State decision affects irrigators in western South Dakota

News
Jul 13, 2012
by DTN

South Dakota officials issued shutoff orders to irrigators last Tuesday along the Battle Creek near Hermosa, SD, in response to growing drought conditions in the western part of the state.

One state official told DTN that other similar notices may be on the way if drought conditions persist.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the nine counties that make up western South Dakota continue to suffer through moderate to severe drought conditions.

The first wave of shutoffs in Custer County, SD, will affect primarily farmers near the extreme southwest corner of the state.

Garland Erbele, chief engineer with the water rights program in the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), said the shutoff order affects 12 different permits held by nine different entities.

These permits are primarily for irrigation, although one is held by a construction company for a gravelwashing operation, he said. Most of the water is used to irrigate alfalfa or grass, some corn and other small grains.

“The hot and dry conditions have forced DENR to issue shut-off orders to irrigators along Battle Creek,” Erbele said.

“This was done to protect domestic use, which includes livestock watering, and is the highest priority use under South Dakota water law.”

He said Battle Creek is a small tributary that drains from the Black Hills, exiting near the small town of Hermosa. Western South Dakota— much like western Nebraska—tends to be drier than the rest of the state, Erbele said.

“Battle Creek is the only stream where shutoff orders have been issued so far,” he said. “If the dry, hot weather continues, additional shutoff orders may need to be issued for other streams and/or rivers.”

Erbele said the current conditions indicate below-normal spring precipitation and high temperatures are having “detrimental effects on stream flows throughout western South Dakota.”

“Without appreciable amounts of rain, water availability in the state’s surface waters may reach critically low levels,” he said.

According to agriculture census data from USDA, there are 359 farms in Custer County and about 601,000 acres of farm land. Total ag sales in the county were about $14.4 million in 2007. About three-fourths of agriculture land in the county is dedicated to pasture.

The state’s water management board has set a minimum target flow of 1.5 cubic feet per second for Battle Creek.

“Flows had actually dropped below this target level, forcing the shutoff orders,” Erbele said. “We have similar target levels on other streams and rivers. The specific level for a stream or river varies depending on how large it is and how many users we have on the stream/river.”

State water law authorizes the state to issue water-right permits to users who want to put water to beneficial use, such as irrigation, municipal water supply and commercial use.

South Dakota water law is based on the prior-appropriation doctrine that gives the highest priority to domestic water use from rivers and streams. Domestic use includes livestock watering.

The most senior water rights, including domestic uses, have priority to available water supplies on a particular stream based on the priority date, according to a news release from the state. — Todd Neeley, DTN

{rating_box}