By Tom Lawrence
WASHINGTON, D.C. — South Dakota’s congressional delegation is taking a united stand in an ongoing water fight.
Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat, and Sen. John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem, both Republicans, all signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to deny recent requests to aid Mississippi River navigation by declaring a state of economic emergency and authorizing the Corps of Engineers to release water from the Missouri River’s dams and reservoirs.
The letter also was signed by senators and representatives from North Dakota, Kansas and Montana. Gov. Dennis Daugaard has also joined in asking Obama not to release more water.
In addition to Obama, it was addressed to Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate. Copies were also sent to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Environment & Public Works and Appropriations committees.
Lawmakers from central and southern states have been asking Obama to do just the opposite.
Fifteen U.S. senators, 62 members of the House of Representatives and three governors want the corps to halt water-reducing actions because the low level of the Mississippi is impeding traffic and harming business. They have called on Obama to issue an emergency proclamation.
Such actions are not permitted under existing law and would amount to an unlawful increase of water from the Missouri River’s system of dams and reservoirs, according to a release from Thune’s office.
Johnson added, “Increasing releases from the Missouri River not only goes against the law, it is extremely short-sighted. I recognize the importance of navigation on the Mississippi River, but increasing releases from Missouri River reservoirs is not a viable solution to the problems posed by the drought. Much of South Dakota faces serious drought conditions, and the water conservation measures being taken right now are necessary to ensure we don’t face an even worse situation if drought conditions persist.”
His GOP colleagues echoed that sentiment Friday.
“Communities along the Missouri have already been hit hard by the drought,” said Thune. “These communities rely on the Missouri as a water source, and according to the Corps of Engineers, water levels on the Missouri are already 20 percent below the normal drought levels.”
“I understand the challenges those along the Mississippi River are facing, but an unlawful release of water would not only set a dangerous precedent, it would also have a negative impact on South Dakota farms and businesses that are also suffering from drought,” Noem said.
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