pick said.
Pick said improvements made to the district over the years have improved their ability to provide water and accurately measure where and how much water is flowing through its system. The district switched over to an automated meter reading system in 2016 and 2017 after having customers read their own meters for years. The new system allows for accurate tracking of water and helps managers locate leaks.
If the system sees a customer who uses 3,000 gallons a month suddenly register 25,000 gallons a month, it will alert management and have them look into a potential leak with that customer. The new meters help preserve the integrity of the system and helps reduce waste, which is important with a commodity as valuable as clean water, Pick said.
“It allows us to track leaks, so it becomes a customer service tool,” Pick said. “It’s going to become much more evident over the next century how important the preservation of (water) will be.”
Other recent improvements have made a difference, as well. The district uses water from the Missouri River and has two intake structures and water treatment plants — one near Pickstown and the other southwest of Platte. Recently tying the two plants together helps provide an ample supply of water in the event one of the plants goes down, Pick said.
Pick also credited the installation of a new intake structure near Platte that allowed the district to increase pumping capacity from 1 million gallons a day to 4 million gallons a day as another way the district is continuing to improve its services, including the quality of its water.
“It improved the quality of the water because the old caisson was into the bay, and rain and runoff to the river made the treatment of the water a little more difficult,” Pick said. “It went from coffee to clear water.”
Pick said influence from the state's Washington, D.C. delegation helped with negotiations with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which he said has a 10-year moratorium on improvements to the Missouri River, to get permission to make the intake change. He said he was also proud that the work at the intake was done using contractors and other resources from within South Dakota. It was important for the district to support the larger local community, he said.
Pick said it’s improvements like those that made the Randall system worthy of the Rural Water System of the Year Award.
And there are always more improvements to be made. Pick said the district is constantly evaluating its system and maintains a five-year plan on improvements. The South Dakota Department of Transportation is expected to replace a bridge near Pickstown that will help facilitate the consolidation and replacement of water lines on either side of the road, a project that demonstrates the cooperation of agencies to improve infrastructure. That work is scheduled for some time in the next two year, Pick said.
And, of course, continued recovery from damage caused by the flooding of 2019 is at the forefront.
“Honestly, we’re catching up (on repairs). My greatest worry is what 2020 will bring. I think everybody is awfully cautious and the ground is saturated. It’s not going to take much for previous conditions to come back fairly quickly,” Pick said.
Still, he takes pride in knowing he has strong leadership and a team of professionals ready to handle the next round of challenges for the district.
“This didn’t happen because of the leadership on my part. It’s our current board of directors and the great attitude of our previous boards of directors,” Pick said. “We’re trying to be the best stewards we can for the next 40 years.”