Chairwoman: River basin task force needs to be ‘super-transparent’

Farm Forum

PIERRE — On Aug. 16, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s river basin task force said the group made progress on setting up natural resource districts along South Dakota’s major river basins.

The plan calls for elections starting in 2018 of nonpartisan governing boards within the nine districts. The boards would establish water management plans for their districts.

The final boundaries of the districts need the Legislature’s approval in the 2017 session so the elections can be in 2018.

For now, the plan calls for elections that would leave out voters who live in cities that have populations of 5,000 or more.

“As far as we’re concerned, this is not open and is not transparent when so many people are excluded,” said Paul Lepisto of Pierre, representing the Izaak Walton League conservation group.

Kim Vanneman of Ideal, a Republican former legislator who is the panel’s chairwoman, said Lepisto’s comments were right on.

Lorin Pankratz of Sioux Falls, representing the South Dakota Soybean Association, said there is concern among agricultural producers about what might happen if city voters are allowed to participate. He said there is a possibility in Minnehaha County, for example, that its voters could elect six people — two from each of the three subdistricts within a river basin — who aren’t producers or landowners.

It’s unclear when the Legislature might grant taxing authority to the boards.

Also uncertain is whether the task force will proceed in planning a pilot project for one of the districts. The Legislature wants a pilot project, but task force members sounded hesitant on Aug. 16.

They don’t have money for the work, and they don’t have a clear way for learning what people in the test district might want before the 2018 elections.

The Red River and Minnesota River district of northeastern South Dakota would be the area for the pilot.

Vanneman said the task force could ask the Legislature to repeal the requirement for a pilot project.

A second option she offered was that the Legislature could decide the only election in 2018 would be for the pilot project’s district.

The task force also would need to ask the Legislature for funds for planning and building the pilot project, Vanneman said.

Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, was one of the legislators who pushed hardest for creation of the system of river districts.

“I would hate to give up on the idea of a pilot project at this point yet,” Frerichs said.

Vanneman said the panel has two meetings left this year. One will be consumed with the legislation. She asked panel members whether they are comfortable in designing a plan without funding.

Frerichs suggested asking for $30,000 from the Legislature. He acknowledged it would take until end of the 2017 legislative session.

He said water levels in the northeast have fallen 3 feet during the dry spell this summer and said it’s the best time to try to manage water.

“We shouldn’t just settle for creating more and more lakes up in that area,” Frerichs said.

He seemed to be the only task force member who didn’t want to give up on a pilot project.

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