Watershed task force gets OK from SenateTask force prompted by financial mismanagement found at James River Water Development District.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — State senators agreed Monday that South Dakota needs a task force to study establishing regional watershed districts to deal with flooding and water management.
The Senate voted 23-1 to establish the 14-member panel. Its work would terminate by Jan. 20, 2015. The legislation, Senate Bill 160, goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Sen. Tom Hansen, R-Huron, originally sought creation of a regional James River watershed district. Through a series of amendments, the legislation was changed to a broader study.
“All seem to agree we must work together to find a solution to that problem,” Hansen said.
State law authorizes watershed districts to have far-ranging powers.
Those include flood prevention, improve stream channels, fill or rehabilitate flooded lands, provide water for irrigation, regulate and conserve water in streams, divert or change watercourses, provide and conserve water for public uses, regulate water for disposing of waste, operate and maintain drainage systems and deal with soil erosion and siltation.
“The people of South Dakota are looking for action and they are not looking for a lot of planning,” Hansen said.
Sen. Bob Gray, R-Pierre, spoke against the placing the task force in law.
Gray said the Legislature has its own process for establishing studies, through annual decisions by its Executive Board, and a study hasn’t been tried yet for watershed districts.
“We’re not ready for this yet,” Gray said.
Senate Democratic leader Jason Frerichs of Wilmot countered that the topic requires more than a summer study. “This is more than a one-year fix. This is ongoing,” Frerichs said.
The Senate also approved legislation Monday that keeps open the possibility of action by the Legislature regarding the troubled James River Water Development District, which currently oversees projects on the river.
Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said the audit of the district’s finances possibly was the worst in South Dakota history. The audit was completed last year.
“We have a problem. We need to solve that problem,” Novstrup said.
Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said the legislation in its current form is merely an effort to continue the conversation further into the 2012 session.
The legislation, Senate Bill 169, was approved 24-10 and now crosses to the House of Representatives for further consideration.