Rural Gateway Case Studies

Chippewa Cree Tribe Rural Innovation Fund (RIF) Water Systems Program

Project Summary

  • FY 2011 Grant Award: $2,000,000
  • Grant Category: Comprehensive
  • Applicant Type: Indian Tribe
  • Grant Activities:
    • Water storage tank
    • Water line construction
  • Projected Impact:
    • 500,000 gallons of water storage capacity added
    • 20 construction jobs created
    • 425 homes provided with potable water
    • 3 community facilities provided with access to potable water
    • 1.5 permanent jobs created


Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, Box Elder, Montana map

Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, Box Elder, Montana

Key Outcomes

  • 500,000 gallons of new water storage
  • 425 homes access to potable water
  • 20+ construction jobs


Dustin Sunchild
Water Quality Coordinator
Chippewa Cree Water Resources Department
(406) 395-4225

Community Description

The Chippewa Cree Tribe Rocky Boy Reservation comprises 122,000 acres near the Canadian border in north-central Montana. It has a population of 2,500 members. The name “Rocky Boy” was derived from the name of a leader of a group of Chippewa Cree and means “Stone Child,” which was translated into English as “Rocky Boy.” The primary employers on the reservation are the schools, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, and Tribal government. There is also some wheat farming and post and pole production. The reservation is home to 55 percent of the 6,177 enrolled Chippewa and Cree Tribal members.

The Organization

The Chippewa Cree Tribal Water Resources Department (TWRD) managed the RIF grant and respective projects. TWRD employs approximately 14 people and primarily operates water, sewer, and utility lines. The construction arm of TWRD operated under the Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation, which was a force account labor arm of TWRD that is not formally incorporated.

Project Overview

The RIF funding allowed the Chippewa Cree Tribe to implement a major infrastructure project to construct a water storage and delivery system designed to provide potable water and fire suppression to community facilities and hundreds of existing and future homes that did not have it currently. The Tribe has an extensive public water system that serves most of the development on the reservation, as well as an extensive non-potable system to serve the reservation’s irrigation and agricultural needs. Both were seriously damaged during the main flood event in 2010, which inspired the original application, and in subsequent flood events in 2011 and 2012 that delayed implementation under the RIF grant.

Because of the flood damage, the Tribe wanted to move as much development as possible out of the known flood areas. To do so, they needed to expand the water service to the high ground in the Middle Fork Dry Creek area. This was the area identified for installation of a 500,000-gallon water storage tank and an associated 12-inch pipeline funded by the RIF grant as part of the overall strategy for providing water to the reservation. An integral part of this strategy was the design and construction of the Lake Elwell/Tibor Dam Core Water System, which provides 10,000 acre-feet of water to the Tribe annually based on a 2002 Compact agreement with the Federal Government, the State of Montana, and the Chippewa Cree Tribe. This core system consists of a 36-inch water pipeline that will hook into the existing water lines on the reservation, including the RIF-funded improvements that were designed with this future use in mind.

The water storage tank funded through the RIF grant is constructed of concrete and has a capacity of more than 500,000 gallons. The RIF-funded portion of the pipeline is approximately 21,800 feet of 12-inch diameter C900 PVC pipe that parallels an existing 6-inch water pipeline currently serving the residential units in the area.

The entire reservation water system is extremely efficient, comprising numerous wells that provide water to storage tanks located at elevations above the developed areas. This water distribution system is therefore gravity fed, a very energy-efficient design that also minimizes maintenance issues. The only pumps that need to be replaced are the deep well pumps, not the larger pressure pumps that cause pressure loss when they quit. The RIF grant improvements continue to fit into this master plan for the water delivery systems.

Pipeline Construction

Pipeline Construction

Project Resources

Source Amount Details
Tribal Funds $1,300,000 $600,000 from FEMA reimbursement from the 2011 and 2012 floods
Another $700,000 from unencumbered Tribal funds
Indian Health Service   Water hook-up for the clinic
ICDBG Funds   Water system-related improvements
Total Leverage $1,300,000  


Additional partners that provided in-kind support, staff time, expertise, etc., to the project included:

  • The Chippewa Cree Business Committee
  • Tribal Water Resources Department subcommittee
  • Rocky Boy/North Central Montana Regional Water System

Program Outcomes

  • Met Water Needs: The grant has allowed the community to identify suitable ground wells outside of any floodplain for future development, and the RIF provided a water delivery system to those grounds. Combined with construction related to the Rocky Boy/North Central Montana Regional Water system, this provides ample water to meet the reservation’s future water needs.
  • Improved Community Health: The project also improved the health of the overall community by significantly expanding the capacity of their existing water systems, providing adequate water for more than 200 existing residential users and about 250 residential building sites.
  • Enhanced Safety: It also enhanced the fire suppression efforts of existing fire hydrants by providing a larger source of water for immediate use in firefighting. The improved fire suppression system was a critical component in enabling the new Tribal health clinic to obtain the necessary certification to open and operate.
  • Advanced Development: It also facilitated additional commercial and Tribal development on vacant land along the new pipeline.
  • Provided Jobs: The RIF project also employed about 20 to 26 construction staff, primarily Tribal members, during the construction and enabled 2 employees to obtain heavy equipment operator certification.


Water Storage Facility

Water Storage Facility