Skunk Creek is less skunky, thanks to a joint city/state/federal effort to pay farmers to keep their cows out of the water during the best boating months:
About 60 percent of the water flowing through the still-impaired Big Sioux River comes from Skunk Creek, according to Jesse Neyens of Sioux Falls Environmental Division.
“We’re extremely happy that Skunk Creek being de-listed for total suspended solids,” Neyens said. “It shows that the work that’s been put into the watershed is paying off.”
The success story stems from a partnership, Neyens said..The city has taken out more than $5 million in state revolving fund loans to improve the Big Sioux River and Skunk Creek since 2013. Funding also has come from the federal government, the DENR and local conservation districts. The DENR set up a page on its website to outline the Skunk Creek project.
After bank improvements were completed, the focus shifted to a program called Seasonal Riparian Area Management, or S-RAM. Producers sign 10- or 15-year contracts to keep cattle out of the water through the recreation season [John Hult, “Skunk Creek Pollution Drops,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.08.11].
According to the DENR’s website on the Skunk Creek project, SRAM-eligible pasture extends from creek’s edge out to the 100-year flood plain boundary. Livestock producers get $60 per acre to not run cattle on that ground from April through September. Cattle can graze the rest of the year if the farmers maintain four to six inches of vegetation.
$60 an acre—funny. Senate Bill 136, the grassy buffer strip bill that the Governor vetoed over fiscal concerns last spring, was estimated to cost between $12 and $28.89 an acre. Plus, where the cost of SRAM is an additional budget line, SB 136 was budget-neutral: it would have lowered the property tax on participating land and balanced that loss by spreading the balance out across the much larger tracts of non-participating land.
If Sioux Falls can spend big money on voluntary incentives to improve water quality, and if the state is willing to distribute federal dollars for the purpose, why not add some more local effort through sensible ag land assessment based on actual use of the land to keep more pollution out of our water?