SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Water is the property of the people of South Dakota. 

According to state law, the state government is tasked with determining “what water of the state, surface and underground, can be converted to public use or controlled for public protection.” 

Discussion around water and water protection has become one of the main talking points Smart Growth Sioux Falls has used in its campaign against new slaughterhouses being built inside city limits and its opposition to the Wholestone Farms project. Sioux Falls voters will weigh in on the issue, whether new slaughterhouses will be banned from being built within city limits, on Election Day. 

Friends of the Big Sioux River, a water quality advocate group focused on the Big Sioux River, has been watching the public debate with Wholestone Farms and slaughterhouses. The group, which is focused solely on improving the health of the Big Sioux River and its watershed, is staying neutral on the slaughterhouse ordinance. 

“We can’t focus on every single business that comes in. As long as they’re following what’s legally sound, what the state and federal government has put into place, there’s not a real big issue,” Travis Entenman, FBSR managing director, told KELOLAND News. “A large percentage of the issues with the Big Sioux River is actually nonpoint source pollution. The river is already polluted by the time it gets to Sioux Falls.” 

Entenman noted cities or businesses that have surface water discharge permits with the South Dakota Department of Agriculture & Natural Resources are listed on its website. He also said FBSR will likely make comments if and when Wholestone applies for a surface water discharge permit. 

“It’s going to be a point source pollution issue and it’s a discharge issue. There will be specific guidelines and daily monitoring and weekly monitoring Wholestone will have to follow no matter what,” Entenman said. “If they do build and we’re finding that they’re misusing the discharge permit, then there’s an issue.” 

Entenman pointed out Smithfield Foods, which operates the longtime former John Morrells pork processing plant near the Big Sioux River, has been cited for discharge violations including one in 2019.

“Now, we would make the argument that some of those state guidelines aren’t strong enough, but that’s a larger conversation outside of just one business,” Entenman said. 

Smithfield Foods told KELOLAND News the company has no position on the slaughterhouse ordinance and no plans to build a new facility in Sioux Falls. 

Entenman also added when the Smithfield plant started operating in Sioux Falls more than 100 years ago water regulations and protections didn’t exist. He also pointed out that unless the Wholestone project moved out of the Big Sioux River watershed, whether in city limits or not, it’d still have an impact. 

“As long as they’re in the watershed, they will have some kind of impact, good or bad, whatever that may be. There will be an impact,” Entenman said. “Whatever your view is on the Wholestone (project), we are happy to see water being more of a top-of-mind issue.” 

On Smart Growth’s website on the topic of water, it says Wholestone’s proposed slaughterhouse would draw 3 million gallons of water per day from the city’s water supply and pointed out the FBSR’s unsafe levels of sediment, E. Coli and nitrates. 

An updated statement of business for Smithfield Foods’ discharge permit by the state says “point sources such as Smithfield Foods contribute effectively 0% of the E. coli and TSS loading to the Big Sioux River in the Sioux Falls area.” The 2022 SDANR inspection of Smithfield reported multiple facility upgrades since 1983 and failed daphnia tests addressed with a warning letter, the report says. 

On Wholestone’s website for its Sioux Falls plant, it notes an average of 100 to 300 gallons of water is needed to process one hog, but water conservation would be “integral to the design.” On water discharge, Wholestone is planning to spend $45 million for a “state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system that will exceed current and future compliance limits set forth by the EPA and the state of South Dakota.” 

Entenman said a lot of the issues with the Big Sioux River come upstream from bank destabilization, soils falling into the river, cattle in the water bodies as well as excess fertilizers on yards and farm fields. 

“I’m happy to see it (water) becoming more of a central issue,” Entenman said. “I hope after the election, that same mentality continues because water quality won’t change just with this one election. We have to continue that talk, that growth and really tackle some of the larger water quality issues.”

lawsuit brought against Wholestone and the City of Sioux Falls had hoped to stop the construction of facilities on the property near Interstate 229 and Benson Road in northeastern Sioux Falls, but that has not been the case. On Oct 19, a judge denied an injunction by Smart Growth to stop the construction of the butcher shop and now a trial will take place after the election.

Wholestone believes its construction of a butcher shop qualifies as a slaughterhouse and will be protected to operate under the grandfather clause of Smart Growth’s proposed ordinance change.