AP News

SD criticizes proposed charge for Mo. River water

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota officials on Monday urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt plans to charge for water taken from the six Missouri River reservoirs in the Dakotas and Montana, saying the proposal is unfair and violates states' rights to manage the water.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard argued that upstream states have the right to manage the river's natural flows, or water that would flow through the system without the reservoirs. States should continue to have authority to manage that water by granting water rights to users, he wrote in a letter read at a Corps of Engineers hearing in Pierre.

The corps' plan also appears to propose requiring contracts and payments from users who take water from the reservoirs, while people downstream of the dams would not pay anything while benefiting from flood control, water supplies and electricity generated by the dams, the governor said.

"Requiring upstream states to pay the entire cost with people in the downstream states enjoying these benefits at no cost is not equitable," Daugaard wrote.

The Corps of Engineers has proposed a storage fee system that would designate some water in the reservoirs as surplus because it has not been used for purposes authorized when the dams were built.

Municipal and industrial users would have to enter into contracts to purchase the water. They now only need to get an easement from the corps to install an intake, and the state issues a water right.

The charges would not take effect unless the corps passes a rule to do so, a process that could take 18 months.

The corps has already said temporary, no-cost permits to tap surplus water from North Dakota's Lake Sakakawea will be issued to oil drillers and other industrial users until a national policy is developed to determine how much, if anything, to charge.

About 100 people attended Monday's meeting in Pierre. The corps, which manages the Missouri River reservoir system, held hearings on the proposal last week in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, all states downstream of the reservoirs. Hearings were scheduled for Tuesday in Bismarck, N.D., and Wednesday in Glasgow, Mont.

South Dakota officials have said they believe that at least seven existing cities and water districts would have to begin paying for water under the corps' plan. They are the Randall Community Water District, the Aurora Brule Rural Water System, the B-Y Water District, and the cities of Springfield, Chamberlain, Oacoma and Mobridge.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said the corps plan would violate federal laws that recognize states' rights to control water uses. He has said South Dakota will challenge the proposal in court if the corps goes ahead with the plan.

"While it is neither just nor legal for the corps to demand that we receive permission to use water that naturally flows through our state, it borders on insult to demand that we pay for it," Jackley said in a letter he read at the hearing.

However, Larry Janis, the corps official in charge of the project, said two federal laws require the corps to make contracts with those who use water for municipal and industrial and impose a fee for using the water. The corps is looking at a rule that would apply nationally, he said.

"So we're just doing what the laws and the regulations require us to do," Janis said.

The corps is taking written public comments on the proposal until Sept. 10. Daugaard asked the agency to extend the comment period another 60 days because South Dakota has to review reports on four reservoirs.

Daugaard said the corps has no authority to charge fees for existing city and industrial uses of water because they use less than the natural flows through the river.

In addition, South Dakota was promised extensive irrigation would be developed to offset the more than 500,000 acres of land that was flooded when the dams were built, but only 3 percent of that irrigation has actually been developed, the governor said.

"To impose all reservoir operation and maintenance costs on upstream states along adds insult to that injury," Daugaard wrote.

The three members of South Dakota's congressional delegation also urged the corps to drop its plan to charge for water drawn from the reservoirs. Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune sent letters to the hearing, while Rep. Kristi Noem appeared at the meeting.

"Our state has the right to that water. The fact that the corps would come in and try to charge us for that water is absurd," Noem said.

Kevin Keckler, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said Sioux tribes hold senior water rights to the Missouri River and oppose the corps plan to charge for water. The corps manages the water in the Missouri river but does not own it, he said.

"How can they sell something they don't own?" Keckler said.

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