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State Defunds Water Quality Advocate, Uses Watershed Project Merger to Reduce Resistance to CAFOs

South Dakota Public Broadcasting buries the lead in Joshua Haiar’s story of the merger of the Upper Big Sioux Watershed Project into the Northeast Glacial Lakes Watershed Project. We have to scroll more than halfway through the text (project coordinators are hard to find, but Lake Kampeska folks say Watertown water interests need a special focus that the merged district may be too big and hydrologically diverse to address) before we get to the real headliner: this water district merger appears to be the product of political retribution against Roger Foote, the Upper Big Sioux Watershed Project director who did his job and pointed out that permitting more factory feedlots in the area could harm water quality:

The decision to merge came after the city of Watertown was unable to find a replacement for Foote.

The city was responsible because the state stopped funding the salary about six years ago.

“They never said anything to me. They never put anything in writing. They never sent me an email saying, ‘Roger you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing,’” Foote said.

Foote said over time, he did more work for Watertown and less for the Upper Big Sioux project.

In addition, Foote said his relationship with the Department of Agriculture fell apart after he publicly expressed concerns about some new dairy projects near Watertown.

“I did oppose a number of dairies. Only because the state was not enforcing their own rules,” Foote said. “I am not against dairies. But they should be designed to function correctly to state standards.”

Foote was concerned about water quality [Joshua Haiar, “Questions Raised as Watershed Projects Merge in Northeastern South Dakota,” SDPB, 2022.08.26].

Brad Johnson, who chaired the state Board of Water and Natural Resources when the state defunded Foote’s position, says yup, that’s what happened:

Johnson confirms that the state stopped funding Foote’s salary and requests for project funding after he publicly expressed concerns about the new dairies.

“Roger basically said it’s a threat to water quality, and he was basically stating the obvious. But the Department of Agriculture was in support of the dairy and advocating for it and they did not like the fact that he spoke, as they perceived it, against it. And so they applied pressure,” Johnson said [Haiar, 2022.08.26].

Johnson says the state wasn’t just out to give Foote the boot; our CAFO-addicted state officials evidently sought to kill the whole Upper Big Sioux River Watershed Project:

The nearly 30-year-old Upper Big Sioux River Watershed Project unceremoniously ended last week, dying a slow death that began in 2015.

That’s when state officials began undermining the coordinator.

…The Upper Big Sioux River Watershed Project was South Dakota’s successful effort to collaborate with producers primarily to clean up Lake Kampeska and Lake Pelican.

…The project went from being a model to a pariah during the week of Aug. 17, 2015. A new 3,400-head dairy had been proposed just northeast of Watertown.

“My concern is water quality, and I think that’s most people’s concern” Mayor Steve Thorson said at a city council work session that day, a Watertown Public Opinion story reported. “When there is a 2-or 3-inch rain, where does that water go?”

Watershed Coordinator Roger Foote’s career spiraled down when he truthfully replied to Thorson.

“There are already 46 existing feeding operations in the watershed area,” he said. “The state does an annual inspection and that’s it. Unless someone files a complaint, that’s it.”

He noted that dairies generate a huge amount of manure that could potentially affect water quality.

Foote dug his hole deeper two days later when he attended a “Public Informational Meeting on Confined Mega Dairies in the Watertown/Codington County Area” at the Watertown Event Center. It was sponsored by opponents to the proposed Waverly dairy.

…Foote told the truth, saying that large, confined animal operations could cause water pollution.

…The South Dakota Department of Agriculture was livid at Foote, as was then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Ultimately, the childish anger and retaliation against Foote would be conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

I was chairman of the South Dakota Board of Water and Natural Resources at the time, which annually allocated the federal money spent on watershed projects. I had a ringside seat to the retribution.

Watertown requested $511,863 to continue the project through 2019, but vindictively the state cut it to $200,000 and made clear that no money could be used to pay Foote’s salary.

Funds were restricted to programs unpopular with producers and the state then blamed Foote for not being able to spend it.

State officials continued to squeeze the project until Foote announced late last year he was retiring in April 2022. He knew the state would never forgive him and continue to sabotage the project [Brad Johnson, “Big Sioux River Watershed Project Dead, New Effort Won’t Protect Local Lakes,” Watertown Public Opinion via Yahoo, 2022.08.26].

The state prefers not to discuss the matter:

The state’s agriculture and natural resources department refused a request to interview Barry McLaury, the state administrator of the Watershed Protection Program [Haiar, 2022.08.26].

The merger of the Upper Big Sioux Watershed Project into the Northeast Glacial Lakes Watershed Project smells like the merger of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources into the Department of Agriculture: if any entity has the potential to get in the way of unfettered expansion of crony-industrial agriculture, state government will bury that entity in an agency more amenable to the business-über-alles agenda. Defunding and ultimately eliminating Foote’s position removes one more public advocate for conservation who might remind voters that state-subsidized CAFOs bring costs with their benefits.

8 Comments

  1. larry kurtz 2022-08-31 09:50

    Indeed.

    Most East River lakes are already eutrophic sh!t holes filled with toxic algae and unable to even support fish populations so the Prairie Pothole Region is becoming increasingly threatened by the encroachment of industrial agriculture but more irrigation means pumping from depleted aquifers mainly recharged by the Prairie Pothole Region.

  2. All Mammal 2022-08-31 09:58

    Wallowing in and drinking manure is devil worship. It isn’t natural.

  3. Bob Newland 2022-08-31 12:38

    All Mammal, since at least (or particularly, maybe) the Janklow days, it has been natural for all SoDakians to have to eat sh!t as a matter of daily life.

  4. P. Aitch 2022-08-31 12:41

    The state prefers not to discuss the matter?
    CLEAN WATER MATTERS!
    Below is how a clean state operates.
    Will the motto soon be SOUTH DAKOTA DIRTY?
    *All this to create more low level, barely digestible mozzarella cheese for frozen pizzas only drunks and stoners eat.

    The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) today released its draft permit and an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) for Riverview LLP’s Twelvemile Dairy, a proposed 12,000-head jersey dairy feedlot southeast of Wheaton in Traverse County.

    The cows will be housed in a cross-ventilated total confinement barn. The project will include a number of manure storage facilities, including five large clay-lined basins (four with impermeable covers, one with straw cover) with a total capacity of 143 million gallons.

    Liquid manure will be transferred to area farmers for land application in the fall after harvest. It will be spread on up to 8,300 acres in Leonardsville, Croke, Tara, and Dollymount townships.

    https://www.pca.state.mn.us/news/mpca-reviews-12000-head-dairy-feedlot-proposed-traverse-county

  5. Arlo Blundt 2022-08-31 16:41

    The glacial Lakes are at the tipping point if they have not already reached the point where any natural cleansing is impossible given the yearly inputs of various pollutants. Big Ag is certainly the biggest and most toxic of the polluters. When the early settlers came to the Northeast region, it was a pristine paradise. They caught pike and walleyes out of the creeks. There were millions of ducks, geese, swans, and cranes. It was impossible for even the most inept hunter to go hungry. There were deer, elk, and antelope, as well as an occasional buffalo. The grass grew waist high. Now, it is all a huge sump.

  6. grudznick 2022-08-31 17:01

    The People’s Republic of Minnesoota failed to submit their clean air plan to the EPA, putting them on a naughty list on which the Great State of South Dakota is not. And of course, those ponds in NE South Dakota and most of Minnesoota should just be filled in with dirt. Even the shared lakes of Big Stone and Traverse. Rewild the East!

  7. P. Aitch 2022-08-31 19:46

    grudznichts is confused about water pollution and tilts to a “clean air” violation. This story is about how the new recreational/condominium development on Lake Kampeska is being compromised by greedy, water fouling, cow milkers. And, your state government is supporting manure over party boats and money spent by tourists.

  8. HydroGuy 2022-09-02 13:02

    Over the last few years I’ve begun referring to eastern SD as “Diet Iowa” and “Iowa Lite” as the landscape has rapidly evolved to resemble the northwest part of that state–a black desert of corn and soy soaked by Roundup and factory farm $hit. The insatiable greed of SD’s ecoterrorist public- and private-sector powerbrokers has turned our environment into an industrial agriculture sacrifice zone. It’s sad that most of the brain drain residue left in this red welfare state laps up without question Big Ag’s false prophet rhetoric of “feed the world” and the “True Environmentalist,” while our shared landscape is poisoned, rural communities and their local economies are hollowed out, and their social fabric has frayed to the point of almost perpetually driving away the brightest and best. As a retiring Republican state senator from MN was recently quoted as saying, “There’s no room in the Republican Party for anyone who cares about the environment.”

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