These maps help fill the gaps on the Dakota Access Pipeline

Meet the researcher mapping the threats to water security.

 

As protests escalated in North Dakota, Jennifer Veilleux sat in her office at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, reading an environmental assessment of the Dakota Access Pipeline over and over again. The report, prepared by the company developing the pipeline, raised red flags. An international water security and transboundary river post-doctoral researcher, Veilleux was used to vetting assessments. The one in front of her didn’t have information about appropriate methods for monitoring what people, waterways, and ecosystems leaks in the pipeline could affect.

She scoured the internet, searching for the major waterways the pipeline would impact, and where Indigenous people lived in relation to those – basic information she couldn’t find anywhere.

So she decided to map it herself.

What resulted were two detailed socio-ecological maps of the Missouri River Basin, created by Veilleux and the team she assembled, in total 16 geographers, cartographers, lawyers, and researchers who are all collaborating voluntarily. One outlines major waterways the pipeline would intersect and possibly leak into and the nearby tribal lands. The other shows the percentage of Indigenous people by county living near waterways that could be affected by the pipeline, which crosses four Western states.

This map shows the waterways the Dakota Access Pipeline would cross and the nearby tribal land.

What she found is that there are nine major intersections between the proposed pipeline and rivers in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa where oil could possibly meet water. Using census data, the team mapped the number of Indigenous people living on reservations, in cities and on rural land near these waterways in the basin as well, which extends West into Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

This map shows the percentage of American Indian and Alaska Natives by county in the Missouri River Basin.

The pipeline has many risks for those populations and the places they live, Veilleux said. During construction, invasive species, fungus, and microbes can be transported if the equipment is not handled carefully. The drilling fluid used to install the pipeline could leak into groundwater or the river and contaminate it. 

Once the pipeline is transporting oil, there are bigger concerns, if it spills. Reservation land flanks lakes and rivers that some residents get drinking water from, and millions of people live downstream, in the watershed. There are many other small tributaries and wetlands off the main waterways, ecosystems that would also be threatened by a leak, and some groundwater aquifers in the region that could be contaminated by oil. There are three endangered species in the basin whose habitats could be affected: two water birds, a piping plover and least tern, and the pallid sturgeon.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, which raises issues of tribal sovereignty, water security, and environmental justice, has mobilized Indigenous people from around the world, as well as spurring protests in cities across the U.S. It’s also motivating academics like Veilleux who find parallels within their research. “I try to elevate voices of people who are being moved for modern development,” she says of her other research projects, which have looked at water security for indigenous people living near the Nile River in Ethiopia, the Mara River in Tanzania, and the Mekong River in Laos. She said Standing Rock resonated because she considers the Missouri River a transboundary watershed – it crosses tribal land and various states – and pipeline construction may impact water quality, directly or indirectly. She wanted to supplement that information about the tribes, which she said is missing from the environmental assessment. 

Veilleux’ research is starting to gain attention from other researchers and tribal leaders. She is now collaborating with cartographer Carl Sack, who has been creating his own maps, one which shows how the pipeline crosses treaty lands. And last month, Veilleux sold her banjo and bought a plane ticket to Standing Rock, where she shared her map with tribal elders. She wants to use the maps to illustrate the social, cultural, and religious significance of water, and plans to work with tribes to create a series of maps that incorporate oral histories. She will be returning to Standing Rock next week, where she’ll take the completed maps and a report to the tribes for them to use. 

Lyndsey Gilpin is an editorial fellow at High Country News. She tweets

High Country News Classifieds
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.