Davison County Commission offers drainage amnestyThe Davison County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution offering amnesty to county landowners who have installed illegal drains since the county enacted its drainage code in March 1987.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
The Davison County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution offering amnesty to county landowners who have installed illegal drains since the county enacted its drainage code in March 1987.
The commissioners also voted unanimously on Tuesday to establish a new county drainage board within 30 days.
The new board, which will be composed of five county residents and two commissioners, will make recommendations on drainage issues — including possible changes to the existing county drainage laws — that will ultimately be approved or denied by the commissioners.
The current drainage board, which is made up of the commissioners, isn’t enough, Commissioner Denny Kiner said.
“We need representatives on the drainage board of those affected by drainage issues so that we can be more informed and make better decisions,” he said.
Volunteers are being sought for the new board and the commissioners will make final appointments.
The drainage actions are being driven by flooding that cropped up throughout the county this spring.
The goal of the amnesty program is to develop a more accurate and comprehensive list of county drains. Under the current statute, anyone draining water without a permit is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. In addition to criminal penalties, violators may also be liable for civil penalties of up to $1,000 a day.
To receive amnesty, a landowner must submit a $100 fee and complete an application by Nov. 1 defining any unpermitted drainage work that was done between March 6, 1987, and Dec. 31, 2009.
The amnesty will not make landowners immune from civil suits from downstream landowners who may claim that drainage, illegal or otherwise, damaged their properties, Deputy State’s Attorney Jim Taylor said.
Taylor said the state revised its drainage laws in 1985, on the heels of a 1984 drainage argument in Hutchinson County south of Freeman that ended with one landowner shooting the father and son of a neighboring family, recalled Taylor.
“In the mid-’80s, when South Dakota’s drainage law was substantially rewritten, there was a process where landowners could record the drains that they built and maintained in prior years and those became vested drainage rights, so the landowners could drain through those pathways, open drains, ditches and so on,” Taylor said.
In 1987, Davison County adopted official controls requiring permits to do any drainage.
The law states landowners cannot artificially increase or decrease drainage flows to cause downstream damage. Water may be legally drained to the first natural tributary. That tributary doesn’t have to be a named stream or creek.
“Between what should have been recorded as vested drainage rights, and what should have been recorded as permitted drainage after 1987,” Taylor said, “we should have a record of all the drains that have been put in Davison County.”
Some drains, however, were illegally installed after 1987, without permits, but no one knows how many.
“That’s what we’re trying to get a record of,” Taylor said.
If all goes according to plan, and landowners record various plans, the county will end up with accurate records on the location of miles of drain tile that could make future drainage planning easier.
Rod Clarambeau, of Letcher, the chairman of the Sanborn County Drainage Board, attended Tuesday’s meeting with fellow board members Delbert Northrup and Doyle Estabrook.
Clarambeau said neighboring counties need to work together on drainage. He wanted the commissioners to be aware that more water could be headed to Davison County as Sanborn County solves its drainage headaches.
Drainage permits are no guarantee, however, that water won’t go where it’s not wanted, noted Northrup.
“At some point, you will need some engineering help,” he told the commissioners, “because as you add water, natural drainages won’t be able to handle that extra water.”
Northrup also recommended that all prospective candidates for the new drainage board be selected from different geographic areas of the county in order to get an accurate representation of drainage issues throughout the county.
Historically, many field drains in Davison and surrounding counties were established in the early part of the 20th century, with numerous drains installed in the 1920s. Many have disappeared from county records or are no longer operational.
Clarambeau said he was told by a relative who lived through the Dust Bowl years that many of the drains were plugged during the drought years of the 1930s to keep desperately needed moisture on farmland.
In related actions, the commissioners approved drainage permits for: Harvey Kelley to drain tile the southeast quarter of Section 36 in Badger Township; for Glenn Lowrie to drain tile the southeast quarter of Section 9 in Rome Township; for Craig Moller to drain tile the northeast quarter of Section 8 in Union Township; for the Jim-Rec-Ag ownership group to drain tile Section 36 in Perry Township; and for Don Stehly to drain tile Section 27 in Badger Township.
In other business Tuesday, commissioners:
• Again considered Dan Sudrla’s request for some office help, but reached no firm decision.
Sudrla, who works as the administrator for planning and zoning, drainage, and 911 addressing, said the county needs someone familiar with his office in the event of his absence.
Commissioners John Claggett and Gerald Weiss acknowledged Sudrla’s work load but both agreed a tight county budget cannot support additional personnel at this time.
Commissioner Dave Weitala recommended investigating the use of occasional support from personnel in the Department of Equalization. No official action was taken.
• Approved a one-time nursing fee to care for a female inmate. The woman is serving a 90-day term in the county jail for writing bad checks and shoplifting. Her medical care will cost the county about $13,500 during her incarceration, noted Claggett.
The county shouldn’t expect help from federal agencies, commissioners learned.
“Federal programs come to a screeching halt when you’re in jail,” Jail Administrator Don Radel said.
• Approved, at the recommendation of Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg, a permit to allow SDN Communications to install about 1,900 feet of fiber optic cable in the ditch along Betts Road south of Interstate 90, to serve the new Central Electric service center.
• Noted there will be no commission meeting Sept. 20, when commissioners will attend a state convention for county officials.