By Kristi Noem
Folks along the Missouri River are well aware of the importance of water. They drink it to survive, fish from it for fun and use it to irrigate crops and run businesses. They also know they can be devastated by water.
Last summer, residents in Pierre and Fort Pierre, and people all down the Missouri River, had their lives turned upside down by flood waters that came with almost no notice. Unfortunately, while folks are still working to get things back to normal, the Army Corps of Engineers is proposing a ridiculous and legally questionable plan to charge South Dakotans for using their own water. On Monday, I joined many members of the community in expressing frustration over this proposal at a public meeting at the Ramkota Hotel.
This proposal comes from the same Corps that lost the trust of many area residents for its mishandling of last year’s flood. After folks were subjected to millions of acre feet of unwanted water that displaced residents and destroyed millions of dollars in property, farmland and roads, the Corps now wants to charge for water. Its proposal would charge a “storage fee” for the use of Missouri River water out of reservoirs. This means communities up and down the river would be charged a federal fee for using South Dakota water.
Not only is this plan ridiculous, if you ask South Dakota’s Attorney General Marty Jackley, it “exceeds the Corps’ regulatory authority” and is a “contradiction of well-settled legal and historical precedent.” In fact, Mr. Jackley has gone so far as to say he would sue the Corps if it implements this misguided proposal.
South Dakota has a right to water in the Missouri River, but the Corps wants to charge us for it just because it’s sitting in a reservoir behind a dam the Corps built. We’re hard working in South Dakota, but we’re not made of money – and we should not have to pay for water that is legally and historically ours.
This week, I will be sending a letter with some of my colleagues in the U.S. House to House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica requesting a federal hearing on the Corps’ plan. The Corps is beyond its Congressional authority in this matter, and if it doesn’t rescind this proposal, I will fight to do it. I will not stand by and allow South Dakotans to be charged for using their own water.