As Governor Kristi Noem signs the death warrant for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, David Ganje notes that one of the DENR’s last big enforcement actions was to drop a small hammer on Rapid City for repeated wastewater discharge violations:
At the end of last year, DENR fined Rapid City after it improperly discharged wastewater and sewage into an unnamed tributary of Rapid Creek. Among the chemicals discharged were selenium, which can cause peripheral nervous system damage in high concentrations, and total petroleum hydrocarbons, which, as the name suggests, are chemical compounds that originate from crude oil. DENR’s final straw included a scathing letter, documenting the dozens of times Rapid City violated its permit and how the city had continued discharging potentially harmful wastewater despite numerous warnings going back at least to 2010.
…Rapid City’s violations were not related to just one incident – they exceeded effluent limits many times, involving many illegal discharges. Out of the nineteen times that Rapid City discharged wastewater between May 2015 and October 2020, it exceeded statutory effluent limits fifteen times. These discharges included excessive amounts of ammonia, selenium, suspended solids, pH, and total petroleum hydrocarbons. Government authorities regulate these contaminants and the pH of the water due to potentially harmful impacts on the environment or public health. For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, high levels of ammonia lead to toxic buildup in tissues and blood of aquatic species. Rapid City violated its daily limit of ammonia three times and exceeded its 30-day average limit eight times. Moreover, while selenium is an essential nutrient at low levels, they can cause harmful health effects in people, including damage to the peripheral nervous system, at high concentrations. Rapid City exceeded its 30-day average selenium limit eight times [David Ganje, “Rapid City the Infractor,” Rapid City Journal, 2021.01.16].
Governor Noem looks at environmental regulation as purely an agricultural issue. Rapid City’s persistent violations and the time it took the DENR to finally hold the city accountable show that, far from burying DENR under our pro-corporate agriculture agency, South Dakota needs a stronger, more independent environmental regulatory agency that can focus on the unique and varied challenges of keeping South Dakota clean.