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Judge O’Brien: Hanson County Dairy Water Permit Invalid; State Didn’t Do Homework

Stace Nelson isn't entirely full of crap... and a court victory yesterday may keep his Hanson County water supply from ending up entirely full of crap.

Nelson and his neighbor Rob Bender appealed the state Water Management Board's approval of a 7000-head dairy facility in Hanson County. Nelson and Bender raised three major objections:

  1. the board did not publish sufficient notices of the application and hearing in the newspaper
  2. the board didn't satisfy state law (SDCL 46-6-3.1) protecting groundwater sources from depletion
  3. state Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones testified improperly at the WMB hearing

Circuit Court Judge Sean O'Brien found the first and third complaints without merit. But the second objection, the most important objection, the concern that a 7000-head concentrated animal feeding operation would actually damage the environment in Hanson County, passed muster.

Quite simply, Judge O'Brien agrees with Nelson and Bender that the Water Management Board failed to study the annual rate of recharge into the Floyd East James Aquifer. The Water Management Board asserted that the water levels drop in dry years and rise in wet years (a guess any first-grader could make). But the WMB's experts did not quantify the aquifer's annual recharge rate, and they did not calculate the impact of allowing the proposed Hanson County Dairy to withdraw from the aquifer 720,000 gallons of water each day.

In other words, our state water officials didn't do their homework. Judge O'Brien has ordered the Water Management Board to hold a new hearing, this time following the law by obtaining the data required to assure Nelson, Bender, and other Hanson County residents that the Hanson County Dairy won't dry up their wells.

This ruling focuses strictly on water usage, not on any of the other issues that concern many Hanson County residents. But by ordering a rehearing of the water permit, Judge O'Brien has given residents more time to learn about the risks of air and water pollution, wear and tear on roads, immigration issues, and negative economic impacts associated with the mega-dairies that the State of South Dakota all too eagerly promotes.

Looks like Stace Nelson just locked up the vote of everyone in Hanson County who drinks water. Well done, Nelson and Bender!


  1. Roger Elgersma 2012.04.12

    Well at least O'Brien can make a decent decision when not dealing with people.
    I also remember when I was a farmer and we would go to a University research meeting and be told how big farms could get. There would always be an oldtimer who would say, 'The good Lord did not intend for 80,000 hogs to crap in the same place anyways. It seems that in a dry state they can not all drink at the same place either.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.13

    I wish some of that old-timer sense would come back to agriculture, Roger!

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