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DENR Struggles to Check Rapid City Pollution… So Noem Assigns Environmental Regulation to Agriculture Department?

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.


  1. John 2021-01-21

    Based on these pollution violations one could be excused not knowing that Rapid City has an engineering tech school. Where’s the adult leadership? for the school? for the City?
    And why does Pierre tolerate this pollution of their drinking water? Why does the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe tolerate this environmental injustice in a source of its drinking water?
    Maybe the South Dakota Tourism Department could begin a new campaign, ‘Come Watch US Create a New Superfund Site!’.

  2. Donald Pay 2021-01-21

    There are ag operations with water rights that take water from Rapid Creek. They’re getting a polluted product. And Sioux Falls has to deal with the polluted water from upstream ag operations. Water is needed for all life, so everyone has to make sure water quality is protected. Thanks to David Ganje for pointing this out. Clearly, being lenient with law breakers like the City of Rapid City does not work.

  3. Jake 2021-01-21

    Gov. Noem wants Environmental Regulation to go away, that’s why she put the DENR under the AG Dept. Out of sight, out of mind. AG in SD exists because of water, purely God’s Truth. Let the water dry up. watch Ag dry up. In the profit minded anti-regulation mind of our GOP governor and legislature, anything that threatens those profits of Ag industry needs to go away.
    Water is the essence of Life itself. Our bodies are 75% water. Our planet is 75% water. Decent, fresh pure water is the first basic need of any society. PROTECT RAPID CREEK signs are popping up all over because that very source of water from the depths of the Black Hills is threatened by thousands of borehole testings for gold in that drainage system. Mining interests ‘claim’ to insure that extraction of minerals won’t harm us, but when harm does result it’s all “WHOOPS, we didn’t see THAT coming! Take our little tiny surety bond from us-SEE YA!” Leaving the residents of this state to deal with the mess unless it’s really big, then the Feds step in.
    Does Western SD want to see down the road everyone drinking bottled water like Flint, Michigan for years after a “WHOOPS” occasion not challenged by the State AG Dept. ahead of time for the benefit of us citizens?
    Please, SD legislators, deny this merger vehemently! I implore you.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-01-21

    “Create” a new Superfund site, John? Under Governor Noem’s neglect, South Dakota will **become** a Superfund site.

  5. jerry 2021-01-21

    gnome had to wear a mask at the inauguration of President Biden. She finally did something to control air pollution and noise pollution as well as the covid 19 she allowed to get loose in our state. Keep her muzzled for the good of us all.

  6. Donald Pay 2021-01-21

    Citizen suits could be useful where the state/feds fail to act. If the City of Rapid City is regularly violating its discharge permit, and the state/feds fail to take action, citizens can sue the City under the citizen suit provisions of the Clean Water Act. In this case, the DENR finally did fine the City for its violations, but what is DENR doing to make sure violations don’t repeat?

    Citizen suits are a powerful corrective for a federal or state government that is not doing its job. They can make a permittee act to correct a repeating violation. You have to give the state and the feds notice to allow them time to address the situation, so you may not have to go to court at all.

  7. Whitless 2021-01-21

    Completely agree that citizen lawsuits can be useful when government fails to enforce environmental laws and regulations. Hopefully the Biden administration will increase EPA oversight of compliance with federal environmental laws and regulations, such as the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. With Noem’s move to fold the DENR into the Agriculture Department, the EPA regional office in Denver, CO should pay special attention to how South Dakota enforces or doesn’t enforce environmental laws and regulations. The federal government has the option to become involved in enforcement actions when federal laws and regulations apply, which is often true with water pollution. Even if the DENR is diminished by Noem, businesses and municipalities would be wise to follow the laws and regulations because a federal enforcement action is usually much more expensive to defend, and the penalties are often higher than a state enforcement action.

  8. 96Tears 2021-01-21

    COVID Kristi put Hunter Roberts in charge of this Frankenstein agency which guarantees no favorable results will come from it. Janklow put Hunter’s granddaddy in charge of the state ag department where he collected government paychecks for doing essentially nothing. You see, old Clint needed a place to roost after the Second District was shut down and he was forced to run against Tom Daschle. He lost and Janklow handed him a consolation prize that kept his banker happy.

    This means “dirt n’ water” is dead as an agency with a mission in South Dakota, other than to kiss the butt of the state chamber office and the dregs they pull in to further ruin the water and land in exchange for a quick buck. That means more money for Kristi’s presidential campaign account.

    You gotta hand it to COVID Kristi. There is no bottom she’s not willing to sink to and drag our state down with her.

  9. Jake Kammerer 2021-01-21

    Might as well ‘merge’ the Pennington Co. Sheriff with the Highway Patrol–currently they both use OUR taxpayer $$$ to sue us over what we desire with Kristi’s blessings.

    Or why not the Tourism Dept with the Ag Dept? Cowgirls, cows, horses,rodeos, buffalo etc. etc. benefit
    the coffers.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-01-21

    Jake, I think Kristi’s logic would merge law enforcement with the tourism department. That way the cops wouldn’t get in the way of all those bikers coming to Sturgis.

  11. mike from iowa 2021-01-21

    Noem has a sad Biden dropped KXL like he promised to. Noem claims it is bad for ground and water not to have the real potential for natural disaster flowing under South Dakota land.

  12. jerry 2021-01-21

    Mr. Kammerer pretty much nails it. Why not merge the whole thing in republican la la land. While we’re at it, merge the county’s as well, just like school districts. Re tool the Farm Bill to take out the Socialism subsidies to satisfy the corporate farmers hatred of anything from Washington so they can continue to wear their red beany’s while whining about Socialism.

  13. grudznick 2021-01-21

    Mr. Kammerer’s idea isn’t that far from good. It might be really good. The fewer the departments the better. It’s like my good friend Lar and my co-idea to cut the number of counties in half. It doesn’t matter how many buckets you put 10 gallons of poop in, it is still 10 gallons of poop. Stop worrying about the package, you silly libbies, worry about the contents. Even Mr. Pay has been distracted by this dangling string, intended to distract his attention from where the lobbists will really make their mark.

  14. Jake 2021-01-22

    Grudz, you labeled and parrot your party correctly; dangle ‘strings’ of untruths, put ‘red herrings’ into the stream of thought and literally obfuscate the issues.

  15. Jake 2021-01-23

    Yeah, “Less government, less government” at the same time there’s more people, more problems. GOP “Less government” means smaller government that is tuned in to OUR way of thinking, more $$$ for fewer people, but they are GOP inclined people
    Grudz, we all pretty well know where you’re coming from!

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