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Lewis and Clark Chief Foresees Bidding War for South Dakota Water

While gallivanting around Washington, D.C., last week, Kristi Noem endorsed Calvin Coolidge’s century-old assertion that South Dakota has “meager resources”. But we’re not short on water yet, says Troy Larson of the deeply federally subsidized Lewis and Clark Regional Water System:

Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota, Lake Oahe in South Dakota and North Dakota, and Fort Peck Lake in Montana rank as the nation’s third, fourth and fifth largest reservoirs, respectively. Add in the other three reservoirs – Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case and Lewis and Clark Lake, all in South Dakota – and the total system capacity rises to a mind-boggling 24 trillion gallons.

That doesn’t mean the Missouri River is immune to problems. Droughts and management decisions can reduce water levels, while the competing demands of water pipelines, hydroelectric power generation, flood protection, recreation and downstream barge traffic often collide. All the while, sediment is building up in the reservoirs, creating a slow-moving and expensive problem that so far lacks a solution.

But the fact remains that all the water in the reservoirs lies within three states with a combined population of less than 3 million. In other words, said Larson, “There is far more water going by us in the Missouri River than we will ever use” [Seth Tupper, “Will South Dakota Be Ready When Other States Com for Our Water?South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.02.19].

Larson says states facing water shortages will notice our surplus and pay big bucks to get a slurp:

Meanwhile, 40 million people in seven Western states are confronting the possibility of running out of water. They rely on the Colorado River, which is compromised by population growth, agricultural irrigation and drought.

…other states already view the Missouri River as a solution to their water woes. In Kansas, a groundwater management district hauled 6,000 gallons of river water to the southwest part of the state last year to test a proposed aqueduct, as part of an effort to prevent depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Larson thinks more states will covet the Missouri River, especially as other water options dry up.

“If you don’t have it,” Larson said, “you’ll pay anything to get it” [Tupper, 2023.02.19].

South Dakota is already willing to pour its water into CAFOs and uranium mines. When bigger-dollar buyers come from other states to slake their thirst from our reservoirs, we’ll have some hard fiscal and environmental decisions to make.


  1. Mark Anderson 2023-02-21 06:50

    Along time ago I drove my father to each of those locations. He wasn’t allowed to drive because of heart surgery. He met with the workers as head of the IBEW in the area. Those dams were built to control flooding and for the power they would provide. I imagine the water wasn’t considered as important but I’m sure the land of 10,000 lakes is in good shape too.

  2. larry kurtz 2023-02-21 07:16

    And speaking of pooping in your own water supplies then begging for money for pipeline boondoggles: watering lawns, golf courses, feedlots, a ramen factory in Belle Fourche, the Bismarck Trail Ranch and Rally campgrounds with tax dollars is a boondoggle—taxpayer money spent on carving through Native America for white privilege? Now an out of state miner wants to tap fossil water for mineral exploration on public lands?

  3. Richard Schriever 2023-02-21 09:27

    The Eastern slope counties of CO sold all their underground water rights to Kansas farmers once upon a time. Now, to drill a well in Colorado, an Eastern Coloradan needs to ask permission from the state of Kansas. SD needs to study and learn lessons from such history. Is that stuff included in the Hillsdale standards?

  4. All Mammal 2023-02-21 10:25

    Thirty-some spread out, thousand-foot deep, three-inch diameter holes are being drilled right goddamn now, right next to zebra mussel-infested Pactola Reservoir to explore for gold. There are several more mining outfits being granted access to freely create just as many more super-fund sites that cost the people their health, water, church, and tens of BILLION$ of dollars we do not have. The Gilt Edge Super Fund Site sits 27 miles from the most beautiful place on the good earth, causing me to sit on my pappy’s ashes because the site he showed me as a punkin sprout is now a wasteland and I can’t lay him to rest in cyanide sludge. South Dakota can only be pimped out for so long until she’s barren. A $5 Billion pipeline pumping Missouri River water uphill 200 miles is like selling your car for gas money….not too bright. Money wasted once the invasive mussel completely clogs the equipment. Too bad we don’t have any more otter, skunk, raccoon, fox or other predators to prey on the sharp, nasty little indicators of our greed and filth. There goes the entire Black Hills tourism economy. No wonder we can’t have nothing nice.

  5. flopster 2023-02-21 12:51

    The old adage of ‘whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting’ may apply here.
    Back when… SDak ‘should’ of been real possessive of the MO dams kilowatt power for OUR state.
    Will SD roll over with shipping the precious commodity of wonderful MO river water to western states ? It already has rolled over shipping H2O to western MN, who by the way drain away most agriculture fields/wetlands. Wetlands recharge ground water aquifers for DRINKING WATER and filter it , plus supporting wildlife. (By the way SD is quickly catching up with MN ag drainage habits.)
    No – No- No ! SDak needs to be selfish & keep the MO for us.

  6. Tom Kriete 2023-02-21 12:58

    The Missouri is foremost a RIVER. The Colorado has been “managed” to death. Managing such a diverse resource with the single mindedness expressed by Mr Larson is perilous. It is first and foremost a river.

  7. larry kurtz 2023-02-21 13:36

    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.

    Diesel fired portable snowmelters are the most popular models since you can move them from site to site as self-contained units. Current portable snowmelters come with a debris catch area with baskets for manual removal of debris – even during operation! The SND5400 is designed for the airport market and other large-scale users. It economically melts 180 tons of snow per hour (based on latent heat of ice). [Snow Dragon Snowmelters]

    That’s about 5421 gallons per hour and a rail tanker holds about 30,000 gallons. An acre-foot of water is almost 326,000 gallons.

  8. Mark Anderson 2023-02-21 18:11

    Money and people talk. It depends on how badly cities need the water. Most of the water goes toward agricultural uses on land that shouldn’t have been used in the first place for agriculture. It’s going to get very interesting.

  9. Richard Schriever 2023-02-21 18:30

    Mark, and most of that ag product goes to feed animals, not people.

  10. larry kurtz 2023-02-21 18:38

    Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline gave Vlad the Impaler the petrodollars he needed to invade Ukraine. Ash and soot from wildfires in the Siberian taiga are accelerating the loss of Arctic sea ice driving more frequent and deeper polar vortexes.

    Wetlands are being destroyed for cropland, livestock demands on water supplies dwarf the needs of cities, global biodiversity is threatened, Arctic ice packs are disappearing, humans are breeding less nutritious food and pesticides are killing native pollinators.

  11. HydroGuy 2023-02-21 23:24

    Socialism is lifeblood of this red taker-state! Socialized dams to impound the water; socialized pipelines to deliver the water; socialized CAFOs, socialized corn ethanol production, and denizens of socialized industrial agriculture sacrifice zones to slurp up the water–and scores of self-loathing sociopathic Republicans with their hands out to reap the privatized profits. Denialism is a helluva drug!

  12. leslie 2023-02-22 00:53

    Seth, I am disappointed! “OUR” water??

  13. M 2023-02-22 17:10

    Montana, N.D., and S.D. should have an alliance similar to the states bordering the Great Lakes. They are organized about the Fresh Water Wars that will occur in the future.

    Of course, the Missouri River and it’s tributaries are the life blood of the first inhabitants. No one owns the water; however white people will end up fighting tooth and nail for it. The robber barons will win out, they always do. They’ve already poisoned so much of it anyway while the rest of us pay a fortune to purify our city water that has a system from the 50’s.

  14. larry kurtz 2023-02-22 18:52

    Zebra mussels in the system will plug every pipeline intake every day.

  15. larry kurtz 2023-02-22 18:58

    The cost of drilling wells is off the charts not to mention what siting for pipelines and archaeological cops will incur.

    Rewild the West.

  16. Pete Carrels 2023-02-22 20:07

    Missouri River reservoirs provide water for pipeline systems like WEB. Lewis and Clark draws its water from alongside the river, in the non-impounded stretch of river classified as scenic and recreational, between Yankton and Sioux City. The impact of WEB and other reservoir-based pipelines on water quantity in the reservoirs is puny. Upper basin citizens often forget that floating barges is only one water need for the lower basin, with cities perched on protected floodplains alongside a channelized channel. There is practically no recreation on the Missouri below Sioux City, the most upstream point of the channelized stretch of the river. The channelized stretch does feed lots of industry (including many power plants and agriculture facilities) and municipal needs (domestic and waste water). Many of these facilities were built requiring high river flows. That means managing upper basin dam releases to supply adequate river depths for cities and industry is a major consideration by the Corps of Engineers. Navigation is an industry that hardly exists on the Missouri. It’s easy to argue against that business. But the Missouri flows into the Mississippi, where a huge navigation industry floats cargo to New Orleans. The needs of Mississippi River navigation -hinging on precipitation amounts within the watershed- carry far more political weight than Missouri River navigation.

  17. grudznick 2023-02-22 20:23

    Rewild the West! I echo my close personal friend Lar’s cry. Nay, I beller it loudly.

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