Senate approves longer nonmeandered water laws

By Bob Mercer
Farm Forum Correspondent

PIERRE — Laws the South Dakota Legislature passed last year regulating public recreational use of nonmeandered waters over privately owned lands should continue until July 1, 2021, the state Senate decided Tuesday.

Senators voted 26-9 for the extension. Senate Bill 24 now goes to the House of Representatives. Without an extension, the laws expire on June 30.

One of the yeses came from Sen. Jeff Partridge, R-Rapid City. When the Legislature met June 12 for the special session about nonmeandered waters, Partridge insisted on expiration this year.

The Senate stood with him that day. The House and Gov. Dennis Daugaard had wanted June 30, 2021.

The Senate got back on the House-Daugaard track Tuesday.

Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, said he received 25 to 100 emails daily on the topic of nonmeandered waters before the special session. Since then he’s received zero.

“This has been like a breath of fresh air for both sides,” Cammack said.

Sen. Bob Ewing, R-Spearfish, agreed.

“The legislation we put in place last summer needs time to work,” he said.

Ewing praised Secretary Kelly Hepler for repositioning the state Game, Fish and Parks Department, moving toward a more neutral spot in the center.

“We need to give this bill we passed last summer an opportunity,” Ewing said.

The Legislature declared the waters belong to the public but said nearly any private landowner could ask the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission to close all or part of the person’s water to recreational use. The Legislature also declared a list of more than two dozen waters to be automatically open because of their historical use.

Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, said she wasn’t sure the perspective was as rosy as the previous speakers portrayed. But, she said, it was important to have a repeal date so the Legislature and public could be assured there would be “a revisiting.”

Sen. Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, said the special session tried to address “a 25, 50-year issue.” He encouraged a repeal date but ultimately voted no during the roll call.

Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, openly opposed the current bill Tuesday, just as he had during the special session.

“We’re talking about private property rights here,” he said.

GFP had set “an abusive policy” for decades that favored the use of the waters by outdoors enthusiasts, Nelson said.

“What we’ve done is we’ve compromised people’s private property rights,” he said. “These farmers and ranchers have every right to have say-so over their property.”

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