Reports: Pair of South Dakota aquifers have no availability for more water appropriation

Shannon Marvel
Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. - There is no reasonable probability that there is unappropriated water available from two aquifers that cover a large portion of Hand, Beadle and Spink counties in South Dakota

That’s according to two five-year reports by John Farmer, an engineer with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Farmer presented the reports on the Tulare: East James aquifer and the Tulare: Western Spink Hitchcock aquifer during a Board of Water Management meeting in Pierre on Oct. 7.

The East James aquifer is a glacial outwash aquifer that is generally found under confined conditions and buried under a layer of glacial till and is underneath about 123,578 acres of Spink and Beadle counties.

As of June 17, there were a total of 94 licensed or permitted water rights appropriating water from the East James aquifer, all of which are used entirely for the irrigation of crops, according to the report.

“These 94 water rights currently authorize the irrigation of 16,674 acres. All water right permits approved since 2005 have placed their water to beneficial use as of the 2015 irrigation season. Excluding the anomalously wet year of 2019, the authorized acres saw a utilization rate of 92.3% over the years of 2015-2018,” the report states.

The report concluded that the estimated average annual withdrawal from the aquifer exceeds the estimated average recharge, which means it’s unlikely that there is any unappropriated water available.

The same holds true for the Western Spink Hitchcock aquifer.

“The best information currently available indicates that the Tulare: Western Spink Hitchcock aquifer underlies approximately 263,016 acres of Spink, Beadle, and Hand counties,” the report states.

Observation well data documented a decrease of an average of 0.02 feet per year from 2013 through 2018.

“Thirty-two observation wells have been drilled into the Tulare: Western Spink Hitchcock aquifer since 1978 and there are 42 additional years of observation well data since 1978,” the report states.

“The Tulare: Western Spink Hitchcock aquifer currently has 159 permitted or licensed water rights appropriating water. Of these, 157 water rights currently authorize the irrigation of 26,104.9 acres. The other 2 water rights are for commercial use for 0.096 cubic feet per second of water.”

Both aquifers remain fully appropriated, which means that no additional water rights to appropriate water can be permitted without impacting either aquifer’s ability to recharge, which would also impair current permit holders that use water from the aquifer ability to use the amount of water granted to them by the state.