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.