‘Ellsworth Community Clean Water Project’ promises a solution for PFAS-impacted residents

A permanent solution to Box Elder water woes due to Ellsworth pollution is being pursued.
Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 9:34 PM CST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - It’s been years since well water in the community near Ellsworth Air Force Base was deemed contaminated due to a chemical in a firefighting foam previously used by the Air Force.

Now plans to build a new water pipeline are in the works and could see the light of day as early as the Fall of 2024.

Over the last couple of years, the area southwest of Ellsworth Air Force base has been struggling to find clean water. That could change in the next year after a meeting Tuesday morning promised a plan. The “Ellsworth Community Clean Water Project” would help clean water get to those households affected by the Aqueous film-forming foam that contained Per-and Polyfluorinated Substances that contaminated the water.

“South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority, along with the city of Rapid City, Pennington County, and the city of Box Elder, have stepped up and come up with a solution that is a win-win for everybody,” said South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority executive director Scott Landguth.

The plan would help tackle the issue of getting clean water to the area in an efficient manner.

“When the environmental protection agency first identified this PFAS, PFOA, the acronyms for the chemicals that were an issue, was probably five or six years ago. They don’t have a solution to take care of that problem, so the only solution we could come up with for the community is to bring different water into the area than that of the contaminated wells,” said Landguth.

This project blueprint shown at Tuesday’s meeting would see the new water system span from Dyess Ave. to just past Westgate Rd.

The slide depicts what the length of the proposed water main would look like.
The slide depicts what the length of the proposed water main would look like.(Humberto Giles-Sanchez)

Some members of the Plainsview Mobile Manor mobile home park located on Westgate Rd. said they hope the water coming from the proposed pipeline, when built, won’t get infected like the wells in the affected area.

“My hope is that we get good efficiency clean water, that’s most important and I think people need to be aware of what they are drinking,” said Plainsview resident Myrtle Bettcher.

Another resident weighed in.

“There’s an awful lot of people out here that need good clean water because of their kids. You know the kids they got to have clean water cause they got to be healthy,” said Plainsview resident Frank Gamber.

The new proposed water main would also add another line to Box Elder that they could use to buy water from Rapid City if they ever need it.

“If we need to buy water from Rapid City this line will now allow that to happen. So, we can turn that on or off and it’ll be metered and we’ll be able to do that,” said Box Elder mayor Larry Larson.

The SDEDA and the US Air Force have been working to provide residents in the Southwestern corner of the Ellsworth Air Force base with a long-term solution since 2019, and they are confident this is the solution.