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.