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Biden Makes Big Mo-Aberdeen Water Pipeline Cheaper by Cancelling Keystone XL; 1980s Pettiness Makes Hub City Hydration More Costly

While Iowa Republicans want to build a pipeline to haul CO2 out of Aberdeen, the Hub City would like to build a pipeline to haul H2O in from the Missouri River. Back in May, the Aberdeen City Council hired Bismarck engineers Bartlett & West to study the feasibility of building a 100-mile water pipeline and accompanying infrastructure (pump stations, reservoirs…) to slake Aberdeen’s thirst. Last month, Bartlett & West reported that the project would cost $271 million to $334 million. Not only might President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure investments help pay for that big project (the Biden bill has $355 million over five years for South Dakota water projects), but President Biden‘s (and the market’scancellation of Keystone XL might make the Big Mo–Aberdeen water project a little cheaper:

While the report recommends using cement mortar-lined steel pipe, Doug Mund from Bartlett & West said there is currently a surplus of welded steel pipe available because of recently canceled oil pipeline projects.

“A few months ago, there were 1,000 miles of pipe available,” he said. “We can see a significant pipe savings between surplus and regular price.”

Using that surplus pipe would put the estimated cost around $291 million [Elisa Sand, “Piping Water from the Missouri River to Aberdeen Is at Least $271M Venture, Report Shows,” Aberdeen American News, 2021.10.22].

Water straight from a steel pipe might get a little rusty; I’ll still take some cement mortar lining with my water, thanks. And watch out for that Keystone XL pipe—the steel TransCanada bought seems to corrode really quickly.

Of course, Aberdeen wouldn’t be looking at any hundreds of millions in new water infrastructure if it had joined the WEB Water system back when it started in the 1980s. WEB Water serves counties surrounding Aberdeen, and its main office is in Aberdeen, but attorney and natural resources expert David Ganje writes that Aberdeen denied itself that clean-water opportunity through sheer pettiness:

Some years ago a political conflict burst forth around a proposed new East River irrigation project known as the Oahe Irrigation Project. This history is documented in a book by South Dakota author Peter Carrels titled Uphill Against Water.

Two camps developed over the irrigation project. Those who wanted the Oahe Irrigation Project and those who did not. The opponents, mostly the grassroots ag community, won the battle. Oahe was discontinued, and a substitute water project was advanced. The substitute project was the WEB water pipeline. WEB is now one of the largest water pipeline systems in the U.S. and is ironically headquartered in Aberdeen.

Aberdeen’s support for the Oahe Project and the fight elected city officials carried against the opponents of the project influenced the city’s decision on the question of joining WEB. The absence of a vision for the water needs of Aberdeen and good old-fashioned ignorance effectuated the considered decision. Aberdeen rejected the city’s participation in the WEB water supply system in 1982. One official said he would not accept “a bag of peanuts (WEB) in exchange for (Oahe)” [David Ganje, “Peanuts as Water or Water as Peanuts,” Rapid City Journal, 2021.11.06].

There’s no time-machining back to redirect that WEB Water under Aberdeen’s bridge. But the prospect of spending $300 million (mostly of other people’s money, courtesy of the big federal socialism that makes South Dakota possible) to expand its own water supply when it could have shared the cost of helping WEB Water make a similar expansion to its regional system reminds us of the cost of letting hard feelings get in the way of practical problem-solving.


  1. larry kurtz 2021-11-12

    A couple years ago a contributor at the Aberdeen American News Faceberg page said he wants to melt snow, put the water in a pipeline and pump it to the Southwest. Good idea but it’s not really new. In 2011 an interested party wondered whether compressing snow into ice and loading it onto flat rail cars might work. The capacity of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River is 27,000,000 acre-feet. If East River would either carve ice out of the James and Big Sioux Rivers, load it onto side-dump railcars or pump flood water into tank cars, or both, then dump it into the Colorado’s closest tributary, the Green River in Wyoming, South Dakota could sell that water to Las Vegas and Phoenix. A rail tanker holds about 30,000 gallons. An acre-foot of water is almost 326,000 gallons.

    But instead of empowering communities to harvest snow melt and rain water rural communities continue to be dependent on politicians who exploit need. Use of federal dollars means a vote in Congress and a new pipeline would rip up over a hundred miles of unceded tribal lands where thousands of Indigenous Americans are buried.

  2. Bill 2021-11-12

    It’s becoming an old saw, “be careful what you wish for.” Another, “water here–water there, but not a drop to drink.”

  3. Donald Pay 2021-11-12

    Aberdeen should pay for it’s pettiness back in the 1980s. I ask why should the US taxpayer bail them out? WEB was an innovative proposal that should have been welcomed by Aberdeen. It was a great alternative for those who wanted water, but didn’t want the soil, river and wildlife destruction of a poorly planned irrigation project.

    Oahe’s opponents were always being accused of being “aginners,” against progress, but they pushed the first in a long line of water pipelines that have assured domestic water to most of South Dakota. It’s not as if Aberdeen’s water woes weren’t quite evident to everyone back then. Why they didn’t jump onto the WEB system was an unfathomable. Well, most of those short-sighted leaders are dead now, and we are better for it. And I guess even I don’t feel we can hold the residents of Aberdeen hostage to bad past leadership.

    Bring the water, but call it the water, but call it the John Sieh Pipeline.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-11-12

    Don, I agree that the punishment for poor leaders in the past should not forever be held against their descendants. But I wonder: has all of the pettiness and shortsightedness disappeared? Instead of proposing its own long reach to the Missouri, might not Aberdeen do better to talk with WEB Water about a collaborative effort to improve the entire region’s water supply? Aberdeen depends on the entire surrounding region and its additional 50-60-70,000 people to support the hub city economy. It would seem to make sense for Aberdeen to focus all of its economic development efforts, including its infrastructure efforts, on maximizing growth throughout the region, not just within the city limits of Aberdeen.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-11-12

    Of course, there are limits to growth. We see the Southwest bumping into those limits hard, especially as climate change dries up inflows into the Colorado basin. How many more residence and houses… or, more pressingly, how many more factory feedlots, soybean plants, and irrigated fields can we support before we have to say, sorry, there’s no more water for anyone else?

  6. Donald Pay 2021-11-12

    Cory, As I remember, WEB was designed and engineered to exclude Aberdeen, because Aberdeen turned down any and all attempts to get them to hook into WEB. WEB is thus sized too small through its entire length to carry water for Aberdeen. The whole system would have to be reconfigured and mostly rebuilt. I’m not sure where it is in it’s life cycle. If it was close to having a lot of reconstruction, maybe that could be done, but I kind of doubt it.

  7. Tom Kellar 2021-11-12

    I spoke with a prominent West River legislator about 2 years ago asking him to support some environmental initiatives to protect water in the Black Hills from gold and uranium mining. His response was basically that it was a hopeless cause and the best way to ensure drinking water for Rapid City was to build a pipeline from the Missouri River. So even when we have a source of excellent drinking water, the legislators would rather take the short sighted path of supplying water to the mining industry. I think it is becoming increasingly obvious that clean water is more valuable and necessary for economic development than gold or uranium.

  8. Donald Pay 2021-11-12

    Mr. Kellar, Whoever that legislator is quite out-of-step with the public. I’d say 95% of the population of Rapid City would tar and feather that legislator for even saying something like that.

  9. Mark Anderson 2021-11-12

    Well you know Cory, Biden has pissed off both the Canadians and the French and still gets no respect from Republicans. What can you say?

  10. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-11-12

    I applaud your efforts, Tom Kellar. I still see signs in Hot Springs declaring “NO URANIUM MINING IN THE BLACK HILLS.”
    You and I believe clean water for all people is a paramount human right; however, SD legislators believe they’re above the hoi polloi and they shall always have access to unlimited purified water if they obey their corporate masters.

    Even after a couple of hours of lame-a** “research” I could not determine if Aberdeen and surrounds sit above a viable aquifer. The best I could find was the Middle James.

    I’m on a shallow well next to the Fall River, and my animals and I drink reverse osmosis water. Fortunately, it’s still $.0.49 a gallon in Hot Springs.

  11. larry kurtz 2021-11-12

    The US Army Corps of Engineers is the final arbiter as to how that river water is allocated and the mountain snowpack is forecast to be way less than normal by next Spring.

    It must be nearly impossible for any sane planner to feel sorry for a Prairie Pothole Region that has depleted aquifers so dramatically for industrial agriculture that drinking water supplies are virtually tapped out.

    Yes, sometimes even the federal government just can’t protect the population from its own stupidity.

  12. larry kurtz 2021-11-12

    Can someone even convince us that Aberdeen or any other town in South Dakota deserves a rescue after poisoning every municipal water system in the state?

  13. Caleb 2021-11-12

    Bill, did you happen to read a Tom Dispatch article recently? The intro to one yesterday featured essentially the same quote, while the article itself is quite depressing:

  14. jerry 2021-11-12

    Aberdeen compares in population to Dickinson, North Dakota. Maybe recycled waste water to drinking water could be the answer to keep poking the WEB system in the eye. Give the money to the tribes whose water this actually belongs to.

    If all keeps going, the Missouri River Water will once again be looked at to go to Texas. Janklow was willing to divert Missouri River water into this boondoggle years ago. NOem is more than eager to work with Texas as shown by sending national guard troops there.

  15. Bill 2021-11-13

    Caleb, Thanks for the reference. I do often read Tom Dispatch but missed that one.

  16. Scott 2021-11-13

    The city of Aberdeen seems to be thumbing its nose at WEB again, just like back in the 80’s. It would be my opinion that Aberdeen will struggle greatly securing easements and pursuing the land purchases necessary for such a pipe, if Aberdeen builds this pipeline on its own. Most of the landowners who will be needed to build an Aberdeen pipeline are WEB members and will remember that Aberdeen twice would not work with WEB.

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