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South Dakota Fifth-Driest State: Protect Water Supplies from Powertech, Keystone XL

Even an emperor, denied water, would swiftly turn to dust. Water is the real monarch, and we are all its slaves.

—Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence, 2008

Texas-based Hyperion's refinery in Union County would have consumed 12 million gallons of water a day. Canadian Powertech has applied to use up to nearly that much water per day to pollute the Southern Black Hills with uranium mining.

Saving our water supply is reason enough to be glad the Hyperion refinery is dead, and reason enough to fight Powertech's hydro-threat. According to this 24/7 Wall St. article, South Dakota is one of seven states facing the most severe water shortage. Reviewing drought and agricultural statistics, the authors rank us fifth-driest:

  • Pct. of state in severe drought: 86.3%
  • Pct. of state in extreme drought: 67.5% (2nd highest)
  • Pct. of state in exceptional drought: 20.1% (4th highest)

More than two-thirds of South Dakota suffers from extreme drought, the second highest portion of any state. Additionally, South Dakota is one of just four states where more than 20% of its area faces exceptional drought. As with many other states, much of South Dakota’s winter wheat crop was hurt by the lack of precipitation. According to the USDA, at the end of February, 66% of winter wheat crop was considered to be in poor or very poor condition, up from 31% in February 2012 ["The Seven States Running out of Water," 24/7 Wall St., 2013.03.21].

The state with the most critical water situation: Nebraska... where people like Kristi Noem, John Thune, and Tim Johnson think it would be a great idea to run the Keystone XL pipeline in proximity to the Ogallala Aquifer. Also mighty dry: Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Kansas.

You can hope that spring and summer will bring us rain to wash away my eco-hippie alarmism, but Bernie Hunhoff notes that last summer was the hottest and driest on record and that one South Dakota expert sees us in for another dry spell this summer:

Darren Clabo, the state fire meteorologist, told firefighters and emergency personnel in Yankton that the drought remains widespread and shows little sign of abating. "We could definitely see continued drought across the region," he said [Bernie Hunhoff, "Prepare for Hot and Dry in South Dakota," South Dakota Magazine, 2013.03.27].

Whether you are raising corn or cattle or fighting fires, water is precious. Especially in South Dakota, we need to take a broad, long-term approach to water conservation and use. We should take a hard look at industrial ventures like Powertech and Keystone XL that would provide temporary and meager economic benefits at the cost of long-term depletion and pollution of our water.


  1. Dana P. 2013.03.30

    New Mexico water wars....

    “They’re not going to cut out the dairy industry,” he added. “They’re not going to cut off the oil and gas industry, because that’s economic development. So we’re left with a dilemma — the New Mexico water dilemma.”

    A priority call, said Dr. McCool, “will glaringly demonstrate how unfair, how anachronistic the whole water law edifice is.”

    He added, “The all-or-nothing dynamic of prior appropriation instantly sets up conflict. I get all of mine, and you get nothing.”

  2. Dana P. 2013.03.30

    water is so precious......why are we messing with it?

  3. Douglas Wiken 2013.03.30

    The XL pipeline right of way should probably be better used as a route for water from Alaska.

  4. John 2013.03.30

    Yet USDA reports trumpet that farmers plan to plant the most corn acres since 1936. Since much of that planting will occur in the driest of the drought states (NE, KS, SD), and since corn is a water thirsty plant, it's predictable that the taxpayers will once again need to bailout greed and stupidity.

  5. Charlie Johnson 2013.03.30

    With taxpayer funded federal crop insurance? bailout for greed and stupidity? Why not? No one need be responsible.

  6. Eve Fisher 2013.03.30

    Water wars are based on greed and the subconscious assumption that (1) money can always buy more of anything and (2) if it can't, we have another planet to go to. Wrong on both counts. Meanwhile, has anybody noticed how much tiling is still going on?

  7. Jana 2013.03.30

    So when the XL pipeline busts...what shall we call it?

    The Rounds' lagoon of death?

    The GOPher toxic pool?

    The Daugaard responsibility dodge?

    So many many who approved these pipelines left unaccountable.

    So running a foreign pipeline with Chinese steel built in a hurry...what could go wrong?

    Bottom line is that there were bureaucrats and politicians that gladly and proudly approved these pipelines and then when they break...the politicians disappear and the press says "wow that's bad" without ever going back to who approved the crap to run through their backyards in the first place.

    GOP, Rounds and won these pipelines and when they break...and they will...we expect you to take responsibility and clean the mess up!

    Media folks...when they break...and they will...we expect you to dig into the memory hole and remind everyone who thought this was a good idea!


  8. grudznick 2013.03.30

    They won't break. And if they did, a little goo-gone on a rag cleans up the mess.

  9. Jana 2013.03.30

    Grud...we'll expect you to be their with your Goo Gone cleaning up the mess at Grud's Grimey Gunk Gulley where ever that happens. Maybe you could show them how it's done in Michigan...

    Why are you so sure that there won't be a leak or a break?

  10. Jana 2013.03.30

    My guess is that you and the rest of the Sarah Palin "Drill baby Drill" Apostles will wash your hands of the whole thing...Easter reference intended.

  11. grudznick 2013.03.30

    The only way it probably breaks is if the libby environmentalist whacko terrorists go and try and blow it up, so they can say "I told you"

    Pipes have to go somewhere. They may even be under your feet right now. We have water and poop pipes all over the place. I bet there are 387 times more linear footage of water and poop pipes in Rapid City alone.

  12. Jana 2013.03.30

    So Grud...the breaks and leaks that have happened so far had nothing to do with enviro stop your fantasy that nothing can go wrong!

    What about Michigan Grud...that's a good thing, right? You know, so we can ship that Canadian oil to China...right?


  13. Jana 2013.03.30

    Wait...I get it...Grud is saying that any risk that we might take in give foreign countries sovereignty over individual land owners in SD and any ensuing spills are just part of the GOP intent to fuel China...sorry I missed that Grud.

  14. Kal Lis 2013.03.30


    Don't want to be too technical here, but Jesus washed the apostles feet.

    Pontius Palin washed hands

  15. rollin potter 2013.03.30

    right on John 2013-03-30 at 11:27. how can they lose? they take out maximum insurance available and the suckers,(you the tax payers,) pay 62% of the premium!!!! Looks like a no brainer to me!!!!!!

  16. grudznick 2013.03.30

    Easter in Michigan. BAH

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.31

    Eve, I'd think that at some level, that tiling has to be counterproductive. Sure, we dry out a field to allow it to be cultivated sooner, but that means less water in our local watershed, right? Couldn't there be a way to tile a field but store the water locally for reuse during drought?

  18. Jerry 2013.03.31

    OOPS. Kansas with an Ark, my bad. Fingers forget sometimes. I guess I was projecting the smell of the chemicals and the issues that will come when it leaks and spills on my memory cells.

  19. DB 2013.03.31

    Pipelines will always be safer, but that does not mean spills won't happen. Keystone XL will be built and we will be better off because that oil isn't being transported by other means. I know that must be tough for some of you folks to stomach, but it's the simple truth. Oil isn't going away and I doubt you are willing to give it up.

  20. Jerry 2013.03.31

    DB, how reassuring that pipelines will always leak. Almost makes a feller feel all warm and comfortable inside. Yeah, lets build the thing and let'r rip. When it ruptures and destroys we call all be comforted by your words.

    Yes, I am willing to give it up. I am willing to stop the use of oil complete and am willing to do it before it kills me. We should and be willing to make use of renewable energy for our transportation and energy needs. We should and be willing to purchase more things locally to support our small villages so we don't need to drive and waste resources to save 15 bucks on some Blue Bunny ice cream.(I threw the bunny in cause it is Easter). We should and be willing to demand our government comply with our wishes for these things for the hope of our future as stewards of the lands we occupy. That pipeline is a monster and must be stopped and killed like the poisonous serpent it is.

  21. Bill Dithmer 2013.03.31

    Happy Easter everyone. Or as my three year old grandson said this morning," Merry rabbit." I don't know where he got that but I'm sure it has something to do with grandma.

    "Pipelines will always be safer, but that does not mean spills won't happen. Keystone XL will be built and we will be better off because that oil isn't being transported by other means. I know that must be tough for some of you folks to stomach, but it's the simple truth. Oil isn't going away and I doubt you are willing to give it up."

    Yes pipelines will be with us for a long time. That doesn't mean that we have to be happy about the safety record that Keystone XL drags along like so much toilet paper. As long as you have water in the faucet I guess its alright to talk like you do, but what if. Out here in western South Dakota we understand how rare and precious water really is.

    Well water is great stuff but its not free by a long ways. About fifty percent of the wells drilled have water that is fit to drink right from the well. The others have either to much iron, to much salt, to much sulfur, or any number of contaminates that occur in nature. And those are the shallow wells, under 1,000ft.

    Those wells are already showing the results of contamination from years of abuse in the form of overuse of chemicals from both agriculture, mining, and dumping, "in dumps." In most cases you cant see the problems from above, it happened years ago and has been plowed over, built over, paved over, or just left to age peacefully under the ground. That does not mean it didn't happen.

    Now those same contaminates are starting to show up in the deepest aquifers. We know from experience that we haven't been able to fix the shallow wells, what makes you think we could ever fix the deep ones?

    Once a cow poops in the milk bucket you can never drink that milk that was in there. But, unlike the milk bucket you cant wash it out and milk the cow again. The cow,"the wells," have been forever ruined without the possibility of ever having fresh milk, "water," again.

    Maybe you are willing to live like that but for some of us it would be like the little kids on TV with that white haired old man, drinking water out of the open sewer running down the street. Why should we have to put ourselves or our children through that if we don't have to.

    Now lets address XL itself. Here are a couple of questions that I know in advance that you wont answer.
    1. How are we going to be better off because of that pipeline? My guess is that the only ones that will be better off will be Keystone. Where is our economic or "environmental" incentive for building the pipeline?
    2. What is Keystone risking in return for the use of the land they are going to use? Money?
    3. What are our risk? Right now water is worth more then gold. In ten short years it will be worth a hundred times that much. We can live without tar sands oil, but we can never live without water. Remember that a leak wont just effect those whose land the pipe runs over but also those that live a thousand miles away or more. We are nowhere near prepared for an unnatural disaster like that.

    Maybe its just me but I cant see that we would miss XL if the pipeline wasn't built. We aren't going to get anything in the way of cheaper gas with it, and we are assuming all of the risk. Why do you suppose that Canada wants this pipeline built here?

    There are two things that have been proven in this part of the country. It takes a hundred years for nature to build an inch of top soil, and that is with perfect conditions. It takes less then an hour for that same top soil to be lost due to flood, wind, or contamination.

    And second, water is life. Without it there is nothing.

    Now I know that DB stands for something. For me it will forever stand for Dubious Bullshit. But then again I'm just an old blindman that likes to drink clean water. Nuff Said.

    The Blindman

  22. bret clanton 2013.03.31

    Train spill was 15000 GALLONS and the pipeline spill was 10000+ BARRELS

  23. Dana P. 2013.04.01

    some video of the neighborhood that has been affected by the pipeline rupture, in Mayflower, Arkansas......but no sweat, I'm sure that Exxon will make them whole again.....

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.01

    DB can't answer those questions, Bill. He'll just keep shouting inevitability to excuse us from our responsibility for not choosing to conserve.

    "Oil isn't going away"—that's exactly the "burn it like there's no tomorrow" attitude that gets us into trouble. Of course oil is going away. We burn it up every day, and unless someone has a magic dinosaur compressor, it's not coming back.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.01

    "The oil crisis is going away," [economist and oil analyst Philip] Verleger says. "We have plenty of oil. We have too much oil."

  26. Jerry 2013.04.01

    Check out the look on the Mayor of this city's face. It is the knowing concern that no matter what they do with trying to block the flow, it will contaminate this beautiful lake of drinking water. But what the hey, we can always drink beer or can we? Livestock and crops really don't need water and especially clean water do they? How the hell did we dumb ourselves down so much?,AAAAB_xxUcE~,TkK9U83iSSrCnG8aAPNzGeVPNO5Ldu-W&bclid=0&bctid=2265005118001

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.01

    Whoops! Thanks for that units clarification, Bret! I gladly retract my previous comment.

  28. Jana 2013.04.01

    Does anyone have the inspiring quotes/lies told by former Governor Rounds on the Keystone know "thousands of jobs, lower gas prices, energy security and environmentally safe?"

    Just guessing that opposition research will find these for the Senate election and then run footage of the tar sands oil leaking in Michigan, Montana, Arkansas etc...

    Heck they might even show a picture of Mike Rounds with the Canadian flag flying proudly in the background.

  29. DB 2013.04.01

    "Train spill was 15000 GALLONS and the pipeline spill was 10000+ BARRELS"

    Exactly why you can't argue with the remarkable intelligence that can be found on this site. You have people like this who think a gallon count is all they need to know to make up their mind. Cory, I live in the real world. One that isn't all fairly tails. The use of oil will only increase and no one is going to stop that. Transporting this oil by other means than a pipeline is a greater risk to the environment. You know that just as well as I do.

  30. DB 2013.04.01

    "DB can't answer those questions, Bill. He'll just keep shouting inevitability to excuse us from our responsibility for not choosing to conserve."

    Conserve all you want. You'll never make a dent in the countries becoming 1st world. You're talking about solving a problem that will take 100's of years and expect it to start today with a pipeline. Reality and facts must totally escape your ability to logically dissect a problem. I'll stop using oil when you do. I'm sure China and the rest of the developing world will jump to your aid as well. Let me know how that goes.

  31. Jerry 2013.04.02

    Here is from Chris Hayes and speaks of why this heavy dirty crude is near impossible to clean up. The tar sands crude has in fact reached the Lake Conway and is polluting it as we speak. Just another disaster DB that we should get used to, we are killing ourselves. Lets stop and rethink.

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