PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Water Management Board on Wednesday acknowledged the current surge of people moving into the area east of Rapid City.

The board granted Rapid Valley Sanitary District a future-use permit to draw up to 6,050 acre-feet of water per year from Oahe Reservoir on the Missouri River, some 100 miles away in Stanley and Haakon counties.

The sanitary district serves the area adjacent to Ellsworth Air Force Base and the city of Box Elder, which is preparing for a big boost in population with the arrival of new B-21 bombers. The district reported using 803.7 acre-feet in 2021 and used 686 acre-feet in 2020 to serve a then-population of 9,114.

The request for 6,050 acre-feet was based on service to a future population of 36,000. The state’s chief water-rights engineer, Eric Gronlund, recommended the district get 1,608 acre-feet.

Gronlund quoted a board rule that future-use permits may be limited to twice the amount currently used.

“I don’t think the board is necessarily bound by that,” Gronlund said under cross-examination by the sanitary district’s lawyer, Tal Wieczorek.

Gronlund agreed with Wieczorek’s reading that the rule says the board “may limit” the future-use permit to two times the usage.

“I think the board has more flexibility than I felt I had,” Gronlund acknowledged. He added, “They are not bound by my recommendation.”

Gronlund said Rapid City has a future-use permit for 28,000 acre-feet from the Missouri River and West River-Lyman-Jones rural water district has a future-use permit for 10,000 acre-feet.

Wieczorek called the district’s general manager Rusty Schmidt as a witness. Schmidt told the board that the area has seen a recent burst of growth and hundreds more residences and apartment complexes are in development.

Schmidt said the 6,050 acre-feet request was based on the district’s current size. “I expect to see the district boundaries expand,” Schmidt said. He added that the population had recently grown “astronomically.”

Board member Rodney Freeman of Huron said the issue was whether the board should grant the request or the smaller recommended amount.

“I definitely think we need more than 1,608, but where do we land is the question,” board member Peggy Dixon of Rapid City said. She acknowledged Rapid Valley could apply again in the future.

Board member Tim Bjork of Rapid City called for 6,050, with Dixon eventually joining him. Freeman, an attorney, said there was no evidence to choose a number less than that. He said the “doubling” rule stops people from grabbing up the availability but he didn’t see anything in between. “I don’t think we’re establishing any sort of precedent that is going to bite us,” Freeman said.

Bjork said he’s lived in the Rapid City area for five years and “exponential” applies to what’s happening. “It’s beyond my comprehension the way things are growing out here,” Bjork said. “This is anecdotal evidence. I don’t have any numbers in front of me that can verify any of this.”