Defending state water rights
Since 2011, I have been raising concerns about a controversial proposal from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would restrict access to Missouri River water and charge users for surplus water taken from Missouri River reservoirs in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana.
When the Corps built the dams along the river after Congress passed the 1944 Flood Control Act, it flooded prime state and tribal land with the agreement that by doing so, residents would have access to water from the Missouri River for various purposes. This set a precedent for water users along the Missouri River, and highlights why water users in South Dakota should not be required to pay for water that is legally and historically theirs. The Corps’ proposal infringes on South Dakota’s underlying right to the water, and charging for surplus water on the Missouri River constitutes an unprecedented power grab and could have numerous negative impacts on individuals, tribes, businesses, and water systems in South Dakota.
In September of 2012, I was joined by Senators Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in sending a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee outlining our concerns about the Corps’ proposal and urged the committee to schedule an oversight hearing on the issue. Although the EPW Committee did not hold a hearing regarding this Corps proposal last year, the continued opposition from the Congressional delegation, respective governors, and attorneys general from our region made it clear to the Corps that we would not stand for this controversial proposal to charge a new surplus water fee.
As a way to prevent the Corps from implementing this unprecedented power grab, I joined Senator Hoeven in introducing an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act (S. 601) to protect states’ water rights and prevent the Corps from implementing its plans to charge for surplus Missouri River water. On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, the Senate accepted our amendment to the Water Resources Development Act, which passed the Senate and now awaits further action by the House of Representatives.
I am pleased my colleagues acted to prevent this massive power grab by the Corps to ensure the federal government honors the long-standing agreements among Missouri River states, tribes, and the Corps of Engineers. I will continue to monitor this legislation as it moves through the House and look forward to ensuring this issue is resolved and states’ water rights are protected.