Big Sioux River watershed gets an ‘F’ grade for E. coli testing as organization releases 2021 water testing results

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Another year’s worth of data collection shows how dirty the Big Sioux River can get, especially after heavy rainfall events. 

According to the Friends of the Big Sioux River 2021 Watershed Report Card, the Big Sioux River received “F” grades for Total Suspended Solids (TSS) and E. coli levels. The grades are determined by scores and trends from impairment data from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources which divides segments of the river.

Weekly testing results by volunteers of the Friends of the Big Sioux River (FBSR) showed contaminant levels spiked most following heavy rainfall. You can view the report card from the FBSR below. 

“There’s a general apathy around the Big Sioux River. It’s dirty and that’s just how it is,” Travis Entenman, managing director of FBSR, told KELOLAND News. “Well it doesn’t have to be like that. There are things we are very capable of doing to help improve it.” 

The non-profit organization aimed at protecting and restoring the Big Sioux River and its watershed also released results from its 2021 water testing report, which records water samples from seven sites on the Big Sioux River as far north as Dell Rapids and as far south as Akron, Iowa. There’s also water testing results from Split Rock Creek as well as Lake Alvin, Wall Lake and Lake Lakota. 

The 2021 results shows rivers and streams are regularly exceeding safe levels for E. coli. You can view the results of the testing below where red numbers indicated oversafe levels. 

Entenman said gathering 18 different test samples takes FBSR volunteers about six hours a day each week from mid-May to mid-September. The group uses bottles and materials from the DANR. 

“We literally dump in the bottle, get a good sample and put it on ice,” Entenman said. “We take it over to the airport and it gets same day delivered out to Pierre where the state’s health lab runs those tests.” 

This is the fourth year the FBSR has collected data throughout the summer months on the Big Sioux River. Entenman said this summer’s drought actually helped improve water quality. 

“The big kind of conclusion we drew, because there were less rain events overall, there was less runoff coming into the river and its tributaries so water quality was slightly better this year,” Entenman said. “As water falls on land, anything that’s sitting on the ground could potentially get pulled into the river. One weird benefit of that is not as much runoff.” 

FBSR moves into new offices, raise awareness with beer releases 

Entenman said collecting annual data is an important first step in the bigger goal of implementing solutions to clean-up the Big Sioux River and its watershed. He said smart decisions can only be made with accurate data and the data will also help the organization find specific areas to focus on improving. 

“How we use our land impacts our water quality,” Entenman said. “What we do on the land will directly impact what happens in our water no matter what that is.” 

Education and awareness as well as building working relationships with stakeholders remain the top short-term priorities for the FBSR. This year, the organization partnered with Remedy Brewing Company for two beer releases containing surface water pumped and cleaned from the Big Sioux River.  It took 300 gallons of surface water to be cleaned for 120 gallons usable to make four barrels of beer. 

The Big Sioux Brew Kolsch style beer was made in April and in August El Rio Mexican lager was made. 

“It’s another touchstone that local beer uses local water,” Entenman said. “If that water is impaired in some form, it’s more to clean it and then more to brew it. Using that as an avenue to talk about water quality was great.” 

Entenman emphasized with Sioux Falls surpassing $1 billion in building permits and exponential growth, managing and protecting water resources will need to remain a top priority. He said water development along with workforce and housing shortages will dictate how much economic growth continues in the area.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Continuing The Conversation
See Full Weather Forecast

Trending Stories

Don't Miss!

More Don't Miss