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.

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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.

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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.

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Madison faces triple trouble today. Lake County is in a blizzard warning until this evening, with new snow getting whipped around in blinding 50- to 65-mile-per-hour gusts. The roof caved in on the city's clean-water well last night, leaving Madison residents with nothing to drink (well, almost nothing).

But the trouble with the greatest potential for long-term disruption of the quiet life in Madison is that dehydration (and a few other issues) have induced Ashley Kenneth Allen to run for city commission:

Yes, we have some infrastructure issues in Madison. From street and water issues, to electrical issues, to not clearing snow properly. We have some oversight issues and our budget priorities may be problematic. BUT - the majority of our Madison City Workers are hard workers and I know they care about this town and the residents. This accident highlights the need for better contingency plans, backup facilities, and better oversight. We must dedicate resources to fixing our infrastructure. The City Commission needs to take a more hands on approach to running this city. I have advocated this for 10 years and it will be the platform for my campaign for City Commission this spring. There is nothing wrong about asking questions, demanding answers, and requiring accountability. You can be proud our your town and still demand results at the same time [Ashley Kenneth Allen, Facebook post, 2014.01.15].

Allen has shown great leadership potential by speaking up on important policy issues in Madison. A full campaign on his part promises to arouse some useful conversation about open government and effective management in my cold and dry hometown.

Now if he wants to guarantee a win in April's election, he just needs to fire up his big pickup today and deliver bottled water to Madison's senior citizens.

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The GOP spin machine cheers Rep. Kristi Noem for getting the Water Resources Reform and Redevelopment Act to tell the Army Corps of Engineers to give better flood warnings to Marion Michael Rounds, Dan Lederman, and other rich Republicans who built in the Missouri River flood plain. Yay.

But you know what the real meat and potatoes of the WRRRA is? Eight billion dollars' worth of water projects that sailed through a suddenly, happily bipartisan House. Real dollars for constituents to break gridlock... but out of that $8 billion, Rep. Kristi Noem could figure out how to line up a measly $16 million that might have helped her home folks get hooked up to the Lewis and Clark water system.

Did we ever hear complaints like this about Stephanie Herseth Sandlin? Sure, folks found reasons to disagree with the things SHS did, but she got stuff done in Congress. Rep. Noem meanwhile fails to produce any concrete achievements for South Dakota.

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As I peer through the double murk of Madison City Commission-speak and Chuck Clement's reporting thereof, I find my hometown mayor and commissioners making an interesting political statement about our Congress... and maybe our Congresswoman.

The Madison City Commission voted Monday night to reject a call by the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System for its twenty member communities to pitch in $16 million dollars to complete the federally hamstrung project. Madison would contribute $470,500. Sioux Falls, the largest Lewis and Clark customer, would pay $7.5 million. Sioux Falls, which doesn't really need the water system, is voting no as well.

Check out Mayor Roy Lindsay's explanation of Madison's nay:

According to Lindsay, Madison's commissioners wanted to take a "wait and see" position on the water pipeline with the idea that funding attitudes might change in the U.S. Congress after the 2014 elections. The current Congress has upheld a ban on congressional earmarks during the last several years, which has derailed obtaining meaningful funding amounts for pipeline construction since FY2011.

"It centers around whether we want to commit money now or wait for the next congressional election," Lindsay said. "Right now, our water needs are not real critical, but for other (LCRWS) members like Luverne, Sheldon and the town of Hull in Iowa...they have more critical needs" [emphasis mine; Chuck Clement, "Madison Rejects Lewis and Clark Capital Call," Madison Daily Leader, 2013.10.22].

Did you catch that? We'd fund Lewis and Clark, but maybe we wouldn't need to if we got a new Congress...

...Congresswoman? No, Mayor Lindsay and the commissioners didn't say that. Our Congresswoman Kristi Noem has said the words Madison wants her to say about Lewis and Clark. She even got her balky House colleagues to cough up some money to match the friendlier funding the Senate offered, though not enough to avert the need for Lewis and Clark's current, seemingly doomed capital call.

So tell me if I'm wrong, Madison friends, but maybe, just maybe, Madison is admitting that when they want that good Washington gravy that keeps the home folks from having to foot the full bill of living on the prairie, that case is better made by a nice Democrat, someone like good old Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who can speak with a straight face about the importance of federal investment in improving rural Americans' quality of life. Those words just don't have the same ring coming from a Ryan-budget Republican who's just as likely to shut the government down as she is to effectively advocate for expanding it to help her constituents.

Madison's City Commission isn't explicitly saying they want Noem out, but when they say they are hoping for a change in "funding attitudes" in Congress, it's pretty clear they want Noem's GOP Congress out.

Related Election Trivia: Madison city voters picked Herseth Sandlin over Noem in 2010, but only by 24 votes, less than 1%. In 2012, Madison's three wards picked Noem over Democrat Matt Varilek, but by just one vote.

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Update 10:27 MDT: Intervenors get that snow day! The Water Management Board got together this morning in Rapid City, joined by a couple dozen Powertech opponents and even some brave souls from Edgemont who want the uranium mine, but decided that the right thing to do was to move the first week of the hearing to the last week of October. Now everyone head back home to help the neighbors shovel.

Original Post 08:00 MDT: It is noble that South Dakotans find a way to soldier on amidst adversity. The state Water Management Board soldiers on this morning with the opening of its water permit hearing for the Powertech uranium mine. Board members can probably get to the Best Western Ramkota, just off I-90, which was only opened yesterday. (No one is flying in: Gary Ellenbolt says on SDPB that the Rapid City Regional Airport is just finishing shoveling out and is reopening for 8 a.m. flights.) But the big October blizzard will prevent lots of intervenors from Rapid City and the Hills from getting to this important meeting:

...at least one opponent to the project is dismayed the hearings are going forward.

"This is totally absurd," said Rebecca Leas, one of the opponents formally contesting the proposal.

"We can't even get out in our street," said Leas, who lives off of Sheridan Lake Road. "They're not even plowing and half the people don't even have power yet" [Joe O'Sullivan, "Powertech Water Permit Hearing Still Set for Today," Rapid City Journal, 2013.10.07].

Government marches on... but government also serves the people. When local services are busy hauling trapped patients to ambulances on sleds, when West River Electric has a thousand snapped power poles to replace, the state Water Management Board may need to cut intervenors some slack and extend the time they will accept testimony.

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Dakota Rural Action is rallying the troops for the beginning of important hearings on Powertech's plan to mine the southern Black Hills for uranium. The public only gets two hours to speak up about the dangers of in situ leach mining to our precious water supplies, so folks had better make that time count:

A contested case hearing for Powertech’s Large Scale Mine permit application begins on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 10 am in the Sylvan Room at the Ramkota Hotel, 2111 N. LaCrosse in Rapid City. Dakota Rural Action (DRA) strongly encourages massive public attendance to voice their concerns to the SD Board of Minerals and Environment during the two-hour public comment period starting at 10 am on Monday morning.

“People need to come out and make it clear to the board that they should not risk the future of the Black Hills for the small, short-term gain of a few,” states Clay Uptain, DRA Black Hills Chapter Chair.

“If the board is taking actions limiting public input to 2 hours, it would seem they are listening to the industry and are not working for the people of South Dakota to protect public interest,” says Uptain. “We are very disappointed they are shutting the public out of this process” [Dakota Rural Action, press release, 2013.09.18].

The Board of Minerals and Environment doesn't want to hear from Rapid City: the board has rejected a petition from the Rapid City Council to have the city's resolution against Powertech's plan read into the public record on the Powertech docket. Mayor Sam Kooiker is baffled:

"Why would they want to deny the entering of a simple resolution into the public record.  It’s extraordinary and we can’t figure it out,” says Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker Kooiker says the state’s second largest city has a right to be concerned and heard about the proposed use of water for uranium mining in the Black Hills by the Powertech mining company. “The South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment has unfortunately silenced the voice of our city in the upcoming PowerTech hearings,” says Kooiker [Charles Michael Ray, "City Decries State Board Denial on Uranium," SDPB, 2013.09.17].

Hot Springs resident Mary Helen Pederson writes me to express her support for Rapid City's official efforts to protect the water, the Hills, and the people who live there:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead. I want to thank the Rapid City council for all coming out against in situ leach mining in South Dakota and the Rapid City Journal for its editorial calling for the permitting boards to do their due diligence in examining the applications.. I do think they should have been stronger and out right opposed it. I did want to say that Steve Laurenti’s excuse for voting against the rest of the council is pretty suspicious, though after coming out of the meeting and over hearing some one say he was given the same information, but threw it in the trash. Some people have such closed minds, they will never change them with over whelming evidence. It is all about the water! Yesterday alone I had 20 pages that I printed out about water depletions across the western U. S., So it isn’t just my opinion. Last night Edgemont had a “Determining Edgemont’s Destiny”. Haven’t they figured out yet what Edgemont’s Destiny with uranium destruction has all ready done to there area? [Mary Helen Pederson, letter to the editor, 2013.09.03]

We are depleting South Dakota's aquifers. We regulate irrigation to keep even a vital local industry like agriculture from doing too much damage to our water supplies. We should hesitate even more at letting foreign investors drain our aquifers to extract our mineral wealth and ship nuclear material to overseas markets. Black Hills neighbors, the state is making it hard for you to make your voices heard, but our Hills and our water are worth the effort.

p.s.: Cheap natural gas is killing Powertech's nuclear market. And by the time we burn up all the gas, solar and wind may outprice nuclear.

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