Mobridge residents would pay more for water
By Katie Zerr
Mobridge is believed to be among the seven cities in South Dakota that would be directly impacted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to charge for water stored in the six Missouri River reservoirs in the Dakotas and Montana.
At a meeting held Monday, Aug. 27 in Pierre, South Dakota officials urged the Corps to halt plans to charge for water saying the proposal is unfair and violates states’ rights to manage the water. About 100 people attended Monday’s meeting.
South Dakota officials have said they believe that at least seven existing cities and water districts would have to begin paying for water under the Corps’ plan. They are the cities of Mobridge, Springfield, Chamberlain, and Oacoma and the Randall Community Water District, the Aurora Brule Rural Water System and the B-Y Water District.
“First of all they held the meeting in Pierre, where their water system is well-fed,” said Mobridge Water Department Manager Brad Milliken. “That meeting should have been held here so the people who are impacted in Mobridge and those who are on the WEB Water system could hear about it.”
Milliken said Mobridge already pays a use permit for allocated acres. He said if this plans is adopted by the Corps of Engineers, Mobridge residents will pay more for their water. Although pricing for the water has not been finalized and varies by reservoir, but the report for Lake Oahe states under current policy pricing the annual payment for surplus water would be $17.19 per acre-foot of yield. According to Milliken, that means $17.19 times the number of acre-feet allocated by the current permit. Municipal and industrial users would have to enter into contracts to purchase the water. An easement from the Corps to install an intake is now required, and the state issues a water right.
The report identifies a surplus of 57,317 acre-feet per year from Oahe Lake, 52,106 of which is already being used, which would cost approximately $985,000 by current pricing. The Corps has identified 175,985 acre-feet per year of Missouri River water in South Dakota as surplus.
Most water systems don’t use the water allocated, according to Milliken, but if more water is required as an area grows, new permits must be issued for that water use.
“If this comes to pass, we may have to look at our permit and lower our allocation,” he said. “Then if Mobridge continues to grow, we would have to pay more for another permit.”
Milliken said the city is already at the mercy of the Corps and is impacted by the manner in which the system is managed.
“They fluctuate the water so much, we have change pumps to get enough water into our system,” he said. “That already costs us more money.”
Although Mobridge uses water from Lake Oahe, the city also processes waste water and puts it back into the lake.
“Will they take that into consideration?” Milliken asked. “Will we get credit on our allocation for the that? I doubt it.”
Milliken said the Corps may have built the dam system on the Missouri, but that doesn’t give them the right to charge for water.
“It is not theirs,” he said. “It comes from rain and snow melt. It doesn’t belong to the Corps.”
He said residents need to let the Corps know that this isn’t right and they need to make their opinions on the subject known to those who represent us on all levels of government.
On Monday, a letter written by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to the Corps was read during the meeting in Pierre. In it Daugaard argued that upstream states have the right to manage the river’s natural flows, or water that would flow through the system without the reservoirs and that states should continue to have authority to manage that water by granting water rights to users.
The Corps’ plan also appears to propose requiring contracts and payments from users who take water from the reservoirs, while people downstream of the dams would not pay anything while benefiting from flood control, water supplies and electricity generated by the dams, the governor said.
“Requiring upstream states to pay the entire cost with people in the downstream states enjoying these benefits at no cost is not equitable,” Daugaard wrote.
The charges would not take effect unless the Corps passes a rule to do so, a process that could take 18 months.
Attorney General Marty Jackley said the Corps plan would violate federal laws that recognize states rights to control water uses. He has said South Dakota will challenge the proposal in court if the Corps goes ahead with the plan.
“While it is neither just nor legal for the Corps to demand that we receive permission to use water that naturally flows through our state, it borders on insult to demand that we pay for it,” Jackley said in a letter he read at the hearing.
A Corps official in charge of the project said two federal laws require the Corps to make contracts with those who use water for municipal and industrial purposes and impose a fee for using the water. The Corps is looking at a rule that would apply nationally, he said.
The Corps is taking written public comments on the proposal until Sept. 10. Daugaard asked the agency to extend the comment period another 60 days because South Dakota has to review reports on four reservoirs.
– Katie Zerr –