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Water Resources

WATER RESOURCES POSITION PAPER—2001

Every use of water is of concern relative to both quality and quantity.

The long term state policy of prohibiting water “mining” should be maintained and should continue to apply to rural and other domestic water systems as well as to agricultural users. All uses of ground water should be based on the principle of sustained yield.

The use of public funds either as grants or loans to rural and municipal water systems must require a demonstrated need for the system because of poor quality water and/or inadequate quantity for domestic uses along with a pricing structure that encourages conservation.

Water use policies, including pricing should reflect our society’s need for improved efficiency, reuse, and other conservation practices. We oppose declining block rate pricing structures as inconsistent with the principles of conservation and just allocation.

All non-domestic water users should pay a price for water that reflects the true value of water and compensates the public for use of a public resource for private profit. The historical policy in western water law of no-cost appropriation as a private property right must be viewed as a remnant of the frontier mentality we can no longer afford as the growing nation faces serious shortages of potable water.

Ownership and operation of agricultural land irrigated by public water projects now in operation should be restricted to family farm units of an efficient size for a given geographical location. Loopholes in federal reclamation law that have allowed corporate ownership and family farm units beyond legal size must be eliminated.

Large publicly funded irrigation projects have historically been environmentally destructive and economically unsound. Smaller projects must be judged on their individual benefit/cost ratios and environmental impacts. On any project, water quality, soil productivity, wildlife habitat and social structures must be preserved. Water users should be required to provide reasonable repayment of development, operation, maintenance, and social costs incurred by any project using public funding.

An environmental impact statement and public hearings should be required before any development begins. Irrigated land should be taxed according to its ability to produce. Farmers who irrigate should not have free use of public water, harvest the larger yields of irrigated land, pay no more taxes than their dryland neighbors and reap a large capital appreciation when the land is sold because of its having been gifted with a public resource. The alternative is a realistic charge for use of the water or a return to the public purse, when the land is sold, of the capital appreciation attributable to irrigation.

The concept that the “highest and best” use of land and water resources is that use which can pay the highest price must be modified to reflect the long-term goal of preserving agricultural productivity and water resources.

South Dakota is an arid state. Therefore, the recruitment of industries that are heavy water users is not appropriate. Agricultural processing should be encouraged where the local water supply is adequate and sustainable, and if its economic structure, environmental impact, and commitment to water conservation are acceptable.

Pumped storage projects are environmentally and economically unsound. Supplying additional peak energy can be more responsibly met in the years ahead through more efficient load management and energy conservation.  Re-regulating structures in mainstream dams destroy aquatic habitat and are not an acceptable means of improving hydropower production.

Wetlands are critical for wildlife, groundwater recharge, purification of water, and for sediment, pollution and flood control. All remaining wetlands should be saved including those of less than five acres. Those sloping or temporary small wetlands are the most common in the Dakotas and provide more waterfowl breeding pairs per acre than larger marshes. We believe the “swampbuster” provisions of federal farm legislation should be improved and that potentially wetland-destructive federal and state highway, energy and defense projects should not be exempt from regulation. We advocate financial incentives for preservation and restoration of wetlands and a state perpetual easement program for wetlands funded from waterfowl hunting fees and from other sources as may seem feasible.

Landowners should not receive crop subsidy payments on acreages they have drained.

We urge the State of South Dakota to apply to the United States Department of Agriculture for an Enhanced Conservation Reserve Program (ECRP) for the Big Sioux, Vermillion and James River Basins.  Not only will such a program bring much needed revenue to the farmers in these basins, but it has the potential to improve significantly flood control, water quality and wildlife habitat in these areas.

Interbasin transfers of water are generally unwise and unnecessary since they often create hydrologic, environmental, social and economic imbalances that alter the harmony of natural systems. We oppose the use of Missouri River water flowing through South Dakota for interbasin transfers like re-charging the Ogallala Aquifer or for industrial use. Large domestic water systems within South Dakota must be evaluated individually in relation to a realistic assessment of the availability of water, need, local support, and environmental impacts. We oppose the transfer of Missouri River water for such domestic uses without requiring low flow toilets and other water saving devices in all new construction in the entity to be served, along with the adoption of an increasing use-pricing structure for industrial water usage. We view the growing demands on Missouri River water with increasing concern. Water development interests tend to forget the years of low flow and periodically press for allocations of water for projects on the basis of historical average annual flows, a wholly unrealistic statistic. We note that present uses already decrease hydroelectric production in most years and that future use permits reserved by municipalities would radically deplete flows.

We subscribe to the principle that flood plains are integral parts of river ecosystems and that flooding is a natural occurrence that enriches and designs the landscape. Flood control should be accomplished by flood plain management using development restrictions and zoning as a primary means of reducing property loss and personal injury. We regard levees, channelization, and large scale dams as shortsighted solutions to flood control since they all destroy riparian ecosystems and dams also flood valuable agricultural land.

South Dakota has no federally or state designated scenic or recreational rivers except s portion of the Missouri. Portions of other rivers like the Little White, the Sioux and the James as well as others have potential for recreational purposes. We note that a 1975 survey of attitudes toward water development in South Dakota found that 72.7 percent favored leaving rivers in their natural state. We advocate such preservation of all unaltered rivers or river segments.

We oppose the issuing of any further permits to appropriate water from South Dakota streams except for domestic purposes and only after adequate, permanent instream flow levels have been adopted. We advocate the designation of all unappropriated surface flows and the designation of all cancelled or relinquished surface water permits as permanent instream flow.  While this can be accomplished as a policy of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, we urge legislation that recognizes the necessity of instream flows and sets a policy for the recovery of adequate instream flows for the future. South Dakota should not remain as one of the only six states that have no minimum instream flow standards.

While South Dakota seems to have adequate water pollution control laws, enforcement has been minimal. We urge additional funding for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to be designated solely for more frequent and effective monitoring and for better enforcement. The long overdue setting of TMDLs must be completed without delay along with an adequate plan for monitoring and stringent enforcement.

Surface water standards for any segment of the state’s streams should not be less stringent than at present, and efforts should be made to upgrade the standards for given segments wherever possible.

State ground water regulations should, but do not address agricultural pollutants, and the enforcement of surface water standards related to agricultural pollutants is minimal. While agricultural pollution, being non-point, is difficult to trace, enforcement should be focused on sources and causes: feedlots, overfertilization, use of pesticides, lack of double check valves in irrigation equipment, failure to leave a cover crop or trashy soil surface in the fall, and carelessness in handling fertilizers and pesticides especially at elevators. Other sources of non-point pollution, e.g. urban storm water, and construction activities need increased attention.

We oppose the issurance of ground water quality variances. If ambient water quality in an area is better than the standard set in regulations, the ambient quality should be maintained, and the standard brought to ambient levels.  In no case should ambient ground water quality be allowed to degrade to an arbitrary standard through issuing a permit to pollute (variance).

Class II and III injection wells have been sources of pollution of ground water in a number of states. It is important that all these wells be periodically and fully reviewed and tested, the operators monitored, and financial surety arrangements reviewed for adequacy in any area where ground water contamination could occur.

This water resources position paper was adopted by the SDRC Board of Directors at its meeting on June 2, 2001.

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