The Lake County Commission delayed action this week on a conditional use permit for a private campground on the southeast side of my beloved Lake Herman. Terry and Bev Timmer acquired Larry Dirks's land and proposed building a campground up the hill from the lake in 2012. Timmers have done the first phase, doing dirt work for 16 campsites and installing septic systems. They now seek a permit to move more dirt and add 20 campaign pads. But the county said hold your horses when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Timmers are in violation of their existing state General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Construction Activity.

Uff da—what's it take to get DENR to jump on a developer? Oh, maybe the developer getting cited for violations in July, ignoring the DENR's request for a report on fixing those violations, and leaving violations for the DENR to find still occurring in November?

That's the story that comes from the inspections conducted and letters sent to Terry Timmer by DENR water quality engineer Jill Riedel. During an inspection in early June, Riedel found dirt washing off the campground construction site onto adjoining land due to inadequate sediment controls. Timmers also appear not to have filed the Storm Water Pollution prevention Plan required by their construction permit. Riedel's July 24, 2014, letter documented those violations and asked for a response by August 4.

Riedel's November 14, 2014, letter indicates that Timmers never wrote back. The latter letter, with more bold type and "WARNING LETTER" printed at the top, includes a report from Riedel's November 7 inspection finding several violations unaddressed.

Photos 7 & 8, taken by Jill Riedel, DENR engineer, inspection of Timmer campground site, Lake Herman, South Dakota, 2014.11.07, included in warning letter from DENR to Terry Timmer, 2014.11.14

Photos 7 & 8, taken by Jill Riedel, DENR engineer, inspection of Timmer campground site, Lake Herman, South Dakota, 2014.11.07, included in warning letter from DENR to Terry Timmer, 2014.11.14 (click to embiggen!)

DENR expects a reply by November 26. To perhaps focus Timmers' attention, Riedel reminds them, in bold type, that "violations of the general permit can subject you to enforcement action, including penalties of up to $10,000 per day per violation."

$10,000 a day? If the construction site has been in violation for 108 days (let's be generous and just count from the day they were supposed to reply in August), that's over a million bucks DENR could ask for. (Yo! Governor Daugaard! Does the state have any lawyer bills it needs paid?) I don't know what Timmers plan to charge for a night of camping, but if they're going to compete with Lake Herman State Park just up the shore at $19 a night (and really, Timmers will need to charge less, since they offer no trails, less shade, less room for the kids to play, much less shoreline, and a harder to find gravel road for access), but it would take 36 campsites 1,579 days (15 summers!) to generate the revenue necessary to cover that bill.

Since Timmers won't have 36 campsites until the county approves their second conditional use permit, and since that approval won't happen until DENR is happy, maybe the Timmers need to stop disregarding environmental rules and pay more attention to their erosion controls and their paperwork.

10 comments

Big Ag groups in South Dakota are raising a stink about the EPA's latest proposed regulations to keep our water clean. As we know, this industry-manufactured fuss is mostly myth. The EPA is using science to make clear, consistent rules to protect South Dakota tourism and agriculture.

Mike Rounds won't let truth stop him from advocating that we "shut down" the EPA. But wait—an eager notes that shutting down the EPA would pull the rug out from under farmers who count on the EPA to maintain the ethanol mandate. Rounds liked the federal subsidy that boosted ethanol. Rounds's fellow farm-state Republicans really want the EPA to stick around and force folks to buy more ethanol.

Perhaps Rounds should ask to change his answer: he doesn't really want to shut the EPA down. He just though the E stood for "Ethanol," not "Environment."

2 comments

The South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems July newsletter offers a trio of articles that might make conservatives think that liberals have taken over the water works. Or maybe providing the most basic need to thousands of South Dakota homes simply requires our rural water providers to ignore ideology and stick with facts.

SDARWS first shares a report from Media Matters refuting conservative attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of rules under the Clean Water Act. Apparently Fox and friends have been broadcasting false assertions that the proposed "Waters of the U.S." rule is some evil land grab, imposing expensive regulations on every drop of water as well as farm drain tile and ditches. Senator John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem have fallen for this pro-polluter propaganda. Media Matters neatly dispenses with those myths and more, pointing out, among other things, that the clarified rules give the EPA less authority over less territory than it did under President Reagan; that the rules do farmers favors with exemptions for normal agricultural practices; and that the rules produce net economic benefits through cleaner water, recharged groundwater, reduced flooding (by protecting wetlands!), and more outdoor recreation.

SDARWS then cites Rich Widman and Chris Hesla of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, who urge us to contact Senators Thune and Johnson and tell them to put the Prairie Potholes over politics:

Over the last few years, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued rulings that emphasized the need to clarify language that protects the safety of our drinking water supplies, wetlands and headwaters streams. Knowing they needed to clear things up and provide certainty for farmers, the EPA and Corps of Engineers last month posted the draft “Waters of the U.S.” rule for public comment.

But now – with a bit of political maneuvering – some politicians are attempting to derail this clean water rule that would restore longstanding Clean Water Act protections to some of the nation’s most important waters and wetlands.

When final, the rule will maintain exemptions for regular farming activities while re-establishing Clean Water Act protections for the wetlands and streams that provide drinking water for one in three Americans.

As a bonus for sportsmen and anglers, these same wetlands and streams provide critical habitat in our Prairie Pothole region for ducks, pheasants and fish, thereby helping to sustain the strong hunting and fishing economy of South Dakota.

Whether you enjoy clean water for drinking, or wildlife habitat for hunting and fishing, I urge you to join me in supporting the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. And I ask South Dakota U.S. Sens. John Thune and Tim Johnson to do so, as well. All policy-makers should [Rich Widman and Chris Hesla, "Clean Water Critical for South Dakota Outdoors," Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.28].

Finally, SDARWS spotlights concerns in Nevada that global warming is intensifying drought conditions that are draining Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam, to its lowest level. The decline of that reservoir is just one of multiple pressures on water supplies exacerbated by climate change that will force the Southwest to change regulations and water-use practices made back in the day when water seemed plentiful:

"We've seen changes in river flow timing because of losses of snowpack in the western U.S., in California and the Rocky Mountains as snow disappears faster and faster because of higher temperatures," said Peter Gleick, a water researcher and president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland. "Those are all examples of some of the impacts we thought we would see and are now seeing from climate change."

..."Adding climate change on top of a system that's already out of balance makes all of our problems more difficult," Gleick said. "We have to realize that there are limits, especially in the dry Southwest. We can't just pretend that we can grow our cities forever and somehow find new resources for them, new water for them. We have to change the way we do planning. We have to change the way we manage water. And if we don't, changes are going to be forced on us" [Ian James, "Vanishing Water: An Already Strained Water Supply, Threatened by Climate Change," Desert Sun, 2014.06.14].

Water is precious, and with rising population, industry, and temperatures, it is not as plentiful as when we got here. The Waters of the U.S. rule is one attempt to keep the water we have left clean.

The federal portal for submitting comments on the Waters of the U.S. rule is here. The more immediate way to protect your drinking water, your fishing holes, and that hidden slough where you always bag your duck limit is to turn off Fox News and listen to your local experts on our water supply.

Related Reading: Midland, Texas, is dealing with drought and dwindling aquifers by tapping water sources 67 miles away and by raising marginal water rates fivefold. The latter worked really well: higher water bills got folks to cut water usage 35%. But less usage means less revenue for Midland to spend on repairing and upgrading its water system.

3 comments

The word of the day: variability... as in climate variability... as in the thing we now say to keep from flipping denialists' lids by saying global warming or climate change.

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Dakota Rural Water, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are hosting a two-day workshop next month on "Water Sector Emergency Response, Extreme Event, and Climate Variability Planning" in Fort Pierre. The workshop's raison d'être:

South Dakota communities, including drinking water and wastewater utilities, have been impacted by multiple natural disasters over the past several years. Physical security also remains a concern. While many utilities have taken steps to improve preparedness and response to extreme events, a new pattern of more frequent and intense extreme events, likely exacerbated by climate variability, is forcing a new approach to short-term and long-term “all hazards” planning [HorsleyWitten.com, workshop announcement, downloaded 2014.06.26].

There you go: at least at our DENR, South Dakota state government affirms the notions that the climate is changing, that we are getting more damaging storms than we used to, and that utilities and public agencies need to adapt their practices to repair and protect vital infrastructure amidst such increased threats from volatile Gaia. Real change, real costs.

Eight years ago, Governor Mike Rounds agreed that human activity contributed to global warming. Ask candidate Rounds about climate change, and within 15 seconds, he'll tell you we need to burn more coal.

I wonder: at what point will Republicans crying about the "war on coal" start hearing retorts from local officials asking them to stop wagon war on our water and sewer plants?

65 comments

Joe Lowe partisans take heart: the losing contender in our Democratic gubernatorial may have gotten through to nominee Rep. Susan Wismer on at least one issue. After weeks of awkward agnosticism, Rep. Wismer is working her way closer to saying Powertech's uranium mining plan for the Black Hills is a bad idea:

Rapid City Journal: An international firm has proposed to mine uranium near Edgemont, a project that supporters say will bring jobs and pad state coffers with tax revenue. But opponents worry the mine will harm the region's water supply. Do you support the project?

Susan Wismer: Unless and until I am completely assured that there would be no damage to the water, I can't see myself supporting it. The Legislature is surrounded with pro-uranium mining people, former legislators that are now there as lobbyists. So they are not hearing the same thing that is being heard out here. And it is just another symptom of our government, which is controlled by one party [Joe O'Sullivan, "Five Questions with Governor Candidate Susan Wismer," Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.09].

That answer is still wiggly. It leaves room for her to fall for those lobbyists' baloney. It shows that her study of the issue hasn't gotten around to the local press Lowe cited during the primary that said in situ leach mining always damages the water. And it doesn't explain her vote in 2011 to eliminate state oversight of uranium mining.

But Wismer's Powertech caution is better than the vague shrug she gave in May, and significantly more comforting to environmental sensibilities than Governor Daugaard's current absurd non-answer. Keep pushing, Black Hills water drinkers: we may get Wismer to take a stand against Powertech yet!

64 comments

It should have been a quiet morning in Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources. One confirmation, three resolutions, no big whoop.

Whoops.

The committee had little problem recommending that the Senate honor Oelrichs rodeo stars Chad Ferley and Lisa Lockhart, aside from the Senator Rhoden's newly kindled passion for distinguishing resolutions and commemorations. But when they turned to HCR 1025, Rep. Troy Heinert's pretty simple resolution declaring that groundwater is good and that we should be careful not to ruin it, everybody got cranky.

Rep. Heinert had tried do something practical about protecting water in the Black Hills with House Bill 1193. That bill went nowhere, so he thought he'd at least get the Legislature to say something nice about water. Rep. Heinert had back-up from his District 27 House-mate Rep. Kevin Killer, District 21 Senator Billie Sutton, Jay Gilbertson of East Dakota Water Development District, Sabrina King of Dakota Rural Action, and Paul Lepisto of the Izaak Walton League. They all said what Rep. Heinert summarized in one Lakota phrase: mni wiconi—water is life.

Then the opponents spoke. Larry Mann, usually a lobbyist of speaking for himself today, said HCR 1025's "reaffirmation" of South Dakota's commitment to clean water differs significantly from current policy. Odd: the three Whereas clauses of HCR 1025 addressing public policy come verbatim from SDCL 34A-2-1, which gives the general declaration of the state's water pollution control policies. You cannot differ less from current policy than to state current policy.

Hot Springs uranium mining promoter Mark Hollenbeck complained that HCR 1025 omits the word "mining." But again, the clause in question, "it is the public policy of this state to conserve the waters of the state and to protect, maintain, and improve the quality thereof for water supplies; for the propagation of wildlife, fish, and aquatic life; and for domestic, agricultural, industrial, recreational, and other legitimate uses..." comes directly from SDCL 34A-2-1.

Angela Ehlers of the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts complained that HCR 1025 adds the word "legitimate" while "beneficial" is the statutory term that has guided South Dakota water policy for over 40 years. One more time, read the statute that HCR 1025 reaffirms: SDCL 34A-2-1 uses the word "legitimate" three times. "Beneficial" appears twice, next to "legitimate" both times.

Senator Ernie Otten of Tea moaned about the resolution not following the rules, even though the Legislature's Joint Rule 6A-1(2) says a concurrent resolution "shall express opinions and principles of the Legislature not having the force of law." HCR 1025 fits that rule just fine.

But remember, this is just a resolution. Up or down, when the vote is done, water is no cleaner or dirtier.

HCR 1025 went down 2–5. Time to confirm Scott Vance to the Brand Board and get some lunch, right?

Heck no. Eager to give conservationists a 1-2 punch, Senator Larry Rhoden decide to hoghouse HCR 1025 into a soapbox for Senator Dan Lederman's falsehood-based crusade against the Niobrara-Ponca Conservation plan.

I've worked hard to explain in previous posts that the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will do the prairie some real good with the Niobrara-Ponca plan. Folks who know more about Niobrara-Ponca than I might have enjoyed the chance to offer an even better explanation to the committee. But Senators Rhoden and Lederman used the surprise hoghouse to deny Niobrara-Ponca supporters that opportunity. Senator Lederman presented his grandstanding propaganda unchecked.

Note that committee chair Shantel Krebs broke committee protocol by allowing Senator Lederman, who is not a member of the committee, to take the floor and present on his substitute resolution long after she had closed HCR 1025 to further comment from non-committee members. Note that Joint Rule 7-1.5 requires a two-thirds majority of committee members to bring up any issue not posted on the committee agenda, and Niobrara-Ponca was not anywhere on that agenda.

Rep. Heinert called Senator Lederman's hoghouse "the biggest slap in the face I've ever had since I've been up here." Senator Rhoden tried to assure Rep. Heinert that he intended no disrespect. Everyone else on the committee voted to table the whole HCR 1025 mess and move on.

Meanwhile, our water is still at risk from intense ag-industrial development in East River and proposals to mine uranium and silica sand in West River. We can't get our Legislature to even say that, let alone do anything about it.

5 comments

Madison's mid-winter water crisis didn't lead to cholera, but there has been an outbreak of political enthusiasm. My hometown now has four filed candidates—Ashley Allen, Jennifer Wolff, Jeremiah Corbin, and Gene Hexom—vying for two open seats, and a fifth, Kelly Johnson, taking out a petition (deadline is this Friday, Kelly!).

Allen, Wolff, and Corbin all have Web presence. Hexom likely won't be online unless one of crony capitalist Darin Namken dispatches a flunky to whip up some placeholder page. Besides, the only people Hexom needs to talk to are his familiar old pals at the Community Center, not all those young complainers on their computers.

Speaking of whom, what are our youth candidates saying to the online electorate?

Corbin's new website leads with water as an issue. Corbin touts his experience as a source water protection specialist with the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems. He also has water all over his brief bio page.

Allen leads with infrastructure as his number-one priority. He talks water but also broadens the topic to include street maintenance and electrical issues.

Wolff's campaign website takes a less traditional, more bloggy approach. Her website so far lacks the standard landing and About pages that we get from Corbin and Allen. Allen does have a blog section on his website, but the blog is the homepage for Wolff. Water does not figure in Wolff's blog posts so far... but she does include some humdingers on the need for repairs to Madison's conceptual infrastructure. In this morning's post, Wolff details how Sioux Center is growing while Madison "stagnates," then offers this hypothesis as to why:

So why the dramatic difference in economic, population, commercial, industrial, and residential growth? For two towns that seem so alike on the surface, when you put them side-by-side, one seems to be floundering while the other flourishes. One relishes being a "little big city"; the other relegates itself to a "big little city".

Perhaps the secret lies in Sioux Center's tagline: "Progress Through Cooperation". This is a city that doesn't let itself be defined by its limitations. It's also a city that seems to embrace partnerships with other organizations and encourage active citizen participation. It has a comprehensive plan that provides a 20-year road map for Sioux Center's future and outlines seven goals. The first goal? Collaboration & Cooperation [Jennifer Wolff, "A Tale of Two Cities," We Want Wolff campaign website, 2014.02.26].

By the way, Sioux Center, like Madison, is still waiting to be hooked up to the Lewis and Clark water system.

Wolff mentions in another post that Madison seems to view "citizen input... as a nuisance rather than a necessity." In a democracy, citizen input is as vital as water. Wolff, Corbin, and Allen all appear to agree on that principle.

2 comments

Rep. Troy Heinert (D-26A/Mission) brings us House Bill 1193, a sensible effort to protect South Dakotans from the dangers of in situ leach uranium mining. Hoping to reverse the Legislature's history of handing out favors to potential polluters, Rep. Heinert wants to make companies like Powertech (today's stock price: eight cents!) meet a stronger burden of proof that their operations won't harm our water supplies.

HB 1193 adds three important requirements to in situ leach mining permits and projects:

  1. As part of the permit process, in situ leach uranium mining companies must show that their wastewater won't leak into other aquifers.
  2. Such mining companies must show their water restoration technology works, not just on paper, but in practice.
  3. When they're done mining, operators of in situ leach mines must restore groundwater to at least the quality it had before mining... something in situ leach uranium miners have had a really hard time doing.

We shouldn't be surprised that Heinert and fellow Democrats (Reps. Hawks, Killer, Parsley, Peterson, Schrempp, Tyler, and Senator Welke) are leading to the charge to protect South Dakotans from polluting corporate exploiters. Joining them are Republican Reps. Scott Craig (whose Black Hills constituents are keenly interested in protecting their drinking water) and Charlie Hoffman (who enjoys a good drink, but not one that glows).

Rep. Hoffman chairs the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which gets first crack at HB 1193. The bill isn't on an agenda yet, but contact those committee members now to tell them to stand up for sensible regulation and clean water.

10 comments

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