When South Dakotans got out of bed this morning, many performed the same morning tasks. They turned on light switches, took showers, maybe checked their email or made a phone call…before getting in the car and driving to work. All of those mundane tasks require a well-oiled infrastructure that expands beyond the local community, across the state and around the nation. During the next several months, South Dakota Public Broadcasting is examining the state of our state.
The basic, underlying framework of life is easy to take for granted. Roads, water, electricity – people often assume these amenities are constant. But communities struggle when epic events like natural disasters – think the spring ice storm or a tornado – wipe out those resources.
Every time that happens, public officials scrutinize a particular part of an area’s infrastructure. But a crisis isn’t necessary to examine what works – and what doesn’t – when it comes to the state’s elemental functions.
Let’s start with the most basic needs. No life or progress is possible without water. Between standoffs with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over water regulation of the Missouri River… and discussions about pollution, South Dakotans are paying attention to the most coveted natural resource. Walter Schaefer is on the Lake County Water committee.
SCHAEFER: This committee has been concerned about water quality, and of course water is a very, very precious commodity that needs to be both used and managed, and it's going to be a bigger and bigger issue in the future. Do you use it for agriculture? Do you use it to expand your population? What do you do with your water? (:24)
Drinking water? Recreation? Leaders have to weigh their options.
South Dakota has water quality challenges, too. Agricultural runoff contaminates waterways. So do big production plants. And growing communities are contributing more poison to important natural resources, such as local streams and lakes.
Right after water on the basic necessities list is food, and accessibility is another aspect of infrastructure. There are areas in South Dakota where grocery stores simply don’t exist. Kerri DeGraff with Feeding South Dakota sees a need for food security in every corner of the state.
DEGRAFF: We know there is enough food in this country to feed every hungry individual in need, enough food especially in terms of food that's wasted. It's just, how do we harness that food and get it to hungry individuals in need? (:12)
Producing that food is South Dakota’s number one economic strength. Agriculture faces its own battles. Farmers struggle with preserving the integrity of the land while still producing enough crops to feed their livestock and sell on an ever-expanding global market. And the average age of a farmer in South Dakota is skewing older now.
One of the reasons is that the state is taking part in a national trend. Younger people are moving out of rural areas and into city communities. And that leads to its own can of worms: establishing quality roads for people to use to and from work, building enough sewer lines to take waste away from homes, even having enough housing to support growing populations.
South Dakota’s most recent legislative session produced the Building South Dakota fund, which dedicates state dollars specifically to encourage and develop adequate housing for the state’s varying income brackets. Part of that new endeavor includes a Housing Opportunities Fund. Mark Lauseng with the South Dakota Housing Development Authority celebrates the initiative.
LAUSENG: It receives 25 percent of the funds that are deposited into the Build South Dakota fund, and it'll be used for rental or homeownership housing, for housing preservation, housing repairs, grants to make homes more accessible to individuals with disabilities, for homeless prevention activities and other housing type needs. (:20)
Lauseng says many communities and more remote areas lack the right housing for the right price; he says South Dakota advocates are looking to increase the state’s amount of workforce housing. That means establishing facilities where people working hard at relatively low-paying jobs can afford apartments or houses.
Education is another integral part of infrastructure. That includes upkeep for school houses, but it also encompasses more abstract concepts like school district consolidation, especially in rural areas.
South Dakota is implementing new standards for public education. Mary Stadick Smith with the state department of education says South Dakota received an exception from parts of No Child Left Behind. State leaders are implementing new thresholds for student achievement.
STADICK SMITH: So it really gave us a chance as a state to create a system that looks at a variety of indicators to try to give us a sense of how our schools are performing, so it's all about how schools are performing and really, ultimately, what students are learning and how students are learning. (:22)
And the methods of teaching are shifting. Technology is revolutionizing the classroom, and educators are coping with shifting priorities and strategies. At the same time, South Dakota’s Department of Education is adopting Common Core standards. Those benchmarks alter curricula in districts statewide.
Whether they live in cities or miles from the next home, the state’s more than 800-thousand people require health care. South Dakota’s three major health systems are taking over small-town clinics, but they’re providing services that otherwise might not remain outside of big cities. Then there’s the public aspect of health care; Sioux Falls’ health director Jill Franken explains.
FRANKEN: For over 30 years, the Sioux Falls health department has actually run a community health center. That's rather unique across the country, but more and more health centers are being affiliated or somehow working with health departments. (:16)
Ambulance services, police, highway patrol, military, banking, airports, bridges, tunnels, telephone services, cell towers, internet access…South Dakota has a seemingly infinite number of facets to its infrastructure. Through radio, television and online resources during the next several months, South Dakota Public Broadcasting is exploring the advantages – and the drawbacks – of the state’s vast and complex infrastructure.