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Black Hills Hoping for $1.87B to Pipe Water from Missouri River

Aberdeen is hoping to spend $334 million of mostly federal money to draw 44 million gallons of water a day from the Missouri River to hydrate northeastern South Dakota. Rapid City is leading Black Hills interests in a pitch to spend over five times that much to pull Big Mo H2O the other direction:

Mayors Steve Allender of Rapid City, Larry Larson of Box Elder, and Teresa Hall of New Underwood talked about the need for working together as a region to bring Missouri River water to western South Dakota during the “Water is Our Future” summit.

Panel participants throughout the event discussed funding, what already exists to get the project moving, and the necessity to build a 171-mile system to bring water to the area. The project has an estimated cost of $1.87 billion [Siandhara Bonnet, “Mayors, Lawmakers Make Pitch to Spend $1.8 Billion for Missouri River Water,” Rapid City Journal, 2021.12.01].

All sorts of rugged-individual Republican leaders attended yesterday’s forum to hear that slaking the Black Hills’ thirst with a six-foot-diameter pipe will require working together as a community:

In these stages, she says they’re encouraging people to get together, something [SD School of Mines & Technology Scott] Kenner says is vital in preparing for the future.

“We have to see ourselves as a region that uses the Black Hills. The water resources in the Black Hills,” Kenner says, “because it’s not me getting mine, it’s us managing the resources that we all use.”

“If you want to be on your own. Then,” Kenner adds, “you’re going to be on your own. That’s a harder place to be than working with a community” [Jeffrey Lindblom, “Connecting the Missouri River, Addressing Western South Dakota’s Future Water Needs,” KOTA-TC, 2021.12.01].

It’s going to take a lot more community effort—i.e., federal government investment—to get Missouri River water to run uphill to Rapid City. As I noted in my November 19 report on Aberdeen’s mega-agua proposal, the Noem Administration has proposed spending $600 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars (that’s the first wave of support President Biden sent us, despite our Republican leaders’ rejection of that plan). The state has received nearly 250 requests for funding from that tranche totaling over $3.2 billion.

While Rapid City waits for pennies from Washington via Pierre, Black Hills residents might want to consider water conservation. KOTA notes that Rapid City’s per capita water use is 168 gallons per day. A couple weeks ago, NPR reported that the California town of Heraldsburg responded to drought by limiting residents’ water use to 74 gallons per day. One retired couple found they could far exceed that conservation goal:

EZRA DAVID ROMERO, BYLINE: Back in June, the wine country town of Healdsburg set a limit – only 74 gallons of water a day for each resident, about half of normal use. That set up a bit of a competition for retirees Merrilyn Joyce and John Diniakos.

JOHN DINIAKOS: I take a shower every other day, sometimes every three days.

ROMERO: But Joyce says she’s winning their water war.

MERRILYN JOYCE DINIAKOS: Because I do laundry much less often.

ROMERO: The couple reduced their combined water use to just 24 gallons a day, a fraction of what they’re allowed. They use a phone app called Flume, purchased with help from a city rebate, which, through a meter, informs them how much water they use by the minute.

M DINIAKOS: So John just took a shower and that shows you how much water he used.

ROMERO: Just under two gallons of water, all caught in a bucket.

M DINIAKOS: And then we save that water and use it for something else [Ezra David Romero, “How One California City Cut Its Water Use in Half,” NPR: Morning Edition, 2021.11.16].

Spend $1.87 billion in mostly federal money to carry water 170 miles from the River to the Hills, or take shorter showers—which sounds like the more ruggedly individual conservative solution to you?

Waste not, want not.


  1. larry kurtz 2021-12-02 07:39

    Same deal: if you can afford to build rainwater harvest and generate your own electricity with rooftop solar you are part of the solution. One of our neighbors has a 40,000 gallon catchment system and the monsoon season filled it to overflowing. We are building capacity at our own properties as fast as we can.

  2. larry kurtz 2021-12-02 07:51

    So, taxpayers would foot the bill for domestic livestock watering? That’s not self-reliance; it’s moral hazard.

  3. John 2021-12-02 08:17

    ‘rugged-individual Republican leaders’ – spat out coffee. Rugged-individual Republican leaders clamoring for yet another federal welfare handout they pretend to abhor . . . while sitting near federal water projects at Orman, Pactola, and Angostura, federal I-90, and the queen of white elephants, Elsworth AFB.

    And while the Black Hills National Forest is ignoring the watershed while clamoring for over-growing trees to soak up and transpire the region’s water.

  4. Donald Pay 2021-12-02 08:40

    When I lived in Rapid City there was profligate water wasting. Watering lawns probably accounts for half or more of water use during summer in Rapid. Scott Kenner, who is quoted in the KOTA report, works at the School of Mines, which I recall had a nice thick lawn during the hot, dry summers. Keeping that green takes a lot of water, Scott. The City of Rapid City over watered its parks, golf courses and ball fields. Maybe it’s time to switch to more drought tolerant species. Short grass prairie would be even better. And Rapid and the surrounding communities need to stop converting prairie and forest to impervious surfaces. If you are going to grow, grown up: build housing that is higher than a story or two.

  5. larry kurtz 2021-12-02 08:54

    That the Belle Fourche/Cheyenne River system is too toxic to pump water from should be the first cosmic dope slap. Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana washes their PFAS laden water into the Missouri River that’s impossible to remove.

    With luck the tribes will sue to stop whatever pipeline Rapid City wants to build.

  6. jerry 2021-12-02 09:35

    CAFO’s, farming in general, needs to be restricted. In the United Kingdom, there is direction in this as well. Conservation along with the protection of the Rapid Creek, would go a long way in providing water resources. Boot the polluting mines, all of them in the Black Hills area.

    “UK farmers may have to reduce the number of animals they keep because of the critical state of some river catchments, a pollution expert from the government’s environment watchdog has said.

    Farming is the most significant source of water pollution and ammonia emissions into the atmosphere in the UK, according to government data. It accounts for 25% of phosphate, 50% of nitrate and 75% of sediment loadings in the water environment, which harms ecosystems.

    Speaking independently, Tim Bailey of the Environment Agency said the state of catchments such as the River Wye and the Somerset Levels and Moors had become critical because of the number of chickens and dairy cows and the problem of disposing of manure from farms.”

    Solar panels form water droplets from dew that can make areas suitable for livestock as well as for water gathering. On the plus side, the panels can also provide shelter from the heat. Science though, is a hated subject to republican greed.

  7. Spike 2021-12-02 09:46

    The trumplicans know they can bellow against “excessive spending” then grab all they can to provide various services to their cronies and pork barrels from such spending and still get elected by crying conservative anti tax values, critical race theory and the aliens are attacking.
    John gets it right, its laughable and barfable……

    The elected officials railing against the proposed legislation are also salivating over the freebies. Phonies.

    As usual those evil blue states will keep sending money to the reds….

    Shad Olson will be right at the trough with the rest of them.

  8. Donald Pay 2021-12-02 10:42

    It might be time to declare the Black Hills area a “water preserve,” protect the water resources there above all else. This would need a lot of discussion among communities, state, feds and tribes, but I think you could get agreement on some issues pretty quickly. Water and land uses that negatively impact the water resources, recharge areas and such ought to be restricted and phased out. This might mean a rejiggering of the concept of “water rights,” which would be a highly controversial issue and might take longer to figure out. The concept of “multiple use” in the national forest might need to be modified to prioritize water quantity and quality. It’s worth discussion.

  9. larry kurtz 2021-12-02 11:00

    Abandon West Rapid City and dam the Gap. That might be a start.

  10. Porter Lansing 2021-12-02 11:24

    Upon leaving the oil rigs of Gillette and moving to CO, I’d already secured a good union job. One of the first things I noticed was that negative and critical people, in Colorado, didn’t get invited to have a beer after work or get invited to parties. This was a drastic change from where I grew up, in Watertown. There, it was like a manhood, pissing contest for who could be the most disapproving over new things, people that weren’t the same, ideas for change, and of course California. Then after a couple, in a SD bar, the subject was always, “God, I miss the good old days. Things just suck, now. All this new stuff is ruining the town. These young people should just leave, if they don’t like it the way it’s always been.”
    Maybe that’s why I participate in Cory’s Blog. Here I can revert to the way I was fifty years ago and none of my friends have any idea that I can be such a negative jackass. Here a person won’t be ostracized for the critical negativity that has almost no place in a positive, progressive lifestyle.
    Here’s to South Dakota and the “That won’t work.” uber critical, way of looking at things.
    Cheers and Happy Holidays, Amigos y Amigas.

  11. Spike 2021-12-02 12:13

    great observation Porter.

    Denver Post editorial calling out and apologizing for Boeberts racism is an example of Colorado cool…….

    I spent considerable time around the twin cities area and it took a lot to get used to the fact people could actually be nice to strangers and casual acquaintances without first wanting your political and racial profile. very refreshing for a persons outlook on humanity.

    In SD a person can get sucked into the vortex so easily…… but sd govt spending covid prevention money on tourism to further spread covid and exhaust our health care systems is hard not to get negative about.

    Pennington county will vote trump and get money from California for that water pipeline….

  12. Porter Lansing 2021-12-02 12:37

    Thanks, Spike.
    In SD’s defense; there’s not a lot to do.
    Being critical initiates conversation and conversation is an entertainment element, to break the boredom.
    It’s when it turns to racism, hatred, and violence that negativity is dangerous.
    SD is peering into that arroyo, now.

    PS … Boebert’s future will follow the Neal Tapio template. Gone; never to be heard from again, politically.

  13. Porter Lansing 2021-12-02 12:43

    PS, Spike … I appreciate every argument you participate in on Power’s blog.
    I’ve been long banned from posting there, under my real name.
    So, when you see a liberal post from an “anonymous”, it could well be me, sneaking through Power’s futile and weak security system.

  14. Donald Pay 2021-12-02 13:53

    I see South Dakota differently than Porter. Generally, you have a bunch of selfish elitists with their hands out for money. Whether it’s screwing people with residential lots that sink into old mine workings or trying to scrape a few dollars out of New Jersey garbage or nuclear waste, these elitists have no limits on their depth of greed. Reacting negatively to this greedy elite are the”aginners.” They are considered negative, because they know what the game is and they could join and gather a few coins that drop off the elitists table, but they ain’t playing. They really aren’t that negative. They support another vision of the future, such as alternative energy or local food production. There’s another group of folks, the largest, who hang on to the hope that they can catch a few of those coins the elitist drop. These are the pathetically deluded majority. They vote Republican. If they get a notch up the ladder of success, you can see them kicking everyone else down the ladder. And for that, the elitists pay them a few dollars more than the aginners, but not enough that they can actually live well.

    Of course, a water pipeline is much more likely to appeal to the deluded majority because, you know, federally funded jobs are about all South Dakota has going for it. It’s much harder to actually make life better for everyone by conserving resources, or using resources wisely.

  15. jerry 2021-12-02 20:13

    Denver needs a drink too. Might as well throw Gillette, Cheyenne in the mix for Missouri River clear water gold as well. Not only will South Dakota be a fly over state, we will be a state with no water. Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

    “This year marks the first time that the city of Denver has seen no measurable snow by Dec. 1 since snowfall records began in 1882. The last snowfall was 224 days ago and days may continue to fly by without much snowfall if drought conditions in Colorado hold. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, all of Colorado is experiencing abnormally dry weather. Denver could see some rain and snow next week but this week has been a hot and dry one for the city.”

    There is only so much and without serious conservation, we will be at war with ourselves over drinking water. Happened before

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-12-02 20:19

    Heck, Jerry, why stop at Denver? Run a pipe up and through the Eisenhower Tunnel, and we could just fill the nearly dry Colorado River Basin with Missouri River water!

  17. DaveFN 2021-12-02 21:00

    Cory’s point that water usage and conservation has been appreciated by others, as well:

    “The western United States already has more than its share of water conflicts and unsustainable uses. In designing new projects, NRDC suggests that water managers follow the old adage: When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. Today, water managers have a range of alternatives to new pipeline projects, including urban and agricultural water-use efficiency, voluntary water transfers, water recycling, improved groundwater management, and
    more. The success of efficiency efforts can be seen today across the West. Many of these less environmentally disruptive alternatives are more reliable, more affordable, less vulnerable to climate change impacts, and less energy intensive than traditional water development projects.

    I don’t know what else Kenner has said on the subject that’s not reported in the blurb if anything, but his rather word-salad of an us/them–me/mine philosophy to justify such a grandiose if not megalomanic project (he retired from the School of Mines in 2020, incidentally) falls deaf on my ears. What kind of us/them is Kenner stuck on? And as far as seeing “ourselves as a region that uses the Black Hills”—say what? Typical engineer talk. They need input from real scientists.

  18. DaveFN 2021-12-02 21:39

    …not amateur philosopher engineers.

  19. Donald Pay 2021-12-04 10:26

    Yeah, I think Kenner moved a few miles east to RESPEC, a Rapid City firm that has done work on nuclear waste and other such things. As I recall, they had nice green lawns, too. RESPEC must be angling for some big bucks to help engineer this thing.

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