Senator Jason Frerichs (D-1/Wilmot) got the Senate to advance his watershed management plan yesterday. Senate Bill 2, while significantly watered down, is a positive step toward dealing with drainage and other water quality issues in South Dakota. In its baby-steps form, SB 2 will map nine new "river basin natural resource districts," for South Dakota's major watersheds, then dispatch a task force to work with local governments to create a pilot water management plan for the Vermillion River watershed. Senator Frerichs tells me he likes that step, since the Vermillion River is the only watershed that lies entirely in South Dakota. Starting there will give local lawmakers, water consumers, and conservationists a good framework for applying plans to other districts which will inevitably have cross-border conversations about water quality.

The Senate vote wasn't a slam dunk: SB 2 drew 12 nays from Republicans who either don't like government, cooperation on water issues, or bills by Democrats (although the latter shouldn't play too large in opponents' sentiments, since the prime sponsor in the House is Republican Majority Leader Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City).

Technically, Senator Frerichs offered some debate on his bill the day before it came up in the Senate. On Wednesday, during debate on throwing another pot of money at pine beetles in the Black Hills, Senator Frerichs drew the following comparison:

I applaud the efforts of the folks that are dealing with this Mother Nature problem out there, truly management at its finest. In our Ag committee we've had a little discussion about this and I've talked with my friends who represent those areas.

You know, this pine beetle issue is very similar to what we deal with on the eastern side as far as some water issues, especially surface water, and so I just ask the body's support. Even though I'm probably about as far away from this issue as could be anyone else, we're duly elected as 35 senators to represent this state. I think it's a good issue, and I appreciate the efforts for management on a Mother Nature problem [Senator Jason Frerichs, floor debate on SB 152, South Dakota Senate, Pierre, South Dakota, 2015.02.18, timestamp 32:45].

Translation: I'll vote to spend money on you guys' problem, even though pine beetles aren't eating trees in my back yard; how about you guys vote to help solve some water issues that are more prevalent in my bailiwick?

Four Black Hills senators (Haverly, Rampelberg, Solano, and Tieszen) took Frerichs up on that pitch (because you know, water does run through the Black Hills, too!). Three Black Hills senators (Cammack, Ewing, and Jensen) said no while happily taking tax dollars for their beetles.

Also voting no was the senator towards who sees darn near all of that water flow through his back yard, Senator Dan Lederman (R-16/Dakota Dunes). Of course, when all that run-off comes burbling over the dikes at his golf course, Senator Lederman will climb on his McMansion roof and shout for more big government management of his water problems.

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Blogger John Tsitrian posted a complaint Monday calling out Azarga (formerly Powertech) for lying to investors in its public statements about the progress of its plans to mine uranium in the southern Black Hills. Tsitrian's Black Hills neighbor Juli Ames-Curtis issues her own complaint about South Dakotans' easy surrender of valuable resources to foreign corporations:

I am saddened over some of the sentiment in South Dakota regarding the mining of uranium at the Dewey-Burdock site near Edgemont. Some South Dakota citizens, despite being fiercely independent, seem willing to sell out to a foreign company. Azarga Uranium, formerly known as Powertech Uranium, is a Canadian company whose major shareholder and continued source of funding is a Chinese investment fund.

Azarga/Powertech is seeking South Dakota permits for 12.96 million gallons of water per day indefinitely. In 2012 Rapid City used 11.35 million gallons per day. The (foreign) company is applying for water rights for which they will not pay. If Azarga/Powertech were to buy the water from, say, Rapid City, it would have to pay over $1 million for the amount it seeks to use.

Our American water is very precious, especially the Madison and Inyan Kara aquifers in question here. How patriotic is it to trade our water in perpetuity for a handful of short term jobs? [Juli Ames-Curtis, letter to the editor, Custer, South Dakota, 2015.02.19]

For decades, South Dakota has traded its water and other resources for promises of economic development. Yet we seem as mired as ever in the problems of low wages, labor shortages, youth flight, and lack of revenues for schools and roads.

Just as Azarga exaggerates to its investors, we seem to exaggerate to ourselves the benefits of throwing our doors wide for outside corporations to exploit our water and land and weak regulatory and taxation systems. The corporations get the payoffs, and we get something less than prosperity.

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Senator Jason Frerichs (D-1/Wilmot) and other members of the Watershed Task Force spent last summer studying the contentious issue of drainage. They have offered Senate Bill 2 as a response. SB 2 would create nine "river basin natural resource districts" spanning counties across the state. Tiling a field in Brown County means more water drains down the James River to Yankton County, so supporters contend we need governing agencies whose authority encompasses the entire span of that watershed.

But one citizen's sensible regional water management is another citizen's additional layer of government and bureaucracy. Senate Bill 2 has thus been drastically scaled back in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. SB 2 would still create those nine districts on paper, but Senate ANR has amended out all the language empowering those districts to levy taxes, promulgate and enforce rules, or do much of anything other than elect council members in 2018 (two years later than SB 2 originally proposed). Action is limited to existing entities within the Vermillion River watershed working with a new task force to establish a water management pilot plan that could be used by all districts.

Senate ANR's amendment adds a provision allowing residents of a river basin natural resource district to render their district "dormant" by petition of 5% of electors and 60% of votes cast. I find "dormant" an interesting term: as far as I can tell, no other statute uses that term with respect to a political subdivision. I'm unaware of any other provisions empowering voters to put a board to sleep. SB 2 also contains no Sleeping Beauty clause to "wake up" a river basin natural resource district, so I'm left wondering if "dormant" is just a euphemism for "dead."

The amended SB 2 also appears to respond to some rural paranoia about city folks. SB 2 now excludes Class 1 municipalities from the new resource districts. By statute, Class 1 means towns of 5,000 and bigger. SB 2 as amended would thus exclude folks in sixteen towns (soon eighteen?) from participating in decisions about drainage and water quality. That's just over half of the people in South Dakota. Folks in town have as much stake in clean water and flood control as folks in the country, but apparently Senate Bill 2 isn't going to make headway in the Legislature if it gives town folk a voice.

Interestingly, the town folk on Senate ANR don't seem to mind. The committee advanced the SB 2 yesterday on a 6–3 vote. Four of the ayes came from senators from Class 1 munis. Only one nay came from a Class 1 denizen (Spearfish's Bob Ewing). The other two nays came from rural Senators Betty Olson and Gary Cammack.

The heavily watered-down watershed management bill now goes to the Senate floor.

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Rep. Kristi Noem has long touted big government in the form of the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System. Her latest press release on the long-delayed project celebrates spending almost three times more on Lewis and Clark than socialist redistributionist President Obama proposed.

Why would Rep. Noem and the rest of South Dakota's Congressional delegation work so hard to spend more money than President Obama and pump more water up the I-29 corridor? Perhaps Lewis and Clark is one more prop in South Dakota's push for more megadairies:

At the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California, more than a half dozen states—Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Nevada—have booths to recruit milk producers.

"Increasingly every year, there are more states showing up at the World Ag Expo to entice California dairies to move to their states, and they're finding a receptive audience," said Joel Karlin, a commodity manager and market analyst for Western Milling, a large agricultural livestock feed manufacturer exhibiting at the show. "California has been losing cows to other states such as Idaho, Texas and New Mexico—and now a lot of operators are looking at the Midwest more favorably since feed is cheaper, labor is cheaper and water is more plentiful" ["States Dangle Water to Tempt California Dairy Farmers," NBC News, 2015.02.10].

One dairy Holstein may drink 25 to 30 gallons of water per day.

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Graphic of the Week Award goes to Dakota Rural Action for this banner announcing a rally for clean water and democracy:

DRA Voice Vote Values anti-CAFO banner Feb 2015

Dakota Rural Action is holding the "Rally to Protect Our Voice, Our Vote, and Our Values" Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at the Downtown River Greenway Amphitheater (on the Big Sioux between 6th and 8th Streets) in Sioux Falls.

DRA is steamed about three bills that threaten water quality and the people's right to participate in local zoning decisions:

HB 1173 - Introduced by Representative Qualm (R-21) and Senator Cammack (R-29), this bill would penalize citizens appealing land zoning decisions seen as frivolous. Since courts already have the authority to award damages in frivolous or malicious suits (SDCL 15-17-51), this bills is clearly targeted at preventing citizens from challenging zoning decisions made in their county.

SB 127 - Introduced by Senator Rusch (R-17) and Representative Rasmussen (R-17), this bill would create an exemption to South Dakota law allowing non-family farm corporations to own and operate hog confinements in South Dakota.

HB 1201 - Introduced by Representative Mickelson (R-13) and Senator Cammack (R-29), this bill would reduce the number of votes needed on a county board of adjustment to allow a conditional use permit from 4 out of 5 to 3 out of 5, making it easier for CAFOs to get these permits and move forward [Dakota Rural Action, open letter to South Dakota Legislature, 2015.02.03].

You can sign that open letter, too, and let your legislators know you are tired of their facilitation of the corporate colonization of South Dakota. You can also make legislators hear your voice in person: After briefing the troops, DRA will take its rally to Saturday's Legislative Coffees (apparently Sioux Falls is too sophistimacated to call 'em crackerbarrels): Session 1 starts at 9 a.m. with legislators from Districts 6, 9, and 10; Session 2 starts at 10:45 with legislators from Districts 11 and 12. Both public fora are at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown... where DRA will be out in force guardin' your voice and your water.

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Dr. Hannan LaGarry teaches geology, biology, statistics, and research methods at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Geology is his main area of study, and he put his geology knowledge to work analyzing borehole logs, drillers' notes, maps, and other data released by Powertech/Azarga last year in its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to conduct in situ recovery mining for uranium in the southern Black Hills.

The NRC-ASLB yesterday released Dr. LaGarry's written supplemental testimony, given November 21, 2014. Dr. LaGarry's analysis finds a number of holes in the ground that, claims the scientist, poke holes in Powertech/Azarga's claims that their uranium mining poses no risk to local ground water.

Reviewing drillers' notes from 4,177 boreholes out of 7,515 boreholes logged, Dr. LaGarry finds...

  • 140 open, uncased holes
  • 16 previously cased, redrilled open holes
  • 4 records of artesian water
  • 13 records of holes plugged with wooden fenceposts
  • 6 records of holes plugged with broken steel
  • 12 records of faults within or beside drilled holes
  • 1 drawing of 2 faults and a sink hole within a drilled transect 7 notations “do not record this value on drill hole maps”
  • 2 notations “do not return this to landowner”
  • 63 redacted borehole logs

LaGarry says that the open boreholes and those capped with wood (which rots) and broken steel (which rusts) could allow mining fluids and contaminants to move through the rock strata into unmined areas. He concludes, "There is no reasonable expectation that confinement remains in drilled areas."

LaGarry says the presence of artesian water reveals the possibility that subsurface contaminants from mining operations could reach the surface and contaminate the Cheyenne River and its tributaries.

And what's that about faults?

During hearings before the ASLB in August of 2014, Powertech repeatedly asserted that faults and sinkholes were not present in the license area, and that the license was somehow unique in that regard. In my previous testimony, I offered the expert opinion that faults were almost certainly present, and the license area was most likely crossed by numerous faults. The observations I document herein demonstrate that my previous expert testimony was correct, and there are numerous faults present in the licensed area. Likewise, the drillers’ notes document a sinkhole along a drilled transect associated with two closely spaced faults also intersecting the drilled transect. Sinkholes typically form along faults, as the fault allows the initial penetration of acidic surface waters, which then dissolve a conduit through the rock which eventually forma a cave that subsequently collapses to for the sinkhole [Hannan LaGarry, written supplementary testimony to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, 2014.11.21, p. 3].

NRC staff evidently accepted Powertech/Azarga's assertions of environmental safety based on a spot check of three dozen borehole logs, with no apparent mention of the drillers' notes. LaGarry schools the NRC on basic math:

The minimum number of data points for a statistically valid and meaningful sample is generally 10%. In the Powertech instance the minimum acceptable sample size would be a randomly selected sample of at least 175 borehole logs. Based on the recent disclosure of over 4,000 previously withheld borehole logs, the appropriate sample would be 10% of the entire set, or about 575+ borehole logs checked. NRC Staff presents no basis for its so-called “random” selection. Without such information, professionals in my field cannot accept such assertions where it is possible that the limited data set resulted in poor methodology that is the hallmark of modern junk science. Having examined only 37 data points out of thousands available, NRC would have failed my Math 123 Introduction to Statistics class. None of my student researchers would be allowed to publish or present their research findings had they made such a fundamental error [LaGarry, 2014.11.21, p. 5].

Powertech/Azarga has contended that its in situ recovery mining project poses no threat to water quality in the Black Hills and the Cheyenne River watershed. Dr. LaGarry says we shouldn't be so sure.

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Governor Dennis Daugaard's push for more mega-dairies has drawn legal action against Brookings County from Hendricks, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the Hendricks City Council has "filed a lawsuit" against Brookings County to stop the 3,999-head concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) that Michael Crinion wants to build near Oak Lake. Brookings County approved the conditional-use permit for the dairy, over the protest of Hendricks residents who are concerned that manure from the CAFO will drain into Lake Hendricks and degrade water quality.

The lawsuit appears to be an appeal of the zoning decision filed jointly by the Hendricks City Council and the Lake Hendricks Improvement Association on November 3.

Hendricks residents are bent out of shape over this dairy because they may see millions they've invested in clean water go to waste:

The fight for cleaner water in Lake Hendricks started with area farmers converting to lake-friendly land uses on thousands of acres around the lake. They planted 22 miles of buffer strips and other vegetation designed to stop runoff of sediment and nutrients. Together with sewage and stormwater improvements by lake cabin owners and by the surrounding wastewater districts, the cleanup has cost more than $5 million, [Hendricks mayor Jay] Nelson said.

In one recent project, 22 property owners on the South Dakota side of Lake Hendricks and 44 homeowners on the Minnesota side each invested an average of $12,000 in septic improvements, including hookups to the Hendricks city sewer district. Another $1.5 million has been spent on environmental testing and research, the mayor said.

“Our town’s major concern is that we’ve spent millions to clean up our lake, and it’s an unfinished job,” Nelson said. “Any runoff from this dairy would end up in Lake Hendricks” [Tony Kennedy, "The Border War over Cleaned-up Lake Hendricks," Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 2014.12.01].

Governor Daugaard's policy man Nathan Sanderson tells the Star-Trib the Oak Lake dairy is just one component of the state's push to double its dairy herd and provide more milk for the new state-subsidized Bel Brands cheese factory in nearby Brookings. He sneers at the Hendricks protesters, "We have an approach in South Dakota where we are open for business.... We’re not attempting to hinder business in any way."

But Hendricks residents see South Dakota hindering their business, which they say relies on clean water:

The location of this dairy, in our opinion, poses a great risk to Lake Hendricks and the surrounding area. The proposed location is within the Deer Creek Watershed District, which is the main supply of new water to Lake Hendricks. The waste management plan for the dairy calls for the continued application of their waste product to surrounding fields—all of which will create additional runoff issues when draining into Lake Hendricks. If this happens, we could see a reduction of water quality in the lake, which in turn will impact tourism, fishing, camping and other recreational and economic benefits that are enjoyed in the area [Lake Hendricks Improvement Association, letter to residents, quoted in Tammy Mathison, "Lake Hendricks Improvement Assoc. Letter Explains Reasons for Appeal," Hendricks Pioneer, 2014.11.28].

South Dakota's push for economic development now butts up against Minnesota's in a battle of milk and poop versus water.

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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.

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