Discussions about rural water began in South Dakota in the late 1960s. By 1972 Butte-Meade Sanitary Water District and Rapid Valley Water Service Company were established and a number of systems were organizing. Lincoln County Rural Water, south of Sioux Falls, was under construction at the time.
Rural water enthusiasts met in Madison, South Dakota, on October 11, 1972. A decision was made to hold a statewide meeting in Pierre on November 30. A letter of invitation went out to 17 systems.
The following systems were represented at the November 30, 1972, meeting at the King’s Inn in Pierre: Aurora-Brule, Big Sioux, Brookings-Deuel, Minnehaha, Rapid Valley, Sioux, TC & G, and Tripp County.
It was unanimously decided to form a “Steering Committee” and name it the “South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems.” The purpose of the organization was to monitor legislation, avoid duplication of efforts by sharing problems and solutions, and communicate with state and federal agencies concerning funding and regulations. Loren Paulson, Ward, was elected Chairman; David Paine, Vienna, Vice Chairman; and Bill Dempsey, White, Secretary-Treasurer.
The Association operated as a Steering Committee until January 1976, at which time the State of South Dakota granted a nonprofit corporation charter.
SDARWS, Inc., immediately became involved in forming a national organization. In April 1976, South Dakota joined six other states in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to establish the National Rural Water Association.
Ray Kuhl was hired as the first Executive Director of the Association and an office was opened in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. South Dakota hosted the second National Rural Water Annual Meeting in Sioux Falls on September 12-13, 1977.
In January 1979, Dennis Davis was hired to replace Ray Kuhl as Executive Director. Under Davis’ leadership and with the guidance of a progressive Board of Directors, continuous growth and expansion occurred in the 1980s. In April 1982, the Association expanded into water system technical assistance and hired Donald Pospishil as Circuit Rider. Water treatment and distribution system on-site expertise could now be offered to the many smaller systems.
The Association took another step in January 1984 to increase technical assistance and to provide training for water systems with the hiring of George Vansco as Program Specialist.
This new position allowed the Executive Director additional time to focus on state and federal issues and membership services. The Program Specialist today is responsible for coordinating special events and training seminars across the state.
In the 1990s the Association once again expanded to include membership and technical assistance services to Sanitary Districts. Jerry Hemeyer was hired in July 1991 as the first Wastewater Technician for the Association. The Association, with the inclusion of Sanitary Districts, moved forward in its work toward prevention of water pollution.
As the Association continued to grow and increase in membership, the Board of Directors expanded the Association for the purpose of assisting systems in western South Dakota by establishing the West River Regional Office in January 1991. The West River Office extended benefits and services to members statewide.
South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems is proud of its progressive past and looks to the future and to the 21st Century. The Association faces many new challenges in the coming years, a coordinated effort on the part of the staff and the Board of Directors provides the opportunity to move forward. The framework for the Association has been significantly defined though Board action on a Mission Statement and Long Range Plan.
The Association is showing growth and movement toward set goals. SDARWS has grown from two to ten employees and has expanded its membership to include nearly 300 organizations. With continued support from members, the challenges and opportunities of the future can and will be met with enthusiasm and cooperation.
For more information on the history of rural water in South Dakota check out these presentations:
History of Rural Water
This PDF file is from a PowerPoint presentation on the history of rural water in South Dakota. (2001)
South Dakota Rural Water - Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
This 23 minute video is available from our Sioux Falls Office on both VideoCD and VHS formats. It includes the information from the History of Rural Water PowerPoint and interview clips from some of the Founders of South Dakota Rural Water. (2005)