Senator John Thune
The record flooding of last year is something that is still fresh in the minds of many South Dakotans. The snowpack and runoff led to high water levels in the region and forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make water management decisions on the Missouri River that greatly impacted thousands of citizens along the river. The Corps’ actions disrupted these families as they watched their homes flood, their businesses shutter, their roads wash-out, and their livelihoods put at risk. More than a year later, South Dakotans have worked to rebuild and repair what was lost in the flood, but the feelings of frustration and mismanagement remain.
That is why the most recent proposal by the Corps of Engineers has captured the attention of cities along the Missouri River who would again be negatively affected by a Corps of Engineers decision. Recently, the Corps proposed a change that would require users to enter into multiyear purchase contracts in order to access water in Missouri River reservoirs.
When the Corps built the dams along the river after Congress passed the 1944 Flood Control Act, they flooded prime state and tribal land with the agreement that by doing so, residents would have access to water from the Missouri River for various purposes. This precedent highlights why water users and residents along the Missouri River should not be required to pay for water that is legally and historically theirs. The Corps’ proposal infringes on the Corps’ agreement and South Dakota’s underlying right to the water. Additionally, charging for the storage and utilization of the Missouri River water constitutes an unprecedented power grab and would have numerous negative impacts on individuals, tribes, businesses, and water systems in South Dakota.
On September 12th, I sent a letter along with Senators Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.). The letter urges Senators Boxer and Inhofe to promptly schedule a committee oversight hearing regarding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to restrict access to Missouri River water and to charge users for water taken from Missouri River reservoirs. The letter also requests that the committee invite South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley to testify at the hearing.The Corps’ water fee proposal adds insult to injury to many communities located along the Missouri River in South Dakota. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to review the Corps of Engineers’ operations and priorities, and to ensure they balance the efforts to standardize the allocation of reservoir water with an understanding of history and precedent as it relates to the water rights of South Dakota.