Skunk Creek Anti-Grazing Plan Costs More than SB 136 Grassy Buffer Strip Incentive

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?

16 Responses to Skunk Creek Anti-Grazing Plan Costs More than SB 136 Grassy Buffer Strip Incentive

  1. Paul Seamans

    Maybe I need to quit bad-mouthing the DENR so much. Actually it is Sec. Steve Pirner who is the problem. I think that the DENR employees on the ground are actually pretty good. DENR needs to get back to their original mission of protecting our environment rather than the permitting of CAFO’s and oil wells, which seems to he Pirner’s, and Daugaard’s, goal.

  2. Quite honestly, as the outcome of the Des Moines River watershed will show, doing the right things now will save the state and ag producers much money (public and private) in the future. And, I agree with Paul that there are some good people in the DENR hampered from doing meaningful work by the GOP controlled state government for so long. I so recall Homestake Mining Co defending their pollution of Whitewood Creek thru Deadwood as “Nothing to worry about here, folks-just dirty water! Yet, it turned out to be one o the larger Superfund sites extending into the Belle Fouche River with the cyanide thrown into the public waterway.

  3. mike from iowa

    Nothing in iowa will change unless and until pols develop the backbone to stand up to big ag and Farm Burro.

    We have to stop building bigger and bigger cafos. They waste precious fresh water supplies and pollute the rest.

    Can’t cut into their profits. Rinse and repeat. iowa has decent regs, but legislature doesn’t appropriate monies to fund monitoring and enforcement. We know what the problems are, what causes them and what to do about them. We need the backbone to make them work.

  4. This is a fascinating issue to me. DENR lost most of my trust in them by their behavior during the PowerTech Uranium fiasco. They were clearly 100% for more dirty uranium mining in the Black Hills. Lobbiest Larry Mann helped neuter the DENR from regulating uranium mining in South Dakota. DENR seemed to love it. DENR also closed a Rapid City office in recent years which makes it harder for oil drilling company’s West River to work with DENR in confirming a the little compliances.

    It’s funny to me how conservative states have a hard time recognizing the basic business principles of spending a smaller amount of money now in order to prevent having to spend a lot more down the road.

  5. Dana Loseke of Friends of the Big Sioux River gave a informative talk on this topic at our last luncheon. Invite him to speak in your communities.

  6. John Wrede

    Corey: This is a false equivalent. There is night and day difference between carefully managed grazing and keeping cattle out of Skunk Creek and planting a 50 foot buffer strip along a drainage someplace. There is nothing in the buffer strip proposal that would prevent grazing or fencing to keep cattle out of the water. Cattle contribute to total coliform bacteria loading in the stream and urine and fecal material contribute to nitrites and nitrate eutrophication problems as much or more when they stand or gather in the water during hot summer days as they do when all that fresh, residual manure runs off into tributaries. Once manure dries down, there’s not much of a problem. All a buffer strip does is slow down and perhaps filter ag chemicals, (fertilizers, pesticides/herbicides and eroded soil from entering the riparian system. Keeping cattle away from and out of water to prevent contamination is an expensive proposition because alternate water sources have to be provided and cattle have to be managed to not only use those water sources but stay out of places they aren’t wanted- which ususally requires fences of some sort at a construction cost of perhaps as much as $4000 a mile.

    In Western South Dakota and other western states, livestock water has undergone a significant transition in the last 25 years, not just because of the water contamination potential but because of interest in better grazing management, more even grazing distribution and more consistent availability of water. Do some research on the Missouri River Pipelines that not only furnish clean, potable water to communities West River but provide a maze of smaller pipeline distribution systems for livestock producers to help keep their cows out of stock dams, streams and rivers. SDSU sent out a warning to producers early this summer to prepare for livestock health issues that develop with cattle dependent upon stock dams and dug outs for their water. The issue is related to the amount of total dissolved solids left in dams that quickly dry down in drought conditions. Ever tried to pull a cow out of the mud in a stock dam? You don’t get that with pipeline distribution systems and the cattle do much better with fresh, clean water.

  7. Paul Seamans

    Well put John Wrede. Cattle need to be fenced out of these areas and alternative water sources need to be provided. Most landowners will not stand all this expense on their own even if they are concerned about the environment. There needs to be some financial incentive. Maybe take the money that cities would use for nitrate removal from their water and apply it to preventative measures.

  8. As usual, John comes up with a bunch of BS. The City of Sioux Falls could take the land along the river/Skunk Creek, with the latest Supreme court decision on condemnation, and make their own “buffer strip”. I agree about the clean water. There is no “night and day difference” about keeping cattle out of the river. I will build all the fence you want for $4,000 a mile.

  9. Which SCOTUS decision are you thinking of, Slim? Could Sioux Falls use eminent domain to acquire property outside of its city limits?

  10. Paul, John, what you say about the expense of keeping cattle out of the water raises this question: is there any other industry that gets to say, “Preventing our pollution costs too much, so we expect the government to pay us not to pollute”?

  11. Douglas Wiken

    Cattle and buffalo have grazed along water for years. Cattle for not as many as buffalo, but all before Sioux Falls and other cities spread out like a disease into rural areas with no plan for water supplies, etc. It is a large example of the city people who buy land next to a farm and then bitch about the tractor noise or the combine dust.

  12. Paul Seamans

    Cory, I’m just saying that forcing a landowner to fence out a creek may be considered a taking of property rights without just compensation. All the time that is spent arguing about who should pay for this just adds to our waterways being further polluted.

    And yes other industries do pollute and expect others to pick up the costs. The oil industry (think fracking and oilsands extraction), the mining industry, manufacturing industry polluting our air, and with a little thought I can surely come up with others. A good example are the superfund uranium and gold mine sites in the Black Hills being paid for by taxpayers.

  13. Paul Seamans

    SD Slim, $4000 per mile for fence sounds quite reasonable. I come up with around $2800 just for materials.

    It is not just the cost of fencing. An alternate water source needs to be established. I am for keeping livestock out of stream beds as much as anybody. I just don’t see it being accomplished by relying on it being voluntary. Just ask Des Moines.

  14. John Wrede

    SD Slim: BS? Have you considered that the City of Sioux Falls jurisdiction ends at the city limits and cattle aren’t allowed to be maintained in the City limits. Eminent domain does not extend beyond a political subdivision’s boundaries and even then, eminent domain is not a given. It can be challenged in court and often is. Look at the purposes in law for the application of the power of eminent domain and then do a bit of research on where use of the power has been approved by the judicial system and where it hasn’t. Eminent domain is not popular and in SD with all of it’s property rights theories, Sioux Falls or any other municipality is not going to use that power unless they can demonstrate the highest public purpose there is.

    I have an acquaintance in Philip, he owns and operates Hansen’s Fencing. I caught him the other day while driving through Philip. He just bid a fencing job on a state highway construction project. He didn’t tell me the precise bid but said it was over $5,000.00 mile. If a professional company has to have that much money to make a profit to build fence in an area that is easily accessible, how much more are they going to charge to install fence along stream courses that are more difficult to access and landowners don’t often allow contractors to drive vehicles all over the place. If you’re going to accuse somebody of promoting BS, I’d think you’d at least have you’re own ducks in a row. I help maintain a livestock grazing system in Jones county where Paul lives and I’ve done more than my share of water quality monitoring and analysis with NPS so I find your “expert” remarks, to be not only insulting but emulative of Donald Trump.

  15. John Wrede

    Corey: “Preventing our pollution costs too much, so we expect the government to pay us not to pollute”? A resounding yes. And not only that but if you really look closely at all of our water quality law, both state and federal, what you will find is lower standards of quality where industries like agriculture are favored just because the costs of maintaining a higher standard are high. Case in point. Spring Creek in the Black Hills between Hill City and Sheridan Lake. Currently, there is a “no immersion” order in that stream but nothing requiring anybody to clean up the problem or prevent it in the future. There are theories about where the pollution is coming from but like everyplace else with the problem, it is likely attributable to “septic systems” cattle in streams and tributaries, and substandard affluent from Hill City’s water treatment. In the Black Hills proper, there is no effort made to keep cattle out of any stream or water course except for the lakes where they are fenced out. I’ve participated in an ongoing study of stream condition and water quality measurement in the Hills for several years (it’s called MIM’s [Multiple Indicator Monitory System]) in the recent past and there is not a small stream or secondary intermittent stream surveyed that isn’t at least 90% compromised and degraded to very poor condition because of grazing. And livestock grazing permittee’s pay the federal government $1.36/AUM to be able to do that. That’s a subsidy of a whole different color.

  16. mike from iowa

    From 2012 ISU study, sounds like you guys are getting by cheap on fencing. But then, we did it ourselves here on the farm with big corner posts, braces and deadmen every quarter mile and four or five strands of barb wire. Still have an old woven wire stretcher(w/o handle). iowa even has state statutes on what constitutes a fence.