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A “Greener” Earth Begins With You and Me

Local leaders are keeping the spirit of Earth Day alive and well in rural South Dakota.  On Monday April 18, 2011, USDA, Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager announced 51 water and waste disposal and two Community Facilities projects funded as part of Earth Day 2011.  I had the privilege of spending several days in South Dakota during that week to celebrate Earth Day and highlight the efforts of rural communities who are improving the quality of life for their residents and working towards efforts to protect the environment for future generations.

In the City of Sturgis, 105 second and fifth graders celebrated Earth Day alongside local leaders outside of the Sturgis Elementary School.  The City highlighted upcoming improvements to their water system, made possible through a loan and grant from USDA Rural Development.  Students, USDA officials and the mayor shared their thoughts on why taking care of the community and the environment is an important activity for everyone at every age.

 Pictured above left to right front row:  Blake Tate and Journie Stansbury; 2nd row:  Scout Anderson, Ashley Walker, Ella Johnson, Makayla Keffeler, Kylee Bennett, Taylor Tobias, Traeton Monahan; 3rd row Haley Ferguson, Maliki Plaggemyer, Shelby Roberts, Shania Larvie, Maddy Maschino, Ben Ziebarth; and 4th row Assistant Administrator for the Water and Environmental Program Jacki Ponti-Lazaruk, Sierra Fischer, Bridger Gordon, and Rural Development South Dakota State Director Elsie M. Meeks

Pictured above left to right front row: Blake Tate and Journie Stansbury; 2nd row: Scout Anderson, Ashley Walker, Ella Johnson, Makayla Keffeler, Kylee Bennett, Taylor Tobias, Traeton Monahan; 3rd row Haley Ferguson, Maliki Plaggemyer, Shelby Roberts, Shania Larvie, Maddy Maschino, Ben Ziebarth; and 4th row Assistant Administrator for the Water and Environmental Program Jacki Ponti-Lazaruk, Sierra Fischer, Bridger Gordon, and Rural Development South Dakota State Director Elsie M. Meeks

In Custer County, construction is at the halfway mark on the upgraded Historical City Court House.  County officials worked with local architects and engineers to design a building that not only meets their business needs, but minimizes energy use, reclaims and reuses rainwater, and makes use of recycled building materials.

And ground was broken on a project that will bring water to the residents of the City of Piedmont for the first time.  The water project will serve the newly constructed Piedmont Valley Elementary School.  The first phase of the project will be completed in the Fall of 2011.

These are just three of hundreds of projects that get underway each year in rural areas.  As Assistant Administrator for Rural Development’s Water and Environmental Program, I have the opportunity to witness first-hand the difference rural mayors, council members, water and sanitation board members and other concerned citizen make as they seek funding for, and advance projects to provide clean, safe water and waste disposal services to the people who live, work and grow up in their communities.

Earth Day is a great time to recognize that the next generation of leaders – - those who will ensure that rural communities continue to upgrade water and waste infrastructure – - are likely participating in an event on the lawn outside their elementary school.  Students like Bridger Gordon and Sierra Fisher, from Sturgis Elementary, who shared their essays on why taking care of our precious environmental resources is something we all can, and should, do.   That future leader could also be sitting at your dinner table tonight.  It is never too early to engage them in the discussion.  Our future depends on it!

To find out more about USDA Rural Development water quality programs click here.

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