Citizens Question Corps' Plan To Charge For Water Storage
Dakota Digest - 08/28/2012
By Kealey Bultena
It’s the Army Corps versus upstream states again. At least that’s how it seemed at a meeting the Corps hosted in Pierre to discuss a proposal that charges South Dakota organizations for storing surplus water on the Missouri River. But South Dakotans say they’re not going to pay for water that’s already theirs.
Monday night’s meeting is clearly an Army Corps gathering. Pleasant greeters welcome people to the event. Hotel dining chairs sit in neat rows facing a presentation screen in front of a beige wall. Ice water and goblets perch on the far sides of the room; they go largely untouched.
A few dozen people linger along a display of foam board signs set up on thin easels. Several of them stop to ask representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the posters and the plan. Larry Janis is the project manager for the Surplus water reports. He’s the one with most of the answers.
"The first definition is water storage that was never developed as intended could be declared surplus," Janis says. "The second is where water storage for a current authorized purpose would be better used or more beneficial, is what the language says, for municipal and industrial water supply."
The Corps proposes charging upstream states for using that surplus water in storage.
JANIS: So we’ve been trying to answer those kind of questions, talk about how we came up with policy pricing and how the Secretary of the Army for Civil Works has really asked that we do rule-making nationwide to determine if that’s the right pricing policy to use, so that seems to be the dominant one right now.
BULTENA: It’s the how-much-is-this-going-to-cost-us question.
JANIS: Yeah. And actually it’s, the opinion we seem to be getting is that we shouldn’t be charged.
Right now, the Corps issues easements, and organizations utilize the water for free, but officials say a mandate from the Army Corps requires signed contracts for systems and cities to purchase the water storage. That doesn’t sit well with South Dakotans.
Dozens of people listen to the Army Corps’ presentation, and twenty-three of them walk up to the lectern, all to criticize the surplus water pitch. Terry Wootton works for BY Water headquartered in Tabor.
"Basically we provide water from about Irene to the Mitchell area and south to the Missouri River," Wootton says.
Under the Corps’ proposal, the water BY takes from Lewis & Clark costs the rural water system more than $174 for each acre-foot. Wootton multiplies that by the nearly two billion gallons customers use every year.
"So the cost to BY and our users would be about one million forty-five thousand dollars annually, so we really have a vested interest in what happens," Wootton says.
Remember, the Corps doesn’t currently charge BY Water anything, which means his system stares down an immediate expense of more than one million dollars a year. Wootton says organizations slapped with this charge have to raise water rates on customers. He doesn’t see another option.
Christopher Kraus says he’s worried about the proposed changes, even though his family apple orchard’s irrigation is exempt from the charge.
"We have 8000 trees. That’s a fact. We can’t go without the water," Kraus says.
Kraus says it may be the Corps’ current intent, but the plans don’t allow farmers who water crops truly escape any fees.
"In reality, in my reality, you can say okay this is what it’s going to be. But then if you have to go two miles to get it, that’s an expense for us to do that," Kraus says.
Bob Walters is a Cheyenne Sioux Tribal council representative. He removes the microphone from its stand when he addresses the Corps and the crowd. He preaches his message that the federal agency can’t control the Missouri River’s water, because it belongs to the tribe.
"I’m here as a tribal member but also as a river owner. I believe that we the tribes are the river owners,we have the senior rights to the river, and that we will not be charged for it," Walters says. "I feel that the Winters doctrine says it all which is a Supreme Court case that says that the Indian people have all the rights to the river and the water."
Nine Native American tribes exist in South Dakota, and several Indian Reservations include the Missouri River as a boundary. Walters says his tribe hasn’t been consulted by the U-S Army Corps of Engineers, despite a plan that affects the Cheyenne River Sioux.
"Anything the Corps of Engineers does to that river, they have a fiduciary duty to the other sovereigns – which is the tribes – and to do a government-to-government consultation. And that process has not happened," Walters says. "And they need to come to the tribes, and that doesn’t mean having a public meeting in Pierre, SD; Sioux Falls, SD; or Bismark, ND; Rapid City, SD or anywhere else. That’s where they come to our tribal government, and we do a consulation right there."
Walters’ comments aren’t geared toward Native Americans alone. He and other people say the Corps appears to have made its decision on charging to store Missouri River water, and the agency isn’t budging.
Army Corps officials say Monday’s meeting is an example of the process they use to include local, state, and tribal interests in planning changes along the Mighty Mo. But Corps officials didn’t answer questions or respond to testimony, so South Dakotans wait to find out whether their perspectives change the Corps’ proposals.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley attended the meeting. He says the discussion reaffirms his belief that the Corps’ plan isn’t legal, and he’s willing to take the federal agency to court if it implements the proposal to charge South Dakotans for Missouri River water storage.
Hear a conversation about the plan on Tuesday, August 28th's edition of Dakota Midday on SDPB Radio.
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