Why Austinites Should Care About Standing Rock

Op-Ed published by Austin American Statesman

Only about 1 in 3 Americans know the natural source of their drinking water. They turn on their tap, the water always comes out — even in extreme drought — and so there is seemingly no need to understand the infrastructure it takes to get water from lakes and rivers to the tap.

I wonder what the Standing Rock Sioux would think of that?

In case you’ve been so inundated by the election media blitz and don’t know what I’m talking about, the Standing Rock Sioux are at the center of the standoff to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from the possibility of polluting their water source — Lake Oahe, a reservoir connected to the Missouri River. The Missouri River also provides fresh drinking water to 18 million Americans, not just the Sioux Tribe.

You can be sure 100 percent of the population at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation have long known the natural source of their drinking water — and not just after the Dakota Access Pipeline construction came so close to their water source.

EnviroMedia, which is headquartered in Austin, is on location in North Dakota documenting what is unfolding at Standing Rock because we believe it is the biggest tipping point for change in comprehending our water and energy resources, and also understanding what our water and energy future will look like.

Members of EnviroMedia, including co-founder and CEO Valarie Salinas-Davis, went to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and followed the Missouri River from Bismarck south toward Standing Rock. The team was politely instructed to turn around at this roadblock on Highway 1806.
Members of EnviroMedia, including co-founder and CEO Valarie Salinas-Davis, went to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and followed the Missouri River from Bismarck south toward Standing Rock. The team was politely instructed to turn around at this roadblock on Highway 1806.

First, a Dakota Access Pipeline primer. The Dakota Access Pipeline is being built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to connect oil wells in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale to another pipeline in Patoka, Ill., and ultimately to refineries on the Gulf Coast. This is how we get gas for our cars and trucks.

The Dakota Access Pipeline became public in 2014, with anticipated completion this year. That is, until it became time to run the pipeline beneath the Missouri River right by Lake Oahe. The Standing Rock Sioux protested, saying the Dakota Access Pipeline threatens their water supply and sacred grounds.

This past summer the tribe began taking legal action to halt pipeline construction. Then in September, when a federal judge denied the tribe’s request for an injunction to block construction, Native Americans from across North America traveled to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux. Subsequently, however, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior surprised the world by requesting “that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

Why is EnviroMedia at Standing Rock? Instead of reading from the sidelines, EnviroMedia decided to see for ourselves what’s going on. Standing Rock is an unprecedented nexus of water, energy and environmental justice. These are issues EnviroMedia has been working on for 20 years. Never before have we seen the three come together in such a visceral, public way for all the world to see. It’s a meeting of science, technology, politics, culture, economy and finance.

Our clients provide water and energy to millions. We’re not just communicators but also bridge-builders between government, business and grass-roots organizations. It’s our job to communicate to consumers and stakeholders about natural resources. EnviroMedia must understand and present all sides.

We believe people need to know where their water and energy come from because the more they do know, the more efficient they will be with our limited natural resources. Because, as we’re witnessing at Standing Rock, our water and energy have to come from somewhere, and the delivery of those resources has implications — on people, land, history, industry, jobs, the economy, government, the law, politics and even banks. There are moral, ethical and financial decisions to be made, and there is little room for apathy in the world today. And let’s face it, the possibilities for innovation in water and energy are promising and can be financially rewarded to the pioneering change-makers who are paying attention and willing to take risks.

About the author
Valerie-Salinas Davis
Whether sounding a warning to greenwashers on NBC’s TODAY show or spending all day in a landfill to show her dismay at the state of U.S. recycling efforts, Valerie Salinas-Davis passionately speaks out about injecting ethics and authenticity into companies' sustainability programs and communications efforts.

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