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White Landowners Not Happy About Losing Land to Proposed Gregory County Power Reservoir

The Fort Randall Dam flooded over 34 square miles of Yankton Sioux reservation land and forced 136 Indian families off their home land. Now a few white folks are fighting to keep from being flooded out like Indians by a smaller hydropower project on the Missouri River.

Joshua Haiar reports that MidAmerican Energy and Missouri River Energy Services want to use wind power to pump 40 billion gallons of Missouri River water up a hill 20 miles northeast of Gregory into a reservoir. The stored water could then be released downhill through a new hydropower plant to provide extra power when demand is high. This renewable gravity battery would require flooding four square miles of private land, a half square mile of which belongs to David and Fawn Swift:

A hydro battery is an unwelcome addition to David and Fawn Swift.

The couple would lose about 320 acres of land to the proposed reservoir.

“We first got word of it through a letter in early spring, late winter,” David Swift said. “We could quickly see, as landowners, that there were going to be a lot of us that were going to lose a significant amount of land. And so we started the fight.”

The Swifts have helped organize others against the project. The group has decided its best bet is to stop the federal government from licensing the project [Joshua Haiar, “Concerns Raised over an Energy Storage Project Along the Missouri River,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2022.11.03].

Sharing the Swift’s concern is former legislator Lee Qualm, who cries eminent domain!

Farmer, business owner, and former South Dakota lawmaker Lee Qualm fears the project will use eminent domain – a legal process allowing land to be taken at fair value from unwilling sellers for major public works projects.

“There’s no way people will agree to sell their land,” Qualm said. “I’ve got friends, I’ve got relatives that have land involved in this, and they’re not interested.”

There is historical precedent for land seizures up and down the river. Thousands of Native Americans were displaced from their homes along the bottomlands when the dams were constructed along the Missouri between 1933 and 1964.

Any South Dakotan who supports the pumped-storage project is naive about what’s to come, Qualm said.

“You’ve got to have a mindset that you’re willing to give up what we have, as far as the view we have, as far as the river we have, all of this stuff,” Qualm said. “And you’re saying that it’s fine if you destroy our river and landscape to make electricity that will be sent clear out of the state” [Haiar, 2022.11.03].

Funny: when Qualm was in the Legislature, he had no problem with taking away property rights to support private poop pipelines. Qualm hasn’t offered much vocal support for landowners who are unhappy about the use of eminent domain to build oil or carbon dioxide pipelines. And the important difference is that while those pipelines offer private services to increase private operators’ profit while offering only indirect benefits to consumers at large, this proposed gravity battery on the Missouri would provide power directly to electricity users and reduce utilities’ reliance on fossil fuel-fired generators. Eminent domain should only be used for projects providing direct public benefits, and this Gregory County project would provide such benefits more immediately than any of the pipelines about which Qualm expressed no qualms.

The Public Utilities Commission wants no part in this debate over this public utility project:

Public Utilities Commissioner Kristie Fiegen said the department has been inundated with questions regarding the PUC’s authority over the project.

“The PUC does not have jurisdiction on the hydroelectric project because it is on navigable US waters and therefore federal law supersedes state siting law,” Fiegen said.

Meaning, the federal government authorizes the project – not the state.

…On Monday, the day the PUC issued its statement, David Swift said he hopes the state takes steps to protect landowners.

“Although Citizens Against Missouri River Pumped Storage Project acknowledges that the state doesn’t have jurisdiction over the project, we still believe the governor and other state officials should be looking out for the interests of the state and standing up for individual landowner rights,” David Swift said.

The PUC itself has not taken a stance on the project. PUC Fiegen said that’s because the law giving the federal government jurisdiction can change.

“If the federal law is changed and it gives states authority over projects like the Gregory Pumped Storage Project, the SDPUC will become involved,” Fiegen said. “Therefore, the PUC has no position on the project” [Joshua Haiar, “PUC to Opponents of an Energy Storage Project: Talk to the Feds,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2022.11.07].

Let’s hope the federal government keeps its wits about it (guaranteed for at least two more years with President Joe Biden at the helm) and supports this green energy project. Maybe the Yankton Sioux Tribe will open their homes to the Swifts and other reservoir refugees.


  1. Donald Pay 2022-11-08 06:55

    By the way, the feds are doing far more initial study on this than the dipsy doodle PUC would ever do. The opponents should be thankful the feds are involved.

  2. leslie 2022-11-08 07:13

    My Hunkpapa and Sicangu (RIP 2014) and Yanktonai friends told of black, foamy, debris-roiled, cotton wood trunk-filled water, backing up over their homeland behind Oahe.


    Indian Lives Matter

  3. P. Aitch 2022-11-08 07:49

    White irony … (to be continued) #grins

  4. Nix 2022-11-08 07:56

    The white folks don’t like it when their
    land is taken away?
    Oh, that’s rich.
    Maybe Dan Lederman can help.
    Karma is a bitch.

  5. Francis Schaffer 2022-11-08 08:03

    How about using carbon dioxide?
    I am not sure how real this is but it needs to be investigated.

  6. Richard Schriever 2022-11-08 08:42

    Donald Pay – “net energy loser”. That’s a hoot Donald. You must not have taken any physics courses. Grover Norquist would be proud of the way you’ve turned a phrase that makes complete scientific nonsense into “truthiness” (something that sounds like “it should make sense”).

    Maybe you can explain where the “lost energy” goes? Or even where it came from? Maybe you mean there is simply less to 100% efficiency in the “capture containment and transmission” of the solar/wind energy in hydro storage?

    BTW – there is “lost energy” in ALL forms of energy capture/extraction, -> transmission to the consumer. ALL of it. There is even “lost energy” in the form of “line loss” of a petroleum pipeline that has ZERO leaks. It’s lost in the form of the energy it takes to pump the fluid through the pipe.

    Perhaps you could put together a chart that shows us the comparative “lost energy” that is included (or is it excluded?) in various energy sourcing, storing and transmitting schemes?


  7. Donald Pay 2022-11-08 09:08

    Just a heads up. Opponents might want to pay attention to what the state thinks about pumped storage. You really want the PUC involved? Hell, no, you don’t.

    This statute (below) should get the attention of legislators. As far as I’m concerned this whole subsection needs to be repealed. This list was put together many years ago, without any real study. The state has already blessed this project. Mostly it was done through lots of lobbying a long time ago. No real study necessary for your head in the sand Legislature.

    Some are good projects. Some are bad. Some of the projects have been completed. Others, like the Pumped Storage Project, should not be.

    46A-1-2.1. Legislative finding–Preferred, priority objectives.

    The Legislature finds that the following water resources projects are necessary for the general welfare of the people of the State of South Dakota and authorizes the projects pursuant to § 46A-1-2 to be included in the state water resources management system to serve as the preferred, priority objectives of the state: Belle Fourche irrigation upgrade project, Big Sioux flood control study, hydrology and water management studies to manage and protect state water resources for current and future generations, Cendak irrigation project, Gregory County pumped storage site, Lake Andes-Wagner/Marty II irrigation unit, Lewis and Clark rural water system, Sioux Falls flood control project, and Vermillion basin flood control project.

  8. Donald Pay 2022-11-08 09:13

    Yes, I’ve taken physics, Richard. This project wastes energy to increase profit for private companies, That’s not a good reason to take land from other private owners.

  9. larry kurtz 2022-11-08 09:16

    What keeps downstream states from suing to stop this boondoggle as barge traffic is stalled now?

  10. Frank J Kloucek 2022-11-08 09:38

    Don Pay is right on this issue and many others.

  11. Richard Schriever 2022-11-08 09:42

    Donald Pay “…..wastes energy…..” is another spinning mischaracterization from you here. Wind and Solar capacity NOT USED FOR ANYTHING AT ALL (not immediately needed in the grid) IS a “waste”. This captures 75% of that actually “wasted” (not captured and stored) energy. The real contrast here is between ZERO % and 75%. Should someone be compensated for providing 75% of something vs. NONE of it? Evidently you think not.

  12. Richard Schriever 2022-11-08 09:45

    BTW – all of that is “taken” land from others already. The morality (joker) card doesn’t play here.

  13. Donald Pay 2022-11-08 10:29

    Richard, Well, you call it what you want. I call it a waste. If they produce power they can’t sell they could lower their price, rather than take other people’s property in a scheme to raise the price. And I’m well aware of all of the illegal takings of Indian land and water rights. If they are using Missouri River water for this project, are they planning on paying the tribes for use of that water? Have they discussed any profit-sharing with the tribes? I’m not saying the tribes would go along with it, because I think they are raising other issues that might be more important to them, but, still, it seems they haven’t even thought about environmental justice issues at all.

    I remember in the 1980s there was concern about evaporation of water from what would be a shallow reservoir, use of some of the water in the reservoir for irrigation, mud flats, etc. There are lots of questions to be answered. I know they did a few preliminary studies back in the 1980s. Janklow was supportive of the project. Many in the environmental community were skeptical.

  14. John 2022-11-08 10:30

    Pumped storage is a project ideal whose time is past by better technology and morals. Pumped storage is also no where near as “green” as is solar, wind, and battery electric production and storage. Besides, the future is dispersed electric production and distribution – producing electricity where its used and needed. Like at the Rocky Mountain steel mill:

    Tony Seba lays out the physics and economics in this 19m updated segment of how solar, wind, and battery is cheaper than even operating existing electricity production systems — or building new. The price of electricity is trending to zero.

    MidAmerican Energy and Missouri River Energy Services are merely living in the status quo or past – using public assets to churn private profits for executives and shareholders. The Gregory County Pumped Storage Project is yesterday’s road kill.

  15. leslie 2022-11-08 10:45

    In the mid-80s I 1st became aware of this Gregory pump/storage concept, along with the extension of Missouri River water to Rapid City which SDSMT and consultants are greedily eying.

    Green power is important. Wind power is vast across the country now. Technology is essential to slow global warming. Fossil fuels are the chief danger.

    Compromised Republican leadership is incapable of achieving sustainable, eco-friendly policy.

  16. Mark Anderson 2022-11-08 11:01

    Cory, you are using native American history to make me feel bad. Is that still allowed in South Dakota? Hillsdale rules you know. Better tone down that divisiveness.

  17. John 2022-11-08 11:15

    Okay, this jewel weblink is only tangentially related – it’s related because of the obtuse thinking from civil engineers. Civil engineers live in the same camp whether creating outdated pumped storage or US traffic infrastructure. They are oft stuck in the past. They oft follow the money. (I’ve engineers in the family so hold the raspberries.)

    US traffic safety is getting worse, while traffic safety improves in other countries. In comparatively car-centric Canada one’s likelihood of dying in a crash are 60% less than in the US. The US once had a pretty decent infrastructure but failed to improve, learn lessons, and adapt better (safer, more efficient, more effective) methods and techniques. US traffic deaths per mile increased in the past 30 years while they decreased in most other nations. The US killed a 40-high number of pedestrians last year. Most of the solutions are merely in design, design to slow traffic down. Intersections with roundabouts have a fraction of the accidents than occur at intersections without roundabouts.

    Let’s decide we’re going to live in the future – adopt solar, wind, and battery, along with dispersed power generation and distribution, ending passe’ pumped storage thinking – and improve our traffic infrastructure.

  18. Dave Spier 2022-11-08 13:29

    You may want to research the Gregory County Pumped Storage boondoggle a little, Mr. H. You can go to the FERC website and search docket P-14876 for comments on the Environmental Impact Statement. There are concerns and opposition from democrats, republicans, rural people, town people, government organizations, service organizations, and, yes, even an American Indian tribe – Yankton Sioux tribe, Billie Sutton, Julie Bartling, Lee Qualm, Randall Community Water District, Tripp County Water Users District, Charles Mix Electric, Gregory County Commission, Charles Mix County Commission, the list goes on and on. BTW, not only tribes lost ground to the dam system, lots of “white landowners” lost ground then, too.

    You rarely see such diverse groups of people and interests all united for a common cause. I remember the Save the Niobrara River Association and the Norden Dam and the Butte County, Nebraska nuclear waste dump. You can put this Gregory County Pumped Storage project in the same circular file as those.

  19. larry kurtz 2022-11-08 15:47

    $15 billion for a perpetual motion machine seems like a bargain.

  20. Richard Schriever 2022-11-08 20:34

    John, which is more damaging to the environment, a large pond – or a lithium mining operation (hole in the ground)? What else is in the battery technology (hint -plastics (more holes) and other metals (yet more holes)). Aside from the simple extraction of those substances and the damage that does, and what about all the power/fuels that need to be consumed to process, manufacture and transport all of those TOXIC substances?

    Seriously “old fashioned” is your argument?? That’s as obtuse to THE ISSUE (overall environmental impact) as is Donald Pay’s $$$ arguments.

  21. grudznick 2022-11-08 20:46

    Mr. Bengs looses. A huge blow for bald men in South Dakota.

    I do wish Mr. H had an election blogging up. It seems more important tonight than the rantings of Mr. Evans, who said:

    blah blah blah

    Next will the be the announcement about Mr. Dusty.

  22. grudznick 2022-11-08 21:12

    The Measure numbered 27, initiated, is going up in smoke. But it is early and the Demon Weed grows best at night.

  23. P. Aitch 2022-11-08 21:26

    Colorado remains as Blue as my eyes. #SwedishAzure 😊

  24. grudznick 2022-11-08 22:14

    South Dakota remains as red as grudznick’s ears. And that raw spot on my left foot that won’t go away.

  25. grudznick 2022-11-08 23:04

    As I watch the national maps slowly move red, I am reminded how it would be better if the votes were distributed based on the amount of land controlled and owned. Maps are good.

  26. P. Aitch 2022-11-08 23:05

    You have diabetes, g-nick.

  27. grudznick 2022-11-08 23:06

    We also all know, indisputably, although Mr. H will never blog it, that SDSU polls are bogus frat.

  28. grudznick 2022-11-08 23:24

    Let us recap to this point.

    Ms. Noem won
    Dr. Dusty won
    Mr. Thune won
    Mr. Nelson, the boring, won
    Mr. Brock won
    Mr. Jackley “won”

    All 5 important races were won by the (R) in the race.
    Why is this? It is because the alt-left is out of touch with South Dakota.

  29. Arlo Blundt 2022-11-08 23:39

    Believe it or not, Grudznick, it is a very satisfying feeling to realize that I am WAY out of touch with South Dakota.

  30. grudznick 2022-11-08 23:40

    It will be curious if Mr. H, or other bloggers here, question the results of the poll and become election deniers like Ms. Monae is. Probably not, since the winning percentages seem overwhelming, and there were 2 Democratic watchers for every 1 Republican watcher at all the polls in Rapid City.

    When young Mr. Barnett leaves the office of the State Secretary, I have it on good alliance that he will attend a CCS breakfasting and give us the real low-down, from the inside out.

  31. Arlo Blundt 2022-11-08 23:48

    Grudznick–well….Miss Monae wins with 65% of the vote. Thay6 seals the deal with me….and I won’t let the door hit me in the ass on my way out.

  32. Arlo Blundt 2022-11-08 23:51

    Grudznick–well….Miss Monae wins with 65% of the vote. That seals the deal with me….and I won’t let the door hit me in the ass on my way out.

  33. grudznick 2022-11-08 23:51

    It is bad, Mr. Blundt, very bad. Ms Monae is probably going to be as bad as Jabba the Gant was.

    On the good side, the Demon Weed is dead again. Many fellows made some good money lobbing for that plant, but now it can start over again. Much more money to be made. Maybe Ms. Montele will write a legible law bill next time around, or hire grudznick to do it for her.

  34. Arlo Blundt 2022-11-08 23:54

    Good luck with that..I think legal pot has now won 2 of 4 elections.

  35. grudznick 2022-11-08 23:58

    The Demon Weed, which will rot the brains of our children and their children, will get you slapped into the big jail. And I bet you a gravy-laden breakfast there will be clamoring for more jails. I saw we export the tokers, cheaply buy them a bus ticket to Omaha, and leave it at that. You can ship a fellow to Omaha 17 times for what it costs to jail him, and he must incur the cost to come “home” each time. And when he snaps, on his 4th or 8th trip, the police can thump him and jail him.

    No, to the demon weed.

  36. Arlo Blundt 2022-11-09 00:35

    Well Grudz…I’m opposed to child rape, but Koskom apparently is not going to jail…by the way, did he win today???

  37. P. Aitch 2022-11-09 01:19

    What about Medicaid for the People?

  38. M 2022-11-09 04:57

    Grudz, just shut up and stick to the subject. Men like you make women like me want to move out of this state even faster than planned.

  39. Nick Nemec 2022-11-09 08:35

    The pumped storage project might be a project for a different era, battery storage technology is rapidly advancing and might be the better option.
    Both pumped storage and battery storage are ways to use lower priced off peak power to save money instead of using higher priced peak demand power.

  40. Richard Schriever 2022-11-10 08:52

    grudz “votes were distributed based on the amount of land controlled and owned” ICYMI – this is the way the US Senate works.

  41. Richard Schriever 2022-11-10 08:53

    Nick – what is the toxic waste that needs disposal involved in pumped hydro?

  42. John 2022-11-17 10:32

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted to remove four large hydro electric dams. What are the chances FERC will return to the past to approve a hydro storage project that loses water to evaporation?
    Opponents of the Gregory County pumped storage boondoggle cannot rest on their laurels and must fight the nonsense at every opportunity and venue.

    Richard, you must be miserable clinging to the past. Lithium EV batteries are merely a transitional stage. There is much work to reduce those EV battery cost curves and increase performance and charging rate via using sodium, magnesium and other technologies. “Pessimists” laughed when Tesla used laptop batteries in their first Roadster – Tesla is approaching having sold 3 million cars so who’s laughing now.

  43. John 2022-11-29 16:38

    Yet another modern technology showing the nonsense of a pumped storage unit to create power – floatovoltaics. In India and California they put solar panels over water. It cuts evaporation up to 82%. It keeps the water cleaner. It keeps the solar panels cooler, and thus more efficient.
    Floatovoltaics works over irrigation canals (think Orman and Angostura – if only South Dakota had an engineering college). It works in quiet ponds, and could work in wind protected bays. 16 minutes

  44. John 2022-12-05 23:06

    The tiny attack at a North Carolina substation reveals what we should all know — the US infrastructure is vulnerable, brittle, and lacks resilience.
    A few months ago a hack shut down the Colonial Pipeline – the largest supply of liquid fuels to the Northeast of the US.
    Russian attacks on the electric grid of Ukraine similarly highlights the folly in the 21st Century of having large electric power production facilities and concentrated distribution systems. Electric power is best produced at or near where its consumed. Military attacks on a nation’s power production and infrastructure are valid military targets. (Recall the US accomplished the same with the Desert Shield bombing campaign turning Iraq dark.)
    The US routinely loses power when it gets cold (Texas), when there is a storm (hurricane/blizzard/high wind/fire).

    Our nation is ill-served by this brittle, vulnerable electrical system.

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