SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – The Missouri River is the answer for future water needs in South Dakota. 

And three water projects – Water Investment in Northern South Dakota (WINS), Western Dakota Regional Water System and the Dakota Mainstem – are looking to spread water from the Missouri River throughout the state. The Dakota Mainstem project has held its first steering committee with 28 different cities and rural water systems to plan for future water needs in eastern South Dakota.    

“We estimate that South Dakota is only using about 5.5% of the water promised to the state as part of the Pick-Sloan Flood Control Act of 1944,” Troy Larson, Lewis and Clark Regional Water System Executive Director, told KELOLAND News. “The drought opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that we all need water and we’re going to need it sooner than we thought.” 

June 2021 was the driest month of June across South Dakota in recorded history. The summer months of 2021 led to increases in water rights applications to the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, water restrictions in some communities and peak water capacity at the Lewis and Clark water treatment plant. 

Larson, who is overseeing the completion of the Tri-State Lewis and Clark water system, is part of the steering committee for the Dakota Mainstem project which will look to become an incorporated organization, form a board of directors and receive federal authorization through the Bureau of Reclamation.

“It took 10 years to get Lewis and Clark authorized,” Larson said. “We’re certainly hoping that Dakota Mainstem doesn’t take 10 years to get authorized.” 

You can see a general map of the Dakota Mainstem, along with the WINS and WDRWS projects, in the photo below. The red lines showing a pipeline route are only there as a visualization and not the actual pipeline route. 

Larson said the idea of Lewis and Clark started in the 1980s and more than 30 years later, the project is still looking to finish completing its base system along with expansion to treating and distributing 60 million gallons of water per day. 

“Many of us have seen the handwriting on the wall that this area of the state is going to need more water in the future,” Larson said. “Now, is that 30-40 years? We don’t know. But the fact is, we need to be starting now on that next generation of regional water systems because they don’t happen overnight.” 

Under state law, all surface and groundwater is the property of the people living in the state. The Pick-Sloan Flood Control Act of 1944 created the six dams and reservoirs along the Missouri River.  

Along with flood control, it promised irrigation over three million acres of new land and supplemental water supply to 700,000 acres of land, according to the Bureau of Reclamation

“South Dakota was promised X amount of water for irrigation. Irrigation has materialized a little bit but for the most part, it got pushed by the wayside,” Larson said. “The pivot was made away from irrigation to rural water so you do have some rural water systems bringing water out of Missouri (River). 

Larson said there’s a lot of water that flows through South Dakota through the Missouri River and noted other states are looking at the Missouri River as a water resource. 

“It’s important that we get there first,” Larson said. “We’re not trying to keep other states out. That’s not our role. The federal government, the state of South Dakota and other states will have to work that out. But we want to make sure the state’s needs are met first.” 

Heightened water awareness 

Stories of water shortages and drought impacts are evident from Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are reservoirs of the Colorado River. 

Lake Mead has seen the biggest impact with water surface elevation dropping more than 143 feet from 2000, according to the National Park Service

Larson said water concerns in other states has led to an increase in water discussions among agriculture producers, area water systems, cities and state lawmakers.  

“It’s not only the drought, the growth in this part of the state has really been a contributing factor as well, for communities, like Tea, Harrisburg and Sioux Falls,” Larson said. “We need to be starting now on these next generations of regional water systems. Hopefully, Lewis and Clark has paved the way for those and hopefully, it won’t take nearly as long.”