U.S. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) today applauded the inclusion of a provision in the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) conference report prohibiting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for a period of 10 years, from moving forward with its highly controversial proposal to restrict access to Missouri River water and charge users for surplus water taken from Missouri River reservoirs in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. An amendment prohibiting the Corps’ surplus water proposal was included in the Senate-passed version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which was introduced by Thune and a bipartisan group of Senators from the upper Missouri Basin states.
“South Dakotans should not be charged for water that is legally and historically theirs,” said Thune. “From the beginning, the Corps’s surplus water proposal ignored the history and precedent of the Missouri River states’ water rights. I’m pleased the conference committee included this 10-year prohibition to prevent a massive power grab by the Corps and ensure that the federal government honors the long-standing agreements between these Missouri River states, tribes, and the Corps of Engineers.”
Since 2010, the Corps has restricted access to the Missouri River reservoirs and has proposed charging an unprecedented fee for so-called surplus water taken from the major reservoirs in the upper basin. When the Corps built the dams along the river after Congress passed the 1944 Flood Control Act, it 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. Although some of those intended purposes such as irrigation never fully materialized, the states never ceded the right to use Missouri River water for municipal and industrial water supplies.
In September of 2012, Thune was joined by Senators Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), and Jon Tester (D-Montana) in sending a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee outlining their concerns about the Corps’ proposal and urged the committee to schedule an oversight hearing on the issue. While the committee did not hold a hearing, Thune continued to work with senators from Missouri River states to introduce an amendment with Senator John Hoeven to the Senate version of WRDA to protect states’ water rights and permanently prevent the Corps from implementing its plans to charge for surplus Missouri River water. On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, the Senate accepted the water fee amendment to WRDA. Following the House passage of its version of WRRDA, a conference committee was appointed to reconcile the differences between the two bills.The conference report that will be officially filed later this week includes a 10-year prohibition of the Corps’ surplus water fee proposal. The conference committee reconciled the Senate version, which included a permanent prohibition of the surplus water fee and the House version, which did not include language prohibiting the corps’ water fee proposal. The House is expected to act on the WRRDA conference report next week and the Senate will consider the measure thereafter.