State-issued irrigation permits soaring in South Dakota

Farm Forum

SIOUX FALLS (AP) – The number of irrigation permits is soaring in South Dakota, due to a lingering drought and to lucrative market prices for crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved 173 irrigation permits last year. So far this year it has issued 279, and 121 applications are pending. In the previous three years, the number of issued permits was 65 or fewer, the Argus Leader newspaper reported.

The rise in permit requests is not a threat to the state’s water resources, said Ron Duvall, natural resources engineer for Environment and Natural Resources.

“We’ve got a law that says the average annual use cannot exceed the estimated annual recharge,” he said.

That means water users can’t take more out of a water source over the course of a year than nature puts into it.

The Big Sioux River aquifer north of Sioux Falls has almost reached the point where water use matches the aquifer’s ability to recharge itself. The city of Sioux Falls has reserved water for the future that will fully use the available water. Because it is not using the water yet, the state can award temporary permits to other users. However, “if development occurs down the road, they may lose those permits,” Duvall said.

Aquifers in northern Beadle County and southern Spink County also are nearing their limit, though the state is considering new irrigation permit applications based on water availability data gleaned from observation wells.

“For the most part they’ve done a really excellent job of not over-appropriating the resource,” said Jay Gilbertson, manager of the East Dakota Water Development District.

State Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch said farmers and ranchers also play a role in ensuring the state’s water resources are managed so that they will last.

“In ag country, it’s not just this year or next year,” he said. “It’s making sure we are investing in our state for the long term.”