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WEB Water Moratorium Hamstrings Development; Time to Think Conservation!

WEB Water says its 107 towers and 6,800 miles of pipe provide water to five ethanol plants and 8,458 rural hookups. Hookup #8,459 will not be happening in Athol, Ashton, Rockham, Zell, or Frankfort: WEB Water has imposed a moratorium on new hookups in those parts of Spink and Faulk County. According to WEB GM Angie Hammrich, it will take $200 million to add the capacity necessary to lift that moratorium.

Reaching the limits of WEB’s current water capacity puts a crimp in the designs of Grow Spink and other economic developers. Yet local boosters and officials in Spink County made little to no fuss about the Dakota Access Pipeline, which poses a direct threat to local water supplies.

Water is finite. Developers will either need to pay for more water or work harder to conserve and protect the water they have.


  1. mike from iowa 2016-08-03 09:08

    Water usage for a single, 1000 feed/finish hog cafo with nipple waterers- Using the above numbers, it is possible to predict the yearly water usage by various pork production facilities. For example, a 1,000 head grow-finish facility typically has a pen space utilization rate of 8590%. That is, there are pigs occupying pen spaces 310 to 330 days per year. If the facility has nipple drinkers and a 90% facility utilization rate, total drinking water use for the facility will be:

    1,000 spaces x 330 days/year x 1.5 gal/space/day = 495,000 gal

    Just to give you an idea how much water is used. This does not include washing the slats and walls.

  2. mike from iowa 2016-08-03 09:52

    He cited the Lincolnway Energy Plant in Nevada, Iowa, as an example. This plant, which Schnoor acknowledged was older and less efficient than newer plants, produces 50 million gallons of ethanol every year by processing 100,000 acres of corn. He said this process requires 200 million gallons of water per year.

  3. Troy Jones 2016-08-03 10:05


    A bit of a nitpick. Water is finite as you said but it is also fixed. The issue with regard to water is its location (in the air, in aquifers, and above ground in either lakes, rivers, oceans, wetlands, etc.) and its condition (suitability for use for plants and animals).

    Conservation doesn’t increase the supply of water but preserves it in both location (e.g. in a local lake, river or aquifer) and condition for certain uses (e.g. not in the air). For instance, we water our lawns at night to reduce evaporation and thus use less treated water. However, if we watered in the heat of the day, in the aggregate, we wouldn’t have less water but more water in the air which comes back down in the form of rain.

    I nitpick because sometimes the misperception leads to goofy policy or not appreciating the relative value of the best policies. For instance, low flow toilets are thought to increase the supply of water in a particular location when in reality their real benefit is reducing stress on the infrastructure and significant tax savings.

  4. jerry 2016-08-03 11:40

    What is now clear is a discussion about the most fundamental human right we have, clean drinking water. We are wasting it with ill planned CAFO’s that enrich a few at the huge expense of all. They cannot be allowed to increase and should be forced to shut down in a reasonable amount of time, say 5 years.

    Pipelines, that bring oil and other pollutants through our state, should be eliminated completely. The ones that exist at present, should be allowed to continue until there normal life cycle is complete and then removed. The Dakota Access, terminated right now.

    We will never have economic development that is meaningful without the understanding that our water must not be polluted or wasted in frivolous means like confinement and for that matter, irrigation. We know there are better ways to use water in agriculture and we should start the investment into those right now. Much of the land in South Dakota was never and will never be tillable for anything other than to pollute our rivers and streams. We jack so many chemicals into these arid places that it just runs off while the government (us) pays for that waste and pollution with crop guarantees. Talk about a racket, this is it.

    In the meantime, where in the hell is this 200 million going to come from? Thune and NOem say that we are broke as a joke. The state has that kind of money in a rainy day fund, why don’t they use that along with the 15 million they took from us for this year? I read someplace that the Rapid City School district has like 70 million in a rainy day fund. How many other government places in South Dakota have all these tax payer millions in rainy day funds? It is dry, the WEB needs the rain.

    Stop watering the lawns and the golf courses as well, all it does is to encourage the Zika. BTW, that is now in Kansas and moving north.

  5. Paul Seamans 2016-08-03 11:50

    I guess that is one way to slow down the expansion of CAFO’s, just don’t sell water to them.

    When the engineers designed the WEB water system I doubt that they ever considered that there would be ethanol plants or CAFO’s sometime in the future.

  6. Craig 2016-08-03 11:53

    I heard Spink County wasn’t interested in drilling any holes in the Earth, so they shouldn’t care if they are unable to trench in new pipelines for water. Of course if they pony up the $200MM they can do whatever they want.

  7. mike from iowa 2016-08-03 12:51

    Sounds like the horns of a dilemna- no more water-no more economic development-no more growth by citizens- no more no more, forevermore.No one saw this coming,huh?

  8. Paul Seamans 2016-08-03 13:19

    Cory, Aberdeen did not hook onto WEB. What is their water source and is it capable of expansion.

    Hasn’t the Mid Dakota also declared a moratorium on new hookups because of lack of capacity? Have a few ethanol plants and CAFO’s gobbled up what excess capacity was designed into the systems.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-03 15:20

    Troy, I’ll agree, water is finite and fixed. It doesn’t burn up forever like oil or coal. Water is recoverable.

    WEB gets its water from Lake Oahe, right? WEB draws the water out, and rain and snow replace their take. But for river management purposes, I assume WEB has some max draw so as not to degrade usage downstream. If the climate changes and reduces the flow of the Missouri, would WEB have to reduce its draw?

    Wait: low-flow toilets don’t increase supply? I understand if you’re making the volume point: low-flow toilets don’t put more water back in the Missouri. But if I’m serving 1,000 homes with 5,000 gallons a month, and if those homes all install low-flow toilets that reduce their water usage to 4,200 gallons a month, I free up 800,000 gallons a month to support 190 more households. low-flow toilets don’t increase total water supply, but they do allow me to supply more homes. That’s not goofy policy or misperception, is it?

    If water is finite, we may need to look at the return we get from each use. Do we get a better return from 200 million gallons of water by using it to make ethanol or by using it to support development of over 3,000 new households? But how do we get those 3,000 households to move in if they don’t have jobs at the ethanol plant? And can we do both? Can we run those 200M gallons through those 3,000 new houses, then use their treated wastewater to run the ethanol plant?

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-03 15:22

    Aberdeen also has several wells.

  11. Paul Seamans 2016-08-03 16:46

    Once a water district allots water to an ethanol plant or a CAFO how would they ever be able to take that allotment away to give it to a housing development. What would happen if Eldon Musk decided to put an auto plant in Ipswich? Sorry, but we don’t have any water for your auto workers use.

  12. mike from iowa 2016-08-03 17:32

    Ethanol plants and cafos need clean water, just like people. If the aquifer gets contaminated by manure spills/pipeline breaks everyone will be SOL!

  13. Paul Seamans 2016-08-03 20:16

    I am part of the West River/Lyman Jones water district which is part of the massive Mni Wiconi. Years ago I read a worksheet that estimated future needs of WR/LJ rural water system. It is pretty easy to estimate water needed for cattle just by considering acres of ground in the district. Water for hogs may have been a little more difficult. My town of Draper had a population of 200 at that time. They projected in the future that Draper would have 600. It is now around 100.

    What I’m getting at is that the designing engineers went overboard on projecting future needs and yet some of these water districts are about maxed out. What happened? Did these water boards allot this water to ethanol plants and CAFO’s and not consider other growth? An ethanol plant is being planned for Onida. Will this plant suck up a big chunk of the available water? I think that somebody isn’t doing a very good job of long term planning.

  14. jerry 2016-08-03 21:20

    Mr. Seamans, it would appear that the WR/LJ just put estimates together and then multiplied by an unknown algebraic figure to come up with the needs. In other government grants and projects, they are done much the same. They figure the needs and submit for consideration. By the time it comes around to breaking ground, the original plan is outdated. Instead of redoing it, they change the multiplier and hope that they can get more money as the project gets started. Maybe that was the case here as well. The Lewis and Clark system is also a build as you go kind of project that has never really had a known projection cost other than a lot.

  15. Donald Pay 2016-08-03 22:11

    Too bad Curt Hohn died several years ago. He would have been able to describe how estimated usage was calculated for WEB. I’m sure those records are around. I’m also sure the originators of WEB thought it would be primarily a domestic water pipeline. Water for livestock is part of domestic water, though they probably didn’t contemplate the buildout of CAFOs. I also know they wanted the pipeline to provide water for municipal use in communities. Municipal use does include some industrial/commercial use, but again, I’m sure the large use in ethanol production was not taken into consideration. The early days of WEB were very controversial, as it was a substitute for the Oahe Irrigation Project. That controversy had many communities actually shunning WEB, but since then tempers have cooled and water has gone to communities and projects that were never expected to be served.

  16. mike from iowa 2016-08-04 07:42

    The estimated water usage for ethanol from corn goes way up if the corn is irrigated.

    For cafos that farrow, a lactating sow needs 6 gallons of water per day(est).

  17. Troy Jones 2016-08-04 09:06

    I know it serves alot of agenda to blame ethanol and CAFO’s for the reality demand is bumping up against capacities (not supply of water as SD has an abundance of water) but what are the facts.

    Don Pay hints at the issue (how many hook-ups were projected, how many households, commercial endeavors, etc. were projected to be served, etc. vs. where are we decades later).

    That said, two comments:

    1) Projecting out decades is not an exact science but requires multitudes of assumptions, many of which inherently are at best educated guesses.

    2) How much of the capacity of WEB is actually being used by ethanol plants and CAFO’s? I would not be surprised if it is less than a couple percent. If so, blaming them for being up against capacity limits is hyperbole and misleading. My bet is mis-estimating household consumption by 2% exceeds the total water used by ethanol plants and CAFO’s.

  18. Paul Seamans 2016-08-04 09:27

    Troy, you bring up some good points. Maybe we are unjustly blaming CAFO’s and ethanol plants. It would be nice if we knew the usage of a typical plant or CAFO.

    I would guess that when engineers were estimating household usage and livestock usage that they came fairly close. A household is not going to be using much more water than fifty years ago and a cow is not going to be drinking much more water than fifty years ago. Okay maybe climate change will bump those figures up some.

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